02 April 2010

Glitz and the glitter

Glitz and the glitter
Ryan P. Wilson

Main Street U.S.A. was plucked from the memories of Walt Disney and his life in a small town Midwestern town. Meanwhile, across property, the boulevards of Disney’s Hollywood Studio exemplify a golden era of Hollywood that may, or may not, have existed. Even as this golden age is in flux, there is truth and stories to be found in the architecture presented along these roads. One fine example can be observed at the end of Sunset Boulevard. The shop may be known as Once Upon A Time, but the building is the Carthay Circle Theater.

Built as a silent picture movie house in 1926, Carthay Circle Theater had fifteen hundred and eighteen seats, and rivaled Grauman’s Chinese Theater in opulence. From the tile work to the top of the tower, fountains, reliefs, busts, chandeliers, and paintings filled this single screen theater. This monument to Spanish Baroque architecture was the work of A. Dwight Gibbs, who also designed the Mesa Theatre and helped design the Pasadena Playhouse. You can see the Carthay Circle Theater in all of its splendor below in a photograph from the Los Angeles Times photographic archive, the film being shown in the photograph is Life of Emile Zola.Eventually sound, and other technological advancements in the field of film, forced the Carthay Circle Theater to evolve, but there was one film advancement he could not compete with, the multiplex. In 1968, the theater shuttered its doors and drew the curtains down for the last time. The grand theater was torn down and two office buildings, divided by a park, were built in the space in the 1970s.

So, where does Carthay Circle Theater fit into the Disney story? As it turns out, the theater was the venue chosen to host the premiere of Walt Disney’s first animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The premiere was such a success that there were, reportedly, thirty thousand people on the streets outside who could not get in to attend the premiere. Bringing the story of Disney and the theater full circle, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ premiere at the Carthay Circle Theater is immortalized in a series of three photographs found behind one of the registers in Once Upon A Time.