Save The Site of The Golden Gate Theater!


Most of us are sadly familiar with the present state of a former Eastside jewel, the Golden Gate Theater.

The property, including the remaining auditorium structure, are currently under ownership by a development company who appears inclined to possibly lease it to a commercial builder. I’ve heard of a proposed Walgreen’s drug store or something of that nature being mentioned. Over the past few years, I’ve undertaken a grassroots preservation effort by networking with local individuals and groups who unanimously agree that this former icon deserves a legacy worthy of the historical and cultural importance of our East Los Angeles community.

I now call out to anyone out there who agrees that this site of the Golden Gate Theater should house something of more significance and better use for the community than another drug store. And now, there’s a small glimmer of hope…

Based on my recent posts on the Golden Gate, I have recently been contacted by the Los Angeles Conservancy to share my efforts with them and present our case at a public hearing scheduled for next week. If you agree with us and would like to support our proposal for something better on that corner, now is the time that we need your emails and letters of support. Post your responses here, send an email, whatever way suits you, and I will compile the entire show of support and present it to the planning commission. And please do it soon! We’re also banking on our faith that Ms. Molina and the County board will also lend their support by reconsidering the current plans for the space.

Imagine the possibilities, An East L.A. Cultural, Arts & Heritage Center, a place for our neighborhood students to rediscover their local history. A place to showcase the images, recordings, readings, history, literature & arts that the Eastside has contributed to the world. Or perhaps a local non-profit could find some wonderful use for it. I especially would like to see the stage and auditorium refurbished and reused again. I’d almost say: “Anything but another drug store!

Thanks to all in advance! Let’s do this. Below is a copy of the L.A. Conservancy’s position letter with the information on the hearing at the very bottom.

Golden Gate Theater Re-Use Project – 5170-5188 Whittier Boulevard

Summary of the Proposed Project

Built in 1927, the 1,454-seat theater, located at the prime corner of Whittier and Atlantic Boulevards in unincorporated East Los Angeles, has sat vacant for well over a decade and has been repeatedly threatened with demolition, despite its listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  Its current owner, the Charles Company, purchased the building in 2003 and is proposing to renovate and remove many of the theatre’s interior features for use by a retail pharmacy.  The Los Angeles Regional Planning Commission will be considering the project at a public hearing on Wednesday, May 13, 2009.

Historic Significance of the Theater

•    The 1927 Golden Gate Theatre, is one of Los Angeles’ most significant neighborhood movie palaces.  The Spanish Churrigueresque-style theatre was built by developer Peter Snyder, known as the “Father of the East Side.”

•    It was designed by William and Clifford Balch, who also participated in the design of the El Rey Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard and the Fox Theatre in Pomona.  The Vega Building, a historic retail building that once surrounded the theatre, suffered damage from the Whittier Earthquake and was demolished in the early 1990s.

•    The Golden Gate Theatre is one of a handful of neighborhood movie palaces from the 1920s that remain in Southern California, and is the sole remaining intact neighborhood movie palace in East Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Conservancy Position

The Los Angeles Conservancy has objected to the proposed removal and covering over of interior features, leaving the space virtually unrecognizable and unusable as a theater, and also threatening its listing in the National Register of Historic Places.  The Conservancy has requested changes to the design that would leave the interior intact and visible to the public, and has also urged the developer to seriously consider other, more compatible community-oriented uses – such as a  live theater, restaurant or club use, or use as an assembly space for religious congregations.

Public Hearing and Public Comments

Please plan on attending the May 13, 2009 hearing to share your views about the proposed project.  The Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission will hear public comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report, which discusses the impacts of the project on the historic theater and also evaluates other possible uses.  This is a valuable opportunity for members of the public to learn about the proposed project and to share their opinions with the developer and decision makers.

What:  Los Angeles County Regional Planning Commission Meeting
When: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 9:00 a.m.
Where: Health Services Auditorium, 313 N. Figueroa, Los Angeles, CA 90012

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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

48 thoughts on “Save The Site of The Golden Gate Theater!

  1. Thank you for taking up the cause of this important theater! Let’s open her up for a tour so people can see what’s there to be saved.

