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Premiere of Life of Emile Zola at the Carthay Circle Theater, 1937

The Carthay Circle Theatre was one of the most famous movie palaces of Hollywood's Golden Age. It opened at 6316 San Vicente Boulevard in 1926[1] and was considered developer J. Harvey McCarthy's most successful monument, a stroke of shrewd thinking that made a famous name of the newly developed Carthay residential district in the Mid-Wilshire district of Los Angeles, California.[1]



The exterior design was whitewashed concrete trimmed in blue, with a high bell tower and neon sign that could be seen for miles.[1] The auditorium itself was shaped in the form of a perfect circle set inside a square that fleshed out the remainder of the building. The iconic octagonal tower was placed in the front corner spandrel space left between the circle and the square. The auditorium's cylinder-shaped wall was raised up above the roof line, to create a parapet visible from the outside that resembled a circus tent. "Simple, massive and dignified, the building stands out for its intrinsic beauty," raved The Architect and Engineer.[1] Pacific Coast Architect wrote that it was a theatre "masked as a cathedral".[1]

There was a drop curtain that featured an homage to the pioneer Donner Party, which perished crossing the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Bronze busts of Native American leaders and photographs of Lillie Langtry and other 19th century actors adorned the lounges and lobbies. Paintings of historic scenes forty feet tall graced the walls.[1]


The theatre hosted the official premieres of The Life of Emile Zola (1937), Romeo and Juliet (1936),[2] Walt Disney's first animated feature length film Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)[3] and Gone with the Wind (1939), among many other notable films. For Disney's Fantasia (1940), the most elaborate audio system in use at the time, Fantasound, a pioneering stereophonic process, was installed at this theatre.[1]

For the glamorous world premiere of MGM's Marie Antoinette (1938), with Norma Shearer and Tyrone Power, the gardens around the theater were restructured and enhanced to resemble the landscaping of the Palace of Versailles. In the 1930s and '40s, props from the sets of such premiered films as The Great Ziegfeld (1936), The Good Earth (1937), Captains Courageous (1937) and Gone With the Wind (1939) were displayed on the grassy median of McCarthy Vista, from Wilshire Boulevard south to San Vicente Boulevard. The premieres were red-carpet events, with the stars of the motion picture arriving in limousines at the entrance to the covered walkway to the theater south from San Vicente and cheered by hundreds of fans in bleachers there, accompanied by searchlights scanning the sky. Only Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood also had such elaborate premieres in that era.


By the 1960s it was considered obsolete, overshadowed by multiplexes; its customer base had also been sapped by suburbanization. In 1969, the theater was demolished. Today, two low-rise office buildings and a city park occupy its former site.

The Carthay Circle Theater will now live on as a replica to be constructed in the entry plaza of Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Roderick, Kevin; Lynxwiler, J. Eric. Wilshire Boulevard: Grand Concourse of Los Angeles. Angel City Press. pp. 135-137. ISBN 1-883318-55-6. 
  2. ^ Higham, Charles (Dec 1994) [1993]. Merchant of Dreams: Louis B. Mayer, M.G.M., and the Secret Hollywood (paperback ed.). Dell Publishing. p. 289. ISBN 0-440-22066-1. 
  3. ^ The March 2, 1938 edition of the Los Angeles Times reported that every Sunday afternoon at 5:00, a fully dubbed Spanish language version of Disney's Show White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) was presented.

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