El Portal Theatre - North Hollywood

 
(1926)* - View of Lankershim Boulevard looking north towards Weddington Street. On the left is the El Portal Theatre (5269 Lankershim) which is shown in the final stages of construction with newly installed windows and an unfinished marquee. In the distance is a rooftop sign for California Bank. With the exception of the theater and the building on the northwest corner at Weddington Street (5303 Lankershim), all other structures shown have been demolished.  

 

Historical Notes

Built on the site of a home owned by Guy Weddington in 1926, the El Portal Theatre was designed in beautifully ornate Spanish Renaissance Revival style by celebrated theater architect Lewis A. Smith, who also designed many of the Southland's most beloved movie houses, such as the Vista, the Rialto, and the Majestic in Ventura. El Portal was the last theater Smith created. But unlike the majority of his theaters, which were demolished decades ago, El Portal still stands.*

The grandeur of the theater had a big impact on the community. At a then-staggering cost of $250,000 to construct, its beauty forever changed the tenor of the neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1926)* - Interior view of the El Portal Theatre showing the original seating arrangement with coats of armor seen on the block walls.  

 

Historical Notes

While the exterior of the El Portal façade sported handsome carved reliefs of Spanish conquistadors and decorative scroll work, the house interior remained somewhat subdued and austere, with coats of armor and spears or portraits of new world explorers attached to walls throughout the 1348-seat theatre.*

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1937)^ – View looking south on Lankershim Boulevard at Weddington Street showing large banners in front of the El Portal Theatre advertising the main feature of the week "Mountain Music" with Bob Burns and Martha Raye.  

 

Historical Notes

The theater itself is an architectural jewel, and contains abundant art within. There are historic wall reliefs installed in the 1930s as part of the FDR Works Progress Administration. They show people harvesting peaches because most of this town was peach groves. On advertising posters for the town, it would say, 'Lankershim, a peach of a place to live.' *

During the morning and early afternoon when no films screened, the El Portal hosted all types of groups to help pay the bills. The Los Angeles District of the Federation of Women’s Clubs held many local conventions there in the 1930s. A cooking school popped up now and again. Los Angeles Mayor Fletchter Bowron inducted actress Glenda Farrell as North Hollywood’s honorary mayor on December 8, 1938, on the El Portal stage.^

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1942)* – Front view of the El Portal Theatre. Now playing: Take a Letter, Darling with Rosalind Russell and They All Kissed the Bride with Joan Crawford. To the right is the El Portal Pahrmacy with the Dr. Beauchamp Dentist Office on the second floor.  

 

Historical Notes

The El Portal has a great history. It was the final theatre to be designed by prolific theatre architect Lewis Arthur Smith. Seating was provided for 1,346 on a single floor and the decorative style was Spanish Renaissance Revival. Movies, supported by a vaudeville show ran here for several years, until the arrival of talkies.

Vaudeville played an important part in the first decades of El Portal, as live acts were used as added incentive to bring people in to see the newfangled silent pictures, starring the first stars of Hollywood, such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. In fact, to measure an audience's response to their films, both Laurel and Hardy were known to frequent El Portal, slipping in after the audience was seated for showings of their own films. Oliver Hardy lived for many years nearby in Van Nuys, golfed at the in Toluca Lake, died in North Hollywood and is buried there.

Harold Lloyd also used to listen to the laughter of audiences watching his films at El Portal. He and his brother were silent partners in the Shreves Filling Station, which was then on Lankershim across from the theater.*

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1948)* - Pictured is El Portal Theatre, located at 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. The marquee reads, "Hellinger's 'Naked City' - Barry Fitzgerald - also 'To the Victor'" and 'Rathbuns Miss America - Frolic: Sat 15th. 10.30 AM". It appears the entire top floor is shared by several businesses, among them are Dr. Chase, Dentist and Maurice M. Grudd, Attorney/Notary.  

 

Historical Notes

The El Portal Theatre became a major second release theatre on the Fox West Coast Theatres circuit in the area. In 1950 it was given the ‘Skouras’ treatment and the auditorium’s original decorations were totally obliterated with drapes and curtain material. It was reopened on December 22, 1950. Later taken over by National General and then Mann Theatres.*

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1962)* – View looking north on Lankershim Boulevard showing the El Portala Theatre on the west side. The building occupied by the Security Bank at the corner of Weddington Street was built by Fred and Guy Weddington.  

 

Historical Notes

When El Portal was first built in 1926, Lankershim Boulevard became quite a happening strip. It was the main thoroughfare for the east Valley, and it was thriving. There was the Security Pacific Bank here (seen above) and lots of other businesses.

El Portal was an anchor of this community, which developed around it. The Guild theater was just a couple blocks south. Lankershim is on an angle, but when it was built they thought it was straight, because there were no other streets in yet.*

 

 

 

 

 

 
(1976)* - Three Big Hits at the El Portal: "Eat My Dust", "Grand Theft Auto" and "Crash."  

