Memories of a Lost Boulevard: The Center Theater

Memories of a Lost Boulevard Series, A Tribute to Whittier Boulevard
Whittier Boulevard Movie Theaters, Part 3.

4762 Whittier Blvd.
East Los Angeles, CA

955 South Kern Avenue, just south of Whittier Blvd. is where I lived for most of my early childhood. It was a warm, kid friendly, suburban neighborhood where everything you needed was a skip away. I fondly remember living like a Mexican “Leave It To Beaver” episode on that sweet tree-shaded avenue. My earliest memories are from the age of five, playing with my neighborhood friends and attending Ford Blvd. Elementary School. I hold wonderful memories of exploring all those streets, stores, theaters and back alleys from Arizona Avenue to almost Atlantic Avenue and back. I especially loved riding my stingray bike to Safety Liquors on Arizona Ave. to buy Comic books and MAD Magazines. I’d wear my homemade Batman cape and mask I had asked my mom to sew for me one evening after she had come home from her seamstress job at the sweatshop on Whittier and Vancouver Avenue. She had made it for me happily despite the constant pain in her back from sewing together ladies sportswear all day.
I remember setting up a little vendor stand in front of my house to sell the “Creepy Crawlers” bugs I made on my “Thingmaker”. Halloweens were magnificent on my street. I even remember that in those days there were some white families around that we would be friends with. All of us living together in the heart of E.LA.
I learned to cross the street on my own at around age 8 or 9 (streets were very narrow and calm in that neighborhood). And once that whole world of Whittier Boulevard was opened to me, it soon became my constant domain. That ability to cross the street had also enabled me to discover the Center Theater at 4762 Whittier Boulevard, just around the corner from my house.
Whenever I could scrape together the 25c, I‘d be in there. I remember being extra careful whenever I’d go see “scary” movies. I’d make sure to come out of the theater during the remaining “daylight” hours because walking home after dark after watching a marathon of “Hammer” or Herschell-Gordon Lewis films would turn my walk home into a panicked, fear filled journey with every “Cucuy” I could imagine chasing close behind me.

The Center was less distinguished than the Boulevard Theater and the stately Golden Gate. It seemed to show mostly the less-than-high-budget type films of the day, but man, those were the most fun to see on a Sunday matinée. I remember that the theater had a unique feature, a hamburger stand that was built into the lobby, that could also be accessed from the street. When I was broke, I would often sit at that food counter and get an occasional peek of the movie in progress when someone would crack open the auditorium doors.

Here’s a rough drawing I made from memory depicting the snack bar that served both the inside and the outside patrons of the Center Theater.

This is where one would see the movies destined to become “cult” favorites in decades to come. The Center theater would feature Horror Film Marathons advertising a “Real Nurse in Attendance!” and had VOMIT BAGS distributed to the audience! Fond memories of some films I saw at the Center include:

• Wild in the Streets
• Blood Feast / The Gruesome Twosome
• The Beatles’ HELP! / Hold On! With Herman’s Hermits
• The Ghost & Mr. Chicken /Munster Go Home!
• The Man from Flintstone (With live appearance by the Flintstones!)
• Something Weird / The Conquerer Worm
• Count Yorga Vampire/ Race with the Devil
• Batman! / In Like Flint

• (A cool short skateboarder film from 1965 titled): Skater Dater

In later years, the theater became more and more run down, and my visits became less frequent. I seem to recall that for a time, the auditorium was turned into a wrestling ring and they advertised weekly “Lucha Libre” matches. A comment in the Cinema Treasures site claims that in it’s final years, the theater screened All Male Porn Films. I personally never saw that, but that doesn’t mean it may not have happened.

I was greatly frustrated and disappointed to find no images available of the Center Theater while researching for this post. Thus, my own hand drawn rendition of what I remember the Center Theater to be like.

I recall that next to the Center Theater was a little butcher shop where my Mom would buy fresh meat or “manteca” by the pound wrapped in pink wax paper with the price scrawled in black grease pencil. I was always freaked out by finding myself at eye-level with the big, cold disembodied pig heads that sat smiling in their glass display case. I’d usually buy a tart green pickle from the giant glass jar on the counter, or maybe a Batman trading card from one of their vending machines.

The Cinema Treasures site has this description for the Center Theater:
“Opened in 1926, the Center had push back seats, and frosted glass running lights which were over six feet tall on the side walls. The upstairs lounge was modeled after a large European drawing room. Painted scenes of gardens could be seen behind tall decorative windows.” One comment on the site claims that even “The Three Stooges” once made a personal appearance at the Center Theater in the early 1960’s.

The Center Theater building now houses retail stores including “El Indio Amazonico”, and a Farmacia/Clinica.

After doing a lot of snooping and searching, I sadly realized that besides the gutted building structure itself, this little strip of floor tiling still visible (yellow, green & red) between the concrete sidewalk and the white colored floor tiles is all that is left of the original Center Theater. The greatest tragedy of all is that, based on my extensive research, no full photos of the former Center Theater appear to exist.

This entry was posted in East Los, Eastside, history, Personal, Photos, Uncategorized by AlDesmadre. Bookmark the permalink.