  2. A community meeting was held this evening, May 6 at Tacos Mexico Rest. to discuss the proposed development and future of our historic landmark, The Golden Gate Theater. Reps from the developers and the East Los businesses were present. All smiling. Personally I was quite saddened to understand that next year, The 40 Anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium and March for Justice on Whittier Blvd. will probably be marked, if the developers have their way, by the grand opening festivities of a new CVS Pharmacy, with a drive thru! Located in The Golden Gate Theater. They did say they would be sensitive to the preservation of the building. Seriously, tonight it sounded like a done deal… A CVS Phamacy, what would Ruben Salazar or Oscar Zeta Acosta say about this preservation movida? What would they say to us. The keepers of our historia? Of the 50 or so present this evening, maybe a 12 year old Chicanito said it best as he spoke boldly into the mic., My grandparents told me beautiful stories about the Golden Gate and Whittier Blvd. and what it meant to them…and that’s why I’m here. To hear the new plans. And this is it? The best you can do? A drugstore that sells beer? Geez man, I don’t know. When I get old, what do I tell my kids about a drug store?
    Could have used you tonight, jente…maybe, May 13. This vato still believes in “Chicano Power!” We need to slow this roll. C/S

  3. That is awesome that you are leading the fight to save this place!

    Not another drug store! How many theaters have to die for drug stores (or in the case of my favorite theater in my hometown, a Hometown Buffet)? I never saw the Golden Gate in its heyday but every time I’ve driven past in recent years, I wonder what it’s like inside.

    I’ll plan on attending the hearing to see what the developer’s proposal looks like and to support this theater becoming a theater again.

  4. Please don’t destroy this building! There may be a number of these classic movie palaces in Los Angeles, but throughout the world they are a dying breed. Why not celebrate our city as the home to the most movie palaces in the world? This is a beautiful building and unfortunately nothing like this gets built anymore.

  5. Hey!! wow this is amazing!!! I wanted to go to the meeting in tacos mexico but I got confused and thought it was at the theater location, anyway I didn’t go but I thought about what they spoke about all night. I think its so sad that they want to do this to this place. me personally have not seen what a glory this place was in its best days, Im 23 so “NO ME TOCO VERLO” but I can only imagine how it used to be. I have always had that strong curiosity to see the inside. I have researched the Internet hoping to find good pictures and I have not been very succesful. But it breaks my heart that this place that obviously can mean alot to this city is just going to be another CVS. there is a drug store 3 min going north on Atlantic and another one 5 min going east on whittier and after that one theres another one on montebello and whittier blvd. how many of these do we really need?? MAKE IT SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL!!!! SOMETHING THAT THIS COMMUNITY CAN BE PROUD OF!!! SOMETHING WITH A LITTLE OF WHAT IT USED TO BE SO WE CAN LEARN AND APPRECIATE THE HISTORY ON EAST LOS ANGELES!!!!

  6. right on
    I was lucky enough to go inside the theater thanks to my older brother.
    This was back in the mid 1980’s and if i remember correctly it was being used for some religious event. I was a child, but i could see how great and grand the inside was once.
    The story and
    Yes this place has to be revitalized into some sort of community arts complex not a retail shop.
    Come on the fat lady has not sung yet, and by that i mean Gloria “frijoles fritos” Molina.
    They did it with the Orpheum and Million Dollar.
    Dont lose hope!

  7. Id love to help the fight to save this theatre, but Im not sure it will be converted to anything. A pal of mine works commerical real estate in the area and they couldnt get a tenant anywhere near that place because of several huge obstacles.

    First of all, any tenant would need to give the place some serious upgrades in order to recieve an occupancy permit, serious renovations that will costs millions in the least. My pal handled cost estimates for several serious tenants who had a hard on for the site (he had one to get an anchor tenant to keep the theatre from being torn down, which he was afraid of if it sat vacant) and even the biggest national chains couldnt afford renovations.

    Beyond that is the parking situation. For any dru store or major tenant a certain amount of parking is required, whic this property does not have. It did not have the needed parking space even before they developed the northwest portion of the block, and now even less. Serious tenant had studied a praking structure int he back, but that was too expensive. The developed wou;d hvae to bribe a lot fo folks in the county planning department for that one, so be diligent and make sure the county doesnt fast track this development. I have no faith in the county planning department btw, so seriosuly look into this issue.

    Those 2 factors are the foundation of commercial realty, hoefully they keep the theatre from further problems. i cannot possibly see a drive thru being butchered in, we need this place designated historic stat.

  8. I’m not sure what would be best for the Golden Gate but something along the lines of a cultural or historic center seems to be appropriate.

  9. If East LA has any shot of ever incorporating, of actually becoming a city, another drug store is not likely to attract more business or developers. Restoring this building, creating a cultural center for music, film, and art, now that’s something special. Just do a search for images of the theater and the idea of shoehorning a pharmacy into that building will appall you.

