Saturday, July 7, 2012
The Alex Theater in Glendale, California
The Alex Theater in Glendale, California
The Alex Theatre is a landmark located at 216 North Brand Boulevard in Glendale, California of the United States of America. It is currently owned by the City of Glendale and operated by Glendale Arts.
The architectural design of the original 1925 Alexander, as it was known until about 1939, was attributed to the architectural firm of Meyer & Holler; the front addition in 1939 was attributed to Arthur G. Lindley and Charles R. Selkirk, who also designed the Hotel Glendale. The unique interior has distinct neo-classic Greek and Egyptian architectural elements, similar to the Greco-Egyptian period of Ptolemaic Egypt. A long walkway and courtyard separating the ticket booth from the lobby was inspired after the famous Grauman's Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood.
In 1940, notable theater architect S. Charles Lee was commissioned to redesign the exterior of the Alexander. Lee's portfolio included the Tower Theatre and the Los Angeles Theatre, both in Downtown Los Angeles, the Academy Theatre in Inglewood, as well as the Tujunga Theatre in Tujunga. His contributions included a 100-foot-tall (30 m) art-deco column with neon lights, topped by a spiked, neon sphere that gave it a "starburst" appearance. A neon, angled marquee emblazoned the theater's new name, the Alex, which was shortened to fit the larger letters.
The Alexander officially opened its doors on September 4, 1925. It was operated by the West Coast-Langley Theatre Circuit and featured vaudeville performances, plays and silent movies on a single screen. It was named after Alexander Langley, the son of C.L. Langley, owner of the West Coast chain that included the Raymond Theater in Pasadena, and the Orange Theatre in the city of Orange. In addition to the lavish architecture, a huge Wurlitzer pipe organ was installed. A regular organist supplied improvised accompaniment during the silent picture era. Several movies had their preview screening at The Alex, inviting celebrities such as Alice Faye, Don Ameche, Elizabeth Taylor for National Velvet and Bing Crosby for Going My Way (both 1944). A backstage fire in 1948 caused $150,000 in damages.
Starting in the 1950s, the Alex showed blockbuster films such as Ben-Hur (1959) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984). A wide aspect ratio screen was installed in 1954, along with a surround sound system to accommodate the new Cinemascope pictures.
The Alex underwent an extensive renovation in 1993 which restored much of the original wall-painting and decorations, as well as the neon spire added by S. Charles Lee.
The Alex today
The Alex Theatre Performing Arts and Entertainment Center has been the centerpiece of the City's arts, culture and community events since it originally opened. It is managed by Glendale Arts, a non-profit organization. The Theatre's diverse schedule boosts roughly 250 events per year and attracts more than 100,000 patrons annually. Programs range from classical and contemporary concerts, theatre, dance, comedy, fundraising and special events as well as TV and film productions and industry related award presentations.
Resident companies include the Alex Film Society, Glendale Youth Orchestra, Musical Theatre Guild, and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.
The Alex Film Society regularly schedules classic films, often accompanied with special guests (e.g., the annual Thanksgiving weekend tradition 'Three Stooges Big Screen Event,' which children, grandchildren, and other relatives of the Stooges often attend), live musical performances of the films soundtrack and vintage photos.
Backstage tours covering the entire history of the Alex are available through the Alex Theatre website.
The future of this grand old theater is in question due to California State budget cuts. I think this is a shame. They have many events and they do not lack people coming through the doors. So why is it in danger? Once again history and the arts are ignored in an effort to save money. I think this wrong, especially in the case of the Alex. The place is busy with about 250 events and over 100,000 people coming through the doors each year.
Now you may wonder why a Disney blogger is writing about the Alex. The simple reason is the tie to Disney history. In the 1930s during the heyday of cartoon shorts, Disney previewed its new cartoon shorts at the Alex. Walt and his 9 Old Men would come and sit in the audience to watch the reactions and find out if changes were needed before releasing the short in general release.