 

Historical Notes

While North Hollywood grew steadily for decades, by the 1960s and 1970s, residents began moving further north out to new suburbs. The El Portal saw its patronage decline, as it turned from first run into an independent and later Spanish theatre.^

 

 

 

 

 

 
(ca. 1982)* - View of the El Portal as a Spanish Language house.  

 

Historical Notes

The El Portal Theatre was taken over by Metropolitan Theatres chain on May 7, 1978 screening Spanish language movies.

Threatened with demolition several times, the El Portal was named LA Historic-Cultural Landmark #573 in 1993 to help preserve it and turn it into a legitimate theatre. The 1994 Northridge Earthquake caused major damage, however, leaving it red-tagged at one point. Funding was raised to finally convert into a multiple house legitimate theatre, which it remains today.^

 

 

 

 

 

 
(2000)* - Façade of the historic El Portal Theatre as seen after its renovation. Now playing: Over the River with Carol Lawrence and Joseph Campanella.  

 

Historical Notes

The single screen El Portal Theatre was badly damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, when the entire ceiling fell in and side walls cracked. However, it was purchased by the Actors Alley stage company in 1996, and they set about securing the building and creating working theatre spaces within the existing walls. Little remains of the former interior, as this had mostly been destroyed. The facade, marquee and paybox have been retained. It reopened as the El Portal Center for the Arts on January 12, 2000, with a 360 seat Main stage theatre and a 95 seat Forum theatre, presenting modern popular plays. A 42 seat Studio theatre was added recently.*

 

 

 

 

 
(2018)* – El Portal interior after renovation. The booth is the lit window off to the right. Photo by Bill Counter  

 

Historical Notes

Since its reopening and redevelopment in the NoHo Arts District in 2000 the historic El Portal Theatre has featured musicals, plays, dance, educational arts programs, and unique acts from around the world. Celebrities including Dick Van Dyke, Debbie Reynolds, Bea Arthur, Jimmy Kimmel, Billy Goldenberg, Kitty Carlisle Hart, Jo Anne Worley, Fritz Coleman, Smokey Robinson, Rene Taylor, Joe Bologna, Rachel Bloom, James Corden, Charles Nelson Reilly, Sam Harris, Neil Patrick Harris, Sally Struthers, Kate McKinnon, Carol Lawrence, Joe Campenello, Fred Savage, Leslie Jones, Todrick Hall, Ruta Lee, Matt Walker, Beth Kennedy, Bobby Creighton, Ron Dante, Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, and many more have starred on the MainStage.*

 

 

 

 

 
(2020) – El Portal Theatre as it appears today, It is located at 5269 Lankershim Boulevard, NW corner of Lankershim and Weddington.  Photo by Jack J. Feldman  

 

Historical Notes

Although sound movies, heralded by The Jazz Singer with Al Jolson, were first introduced in 1927, silent films continued to be shown at El Portal along with talkies for several years. With the silent films came vaudeville acts, and all the national stars of the circuit, from W.C. Fields—a Toluca Lake resident—to Joe Frisco to Jolson.

Being both a movie palace and a live theater, El Portal has the distinction of having the requisite amenities for both, from dressing rooms to projection booths. It is the only large movie theater in the Valley to have a fly system [for moving scenery and curtains.*

 

 

 

 

 
(2017)* – El Portal Theatre Nightime view. Note the four beautiful dual-lamp streetlights fronting the building. There are also four identical lights on the Weddington side to the right. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Raines.  

 

Historical Notes

There are eight beautiful dual-lamp streetlights located around the El Portal Theatre, four on Lankershim and the other four around the corner on Weddington on the right.  These are 21st Century transplants known as 'California Specials' (aka Magnolia Doubles). These streetlights were only installed in recent years to complement the elegant design of the building. In fact, this specific style of streetlight never existed on either Lankershim or Weddington in the past. Click HERE to see more in Early LA Streetlights.

 

 

 

 

 
(2017)* – A detail of the top of the facade, enhanced by uplights on the marquee.  

 

Historical Notes

El Portal was designed in beautifully ornate Spanish Renaissance Revival style by celebrated theater architect Lewis A. Smith, who also designed many of the Southland's most beloved movie houses, such as the Vista, the Rialto, and the Majestic in Ventura. El Portal was the last theater Smith created.

One of the last vestiges of 1920s-era life in North Hollywood, the El Portal reflects the stylish grace and elegance of that bustling decade.

 

 

 

 

 
(2017)* – Nightime view from the south showing the marquee: Comedy Sportz Improv Comedy Fri–Sun.  Photo by Mike Hume  

 

Historical Notes

The El Portal Theatre is frequently called the 'Jewel in the North Hollywood Crown' — and boasts a three-sided marquee facing the boulevard that has been a location many times for film and television shoots.  

 

 

 

 

 
(2019)* - El Portal Theatre featuring the LA Youth Ballet in Peter and the Wolf. 5269 Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood. Photo courtesy of Shellie Winkler  

 

 

 

 

Then and Now

 
(1926 vs. 2021) – View looking north on Lankershim Boulevard toward Weddington Street with the El Portal Theatre seen on the left.  

 

 

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