  10. Anyone interested in joining the Committee to Save Golden Gate Theater or coming a brainstorming session TONIGHT (at an undisclosed location) on how to proceed to save GGT, email me your phone number at

  11. I totally disagree with the whole CVS idea, but seriously…by leaving these landmarks vacant and neglected for a decade, we are asking for this kind of thing.

    Why is it ok to leave historic landmarks neglected and boarded up, and only when some developer/ mega corp proposes a completely inappropriate use for the place, citizens mobilize and things get done?

    It seems ass-backwards, but the way things get done in LA, or landmarks get lost when the developers prevail.

  12. Sammy, just to clarify a little, I don’t think anybody thinks it’s okay to neglect a property, historically valuable or not. But unfortunately, the Golden Gate Theatre is not, and has never been, in the public domain.

    It’s been owned by the current developer since 2002. (Also some people assert that the doors to the theatre were purposefully left unlocked for a long time, so as to encourage vandals to enter and help destroy the building’s interior. These same persons say they called Gloria Molina’s office dozens of times to report this neglect, but to no avail.) Before that, it was owned by some other rich person or persons who also didn’t care to restore it. While the public can oppose certain projects (like demolition and such), the public cannot as easily force a project (like restoration), sadly enough.

    Since the theatre has never been in the hands of the community that would like to see it restored, and since buying it is not within the average person’s reach, blame for its neglect should be directed to the rich, who have failed to restore it, and to our capitalist culture, which makes politically unfeasible the idea of the county itself purchasing, restoring and operating the theatre.

  13. I worked there in theearly to mid-1940’s and it is beautiful inside or at least it was. The dressing room are back stage on the left when you face the stage.
    the stairway to the mezenein is two sided an dyes the ticket office is gome but I have many fond ,e,ories of Saturday shows in the ’40s. Cracked Mirror Tompkins

  14. some recent news on the “development” of the Golden Gate site…

    apparently Barrio Planners is proposing an alternate plan “on behalf of the Mothers of East Los Angeles that includes rebuilding the Vega Building as well as rehabilitating the theater.”

    oh and this alternate plan also includes “a larger drive-thru pharmacy than the one proposed by The Charles Company.”

  15. this is getting interesting…
    more details emerge on barrio planners’ alternative proposal:
    -rehabilitated theater
    -rebuilt mixed-use vega building.
    -underground parking
    -performing arts charter school
    -$14,309,900 construction cost
    -theater governing board with MELA, other non-profits
    -no word from developers/owners on alternate plan
    -funding being sought (stimulus funds, grants possible)

    i’m all for keeping the theater a theater. putting the new pharmacy where the old pharmacy used to be seems like a compromise to give the owners a commercial incentive to build while being able to incorporate educational/cultural aspects into the project.

  16. I Think We Should Keep The Golden Gate Theater As It Is Or For Something That Will Help The Community!

  17. The Planning Commission will decide on October 21st 2009 whether to approve or deny the CVS in the theater. Seems as if the CVS gets approved, the Vega Building will probably never get rebuilt. Restoring back the theater and building a charter school for performing arts in a rebuilt Vega building would be a much better fit for East LA. Now that the Gold line is going to pass through this side of town, this would be a perfect opportunity to revitalize the site as a community arts venue. Those of you who want to voice their opinion, please attend the planning commission meeting on Oct. 21st, 9:00 am at 320 West Temple Street, rm 150, Los Angeles. There is no parking for this building, your best bet is parking in China Town and walking over or paying $20 at a public parking on hill and 1st. You could also take the metro (purple or red line) and get off at the civic center station.

  18. I am a new member of the Los Angeles Historic Theater Foundation (not a board member or anything) but I care what happens to this theater and plan on attending the meeting on Oct 21. Let us know if the date or time change.

    I am letting the rest of LAHTF know too.

  19. The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation helped secure Landmark status for this building years ago and we are very interested and concerned about its future. The Golden Gate is an irreplaceable community cultural resource deserving of restoration and reactivation. We will send an alert to our mailing lists and mention the 10/21 hearing at our All About the Leimert/Vision Theatre this Saturday at 10:30am. The community has spoken clearly on the need to save the Golden Gate, has identified alternate uses and deserves the support of local government.