About AlDesmadre

Al Guerrero, Artist/Humorist. Los Angeles, CA. Born in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico and raised in East Los Angeles from the age of two, Al Guerrero grew up just steps from the famous Chicano strip, Whittier Boulevard. His youth experiences include witnessing and participating in the 1970 Chicano Power demonstrations, cruising cars on Whittier Boulevard, and graduating from Garfield High School. After dropping out of UCLA (with honors), he drew upon his lifelong passion for art and cartooning and pursued a career in graphic arts. During this period, he traveled overseas and found artistic inspiration from the masterworks he discovered within the European Art Museums. His career blossomed when he was eventually hired by the Walt Disney Company in 1995, where he worked as a creative artist for a number of years. Although the artistic work was rewarding, he eventually grew weary & disillusioned with the bureaucracy of the entertainment business, and left to work briefly in the educational field. His credits include producing a feature film with actor, Conrad Brooks of Ed Wood fame, founding and performing with the Punk Rock group “The Psychocats” at numerous L.A. & Hollywood venues during the 1990’s, and in 1999 he founded and created a hell-bent puppet cabaret show aptly named: “The Puppets from Hell”. As a long time active member of the Los Angeles Cacophony Society, Al “Quaeda”, as he was known, was involved in countless Cacophony Society pranks and events throughout the city. He also produced the “Incredibly Strange Cinema” cult film series as well as themed events such as the now infamous “Pornothon Movie Nights” and the satirical “Mexican Night: Noche De Tequila & Putas” shows at local nightclub venues. Throughout his art career, he has exhibited his canvas paintings at various local galleries, and has also written & illustrated numerous comic strips and Graphic Novel stories. Today, he lives in Silver Lake, California and works as a freelance artist and writer with numerous multi-media projects under his belt and in the works. His personal hobbies include collecting vintage toys and comic books, cinema history and Los Angeles City history. Contact: Al Guerrero P.O. Box 29697 Los Angeles, CA 90029-0697

12 thoughts on “Memories of a Lost Boulevard: The Center Theater

  1. My parents recently told me of their going to the Center Theater as children so I was curious about it. Thanks for the story. I am curious though if you know where the Boulevard Theater was that you mentioned.

  2. The Boulevard Theater is at 4549 Whittier Blvd between McDonnel & McBride Aves.
    It still stands although it’s been used only as a church for many years. I’ll be writing it up soon.

  3. I remember the Center. I recall only paying .25 cents to see a movie. The snack bar I recall was Orange Julius. They were great. I also remember the 3 Stooges. I was puzzled by Moe’s slicked back hair. Nearby was the Thrifty Drug store with the counter snack bar. and across the street was the Blue Chip stamp store. Afew blocks up there was a B of A near the Toy Chest toy store and across the street from the bowling alley.

    Great memories of ELA.

  4. My step-grandfather owned boulevard theater. My dad would work there as a kid.

  5. I also grew up in 60’s & 70’s in East L.A. I also Attended Ford Blvd.,Griffith Jr. High & Garfield. I remember growing up at 1025 So. Kern. Playing football in the street till dark, Walking down the Blvd. to Jonsons Mkt., The Golden Gate, Over to Fox Drugs store in the Kmart shopping center. They have the carnivals in the dirt lot at Whittier and Goodrich. Go over to the A&W next Doug Headers where Mcdonalds is now. Remember going to Kress,Grants,Woolworth & Toy Villa or Story Music & the Record Inn.Those were the the growing up in Downtown East.L.A. Kurly’s was the shop for men ,Gallankamps shoes Thom McKans, Gansons,Mode o day,Learners for the ladies. Leeds,Karls’Henry’s shoes next to Al’s Army & Navy.

  6. Al Desmadre: You and I use to hang around together,we even went fishing at Sheriff Station the using a window screen.The name of the bar next to the Acapolco was the Red Binki. We had two barber shop next to each other. Manny’s was south of the ally and DeLux barber shop between the printer and the shoe repair shop on the north side by Vals cleaners

  7. Dude! are you George R. ? u had an older brother? Wow! that’s cool! 🙂 ha! hey remember hanging out at the alleys behind Whittier Blvd? Remember Ozzie from Safety Liquor? LOL! I was recently back on Kern to see what it’s like now and I see that my old house is trashed 🙁 but my old neighbor’s house still looks like it did back in the day. Hey- Thanks for remembering all those great shops of off Kern Avenue and thanks for writing in George! Great to hear from you!

  8. I don’t recall ever seeing a mention here of the United Artists Theatre in 5000 block of Whittier Boulevard, across the street from the Toy Villa and one block west of the Record Rack where I worked in the 1950s. It became a Spanish language house in the late 1950s, but prior to that it screened English language films and tried (mostly in van) to compete with the Golden Gate.

  9. My Dad was the manager of the Center Theater in the late 50’s thru the early 60’s. I knew the inside of this theater inside and out including the hidden dressing rooms built during the 1920’s. Sad to see the original marquee had been removed. Next door to the east of the theater was Young’s furniture store.
    The Three Stooges played at the theater in 1959.
    during this showing, there was a miniature model “T” Ford driving back and forth between Fetterly and Kern in front of the theater. That driver was me. I have only a couple of pictures left of the original concession stand.
    I grew up on Verona Street and went to Ford Blvd. Elementary, Griffith Jr. High and Garfield High School.
    It’s great to see all those who have the same memories.

  10. Photographs of the Golden Gate and Boulevard Theaters are available, but photographs are needed for the Center Theater, 4762 Whittier Blvd, The Royal Theater, 5123 Whittier Blvd., and the United Artists Theater, which was directly across the street from the Royal at 5126 Whittier Blvd. Architect information is also needed for the Center and Royal Theaters. If anyone has any suggestions to help fill this important gap in information concerning East Los Angeles history please write: as well as the Theatre Historical Society.

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