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82 Years Ago: Land Purchased for Downtown's Largest Theater, Sid Grauman's Metropolitan

By Eric Richardson
Published: Friday, August 19, 2011, at 08:16AM
Paramount Theater Dick Whittington Studio / USC Digital Archives

A 1939 view of the auditorium inside the Paramount Theater, built in 1923 as Los Angeles' largest movie house. It featured 3,300 seats, including 2,000 on the balcony alone.

On August 19, 1919, theater man Sid Grauman announced that he had purchased land at 6th and Hill for $1 million and was moving forward with plans to put $2 million more into the construction of the Metrpolitan Theater, the largest movie theater ever built in Los Angeles.

It would open three-and-a-half-years later, on January 26, 1923, with 3,300 seats. The balcony alone sat 2,000.

Average citizens need not have tried for tickets to the opening.

"Stars, producers, directors and other film celebrities are requested to communicate to the Metropolitan the number of reservations desired on the opening night," read a story published in the L.A. Times a few days beforehand.

"The Metropolitan Theater is to be the very center of the motion-picture universe," Grauman told the paper, "and it is fitting, I think, that arrangements be made for the accommodation of representatives of the industry, even if the general public is forced to wait for the second night."

Grauman also urged theatergoers to buy their tickets from the box office, and not from scalpers.

The big land price turned out to be a good turn for Grauman. He sold the building and land for $4 million just two months after it opened, taking a 50-year lease to operate the theater.

Publix Theaters Corporation purchased the theater in 1929, renaming it the Paramount Downtown.

The building got a remodel in the early 1950's, but already the landmark structure's days were numbered. Developer David Shusett bought the Paramount in late 1958, giving credence to swirling rumors that the venue was to be torn down and replaced with new office space.

Two years later, Shusett unveiled plans for a 35-story tower.

In September of 1960, 200 people showed up to bid on items from the not-even-40-years-old theater as they were auctioned off. The $100,000 Wurlitzer organ went for just $7,500.

Demolition soon got underway, but it proved tougher than expected thanks to a structure that had been designed to support seven more stories than were ever built.

Shusett's tower plans never happened. The emptied lot sat for years as the developer and lender Home Savings fought over the title to the land. The bank ended up winning that fight in August of 1969.

A decade later, plans for a 25-story jewelry center tower were announced. Those plans got scaled back, but did eventually result in today's International Jewelry Center. The 16-story, 410,000 square foot complex opened in 1981 and features a distinctive zig-zag design created to give as many offices as possible access to north light, preferred by jewelers for judging the color of stones.


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