  20. My strongest feeling lies in the fact that a place like this will probably never be built again. So to tear it down or to disfigure it would be the same as losing an icon forever to gain another nondescript retail outlet. Hopefully the true thinkers will realize the importance of preserving this treasure. And also – hopefully someone with financial means will join in the effort. In our capitalistic society, this will be the most important need to keep it alive as a theatre.

  21. The Golden Gate Theater will still be on the agenda tomorrow but the commission cannot decide to approve or deny the CVS because the Charles Company has not submitted the final environmental impact report. They will have until Oct. 30 to submit it to the planning commission. It would still be a good idea to attend the Planning Commission Hearing tomorrow, to show opposition to the CVS and have it on record. Click on the following link to read the report:

  22. According to today’s planning commission hearing, the project will be continued to next week, Oct. 28 same time and location. Please make a note to attend this hearing to voice opposition. The link I posted above outlines the projects intention and how they will design the interior to cover the ornamental elements without restoring it.

  23. The architect presented the CVS project to the commission this past Wednesday and everyone seemed to be in favor of it including the conservancy. It looks like this project will get approved. There was no one there to speak against it except for one person from Mothers of East Los Angeles. The commission will decide which date to continue the project at the Nov. 4 commission meeting. I will post when the hearing will take place for when the commission will decide to approve the CVS which seems like they already decided.

  24. Nicole,
    Where you at the same meeting I was at? I sat in the front row with my parents, where were you siting? Why didn’t you speak up if you feel it’s so important? I heard two men speak out against this project. One was Hillsman Wright from the Los Angeles Historical Theater Foundation, maybe his polite manner confused you but he is very much against any removal of the Golden Gate Theater interior or exterior. The other was a gentlemen by the name of David Mercer. He represented neighborhood businesses and was against this project as well. He wanted to see it saved and reused with out the interior or exterior harmed.
    I was glad to hear from the representative from the Mothers of East Los Angeles but I think she needed more people to support her and to get the point across that the neighborhood cares. She seemed it was more important not to have alcohol sold over the historic nature of the theater and to turn it in to a community theater.
    I am a member of the LAHTF and I am sad to say that we can’t get the members here to support this. People work and it’s not in there backyard I guess. The LA Conservancy does seem to think that this compromise the architect Robert Chattel has come up with will do “OK” but Mr Chattel and LAC do not want to see it happen really. I walked up and talked to them after the hearing last week to see what they thought and no one seemed happy really. The architect did the best he could given the constraints and limitations he was given but it seems to me he didn’t want CVS to go in but as the commission said “no one wants it to sit there empty”.

    That’s my 2 cents! I’ll be in the front row again on Wednesday if you’d like to meet me.

  25. The effort of Mothers of East Los Angeles is clearly a historical preservation effort, however it is our vision to save the entire building for theater/cinema reuse. In order to do this, we will rely on the 1994 Environmental Impact Report, the document which allowed the legal demolition of the Vega Building which was once part of the Golden Gate Complex. Mothers of East Los Angeles hired Barrio Planners to prepare a report on a alternative plan for the Golden Gate Theater. We have presented a copy of the report to the staff of Regional Planning, the Charles Company, and the Los Angeles Conservancy. We have also included the commercial allowance for a CVS drugstore which historically is relevant since the Vega Building originally housed the Rexall drugstore. The 2nd floor and expansion of the Vega Building will be dedicated to a charter school of performing arts. We will post the report on our website and will update everyone on when it is up.

  26. According to a representative of the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, the owner of the Golden Gate Theater have yet to submit the EIR. Tomorrow’s action will be to continue the case until February 3rd date. They do not anticipate any lengthy discussion so I will not be going. I hope we can get more people to show up on Feb 3rd.

  27. Mothers of East Los Angeles attended today’s planning commission meeting and although the commission did not anticipate any lengthy discussion, we still gave a testimony and so did one other gentlemen both of us stating our opposition to the project. We are now providing our report online please find it at the following link:

    According to today’s meeting, the next hearing will take place on February 17,2009, this is a very important date to attend the hearing. The Charles Company stated today that they will submit the final environmental impact report next week.

  28. Oh my, I cant believe how Torn up and ugly this theater has become,this place was once a fine theater, also one of my favorite Hangouts.. With EDDIE TORRES, EDDIE MACIEL,HANK CASTRO,I remeber one night comming back from the hollywood paladium,EDDIE TORRES big screen T.v. was Missing and all fingers where ponting to THE NIGHT OWL, Toney I had good times with those older friends I was 17 at the time.., Does anyone remeber the recording room downstairs?..eddie maciel had so many scrap books of the EAST SIDE GROUPS..The peres Brothers, Salas Brothers. the wonder what beacame of my people ….There is a good documentary you folks must see CHICANO ROCK THE HISTORY..its great but needed more details…..Thanks for the memories..etc..

  29. The next Planning commission meeting is on Wednesday, February 17, 2009, at 9:00 am. The Golden Gate Theater is first on the agenda so it is important that people get their on time if they would like to voice their opinion. This hearing is important because they will discuss the final environmental report which could be found here:

    Under Case Downloads, click on final environmental impact report.

    If you are going to attend the planning commission meeting, please note that there is no parking so make arrangements to carpool or take the metro to the civic center station (red or purple line)

  30. I have posted interior photos of the Golden Gate Theatre from photos taken in 2009 by the Chattel Architecture firm. I was given permission to scan them and post them by Chattel Architecture as they where made public in the report given to the LA County Dept. of Regional Planning back in October 2009.

    Please feel free to look at them and comment if you have a Flickr account


  31. We gave testimony at todays planning commission meeting, but the commission proceeded to certify the Final EIR. The next meeting is Mar. 10, same place and time. Please attend this meeting to voice your opinion if you have concerns about a CVS pharmacy occupying the Golden Gate Theater.

  32. How about proposing a certified organic supermarket. That way the community gets delicious nutrient filled food rather than all that GMO chemical filled food they have out here. I don’t need a drug store nor a McDonalds.


  33. There will be a public hearing regarding the Golden Gate Theater tomorrow May 25, 2010 at 9:30 am at room 381 B of the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, 500 West Temple St, Los Angeles, Ca 90012. Please attend if you would like to voice your opinion.

  34. I agree with the second comment!!:

    “Daniel Lyman
    May 7th, 2009 | 10:22 am

    Please don’t destroy this building! There may be a number of these classic movie palaces in Los Angeles, but throughout the world they are a dying breed. Why not celebrate our city as the home to the most movie palaces in the world? This is a beautiful building and unfortunately nothing like this gets built anymore.”

    As a socal native, an art historian and architecture student in downtown L.A., I lament the state of Los Angeles planning committees that don’t put priority on our crumbling treasures. Los Angeles HAS the space… let’s keep history alive AND build new places for the community. I want to live in a city with amazing history and shiny new wonders.

    To keep this theater alive, take a cue from the Fox Theater renovation. This could be a truly unique entertainment venue. I envision this place being a movie theater that serves food and wine, and a concert venue that brings a little spotlight over to the eastside. Young people in East L.A., downtown, Echo Park and Silver Lake would DEFINITELY make the trek to a “sketchy” part of town to see their favorite show in a unique and romantic setting. Promise!!

  35. A few months ago I drove through my old neighborhood in east Los Angeles and was shocked to see East Los Angeles’s flagship theater, the Golden Gate looking like a Euorpean building, bombed in world war two. As a young teenager I used to go to the GGT back in the fiftys. It exibited motion pictures with the standard of quality equal too any of the large hollywood exhibitors. It had a the latest cinemascope screen and state of the art stereophonic sound. It had the seating, ambiance and the presentation equal to the best exhibitors. In the 70’s I worked for the company producing Voice of theatre sound equipment, (used by the GGT). Being in the industry I would visit various theatres throughout Los Angeles and the Hollywood area and monitor the equipment. Theaters like the Chinese, the Paramount, now the El Capitan, the Egyptian and the Cinerama Dome. The Golden Gate’s presentations were right up there with the best of them. Why it has been allowed to fall into shambles is beyond me. The Cinerama dome theatre opened in the 60’s when attendance started to decline it was rejuvinated with shops and restaurants the dome is now very successfull. The same was done with Hollywoods Paramount theatre (the El Capitan). Even the Chinese theater offers guided tours through the auditorium.

  36. To turn this historical theatre into a drugstore is to destroy one of east Los Angeles’s
    landmarks. Let’s not let this legend fall as did the Garmar theater.

  37. Well looks like the people you voted into office really care about these things. Despite of everyone’s feelings toward this issue they are gonna build a CVS????… Great, Another Liquor Store…Like We Need One!!

  38. I don’t live in East LA, but I pass this building all the time. It is quite beautiful, and I’d like to see it stay, so I just wanted to say thank you for your efforts. If it’s any support, a far uglier, and complete eyesore here in Fullerton called the Fox Theater was preserved, so there is some hope.

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