Hollywood and Vine became a legitimate theater center in 1926-27 as three major theaters opened. The Hollywood Playhouse (now Avalon, previously known as The Palace), The Vine Street Theater (now the Ricardo Montalban, previously known as the Huntington Hartford and Doolittle t-heaters), and the Carter DeHaven Music Box (later known as the Pix Theater and most recently as the Henry Fonda Theater), each seating approximately 1,000 patrons. Our last newsletter highlighted the restoration of the Ricardo Montalban Theater, and last year the Avalon received extensive renovations.

An ongoing restoration/renovation of the Henry Fonda (6126 Hollywood Boulevard) started in 2002 by its then new leaseholders Thad Smith, Marco Roy, and Burt Nelson. Their aggressive promoting of the all but abandoned theater brought its booking schedule to a new level of success. As many events and shows are held there now on an average week as would have played in a year prior to their taking it over.

Their dedicated work went into making the theater viable again by restoring many of its interior elements and areas that had been covered up, closed, or remodeled over the years. More work is planed for next year as the original blueprints were located by contractor Randy Van Ausdall (who also does the repairs and building work for Wattles Mansion and the Hollywood Heritage Museum), and plans are being drawn to restore the lobby and façade.

The lobby was covered by a dropped ceiling, and actually goes 14 feet higher, in the 1950s. Statues and elaborate ceiling details remained hidden in place. The Spanish Colonial Revival façade also still remains under the current sheet metal façade. Plans for the original Music Box electric roof sign (removed by 1940) are being bid now and additional interior restoration of the lobbies and auditorium will continue on a regular basis as new information is discovered.

Beside the visible improvements, extensive new lighting and sound equipment have been added, restrooms and plumbing redone, and a new air conditioning system installed.

The other unseen surprise was the former roof garden theater and café which had been closed for over 60 years, unless you were a pigeon. Hidden from the street by the sheet metal façade, the stairs to it from the balcony lobby were reopened and the area cleaned, repaired, and restored. Most of the original painted ceiling murals remained and needed only minor repair. The view from the rooftop is a highlight of Hollywood as one can see the entire length of the Hollywood Boulevard Historic District (the theater sits at its far eastern edge). This rediscovered treasure of old Hollywood is now used for after show receptions and special events.

This legendary theater opened its doors on October 18, 1926 (October 18 was also the opening date for the Egyptian Theater in 1922) under the direction of Broadway star Carter DeHaven whose daughter, Gloria DeHaven, would become a top Hollywood movie star. As a legitimate theater many noteworthy plays strutted across the stage. Most notable may have been Dracula in 1930 starring Bela Lugosi, who had performed the show throughout Europe since the 1920s, and had just finished making the classic Universal Studios movie earlier that year. Lugosi was also by then a resident of Hollywood, living a few blocks from here on Hudson Avenue, just north of Hollywood Boulevard and across from the Janes sisters house (Lugosi’s house was actually written up in Architectural Digest at the time).

By 1936 radio had moved in as Hollywood began to pass New York as the key production center, yet NBC and CBS would not build their new studios here until 1938. The Lux Radio Theater originated from the Music Box before moving a couple of years later to the Vine Street Theater. Other shows, including Baby Snooks with Fanny Brice and The Dinah Shore Show would be broadcast from the Music Box while the theater would return periodically throughout the 1940s.

By the 1950s the theater had been converted to movies with its best-known name being the Pix Theater. By the mid-1980s, the Pix closed and the Nederlander Organization took it over to complement their larger theater, The Pantages, a block away. Renaming it the Henry Fonda, live theater returned on a g regular basis until 1994 when subway construction closed down not only this theater, but most other theater activity in what had been becoming a revival of stage shows in the area. The Pantages was restored and reopened to much success in 2000 and continues to be successful today. However, the Fonda fell through the cracks.

Enter Thad, Marco, and Burt, who found a mission, a very hard one, to bring back this tarnished landmark as a theater / event space, resulting in the theater’s rebirth. Their success will have brought in over 300 bookings this year alone, bringing with it a lot of jobs, money, and positive publicity to Hollywood. Concerts, plays, corporate events, benefits, luncheons, television shows, civic events, weddings, and even boxing have all made their way to the Music Box this year alone. Check out their web site at www.henryfondatheater.com for more information.

Hollywood Heritage is working now on plans for our 25th anniversary event to take place at the theater next November, for which the space is being generously donated.. To show their commitment to the community, Thad, Marco, and Burt have designated Hollywood Heritage as one of their official charities and are making a substantial monthly donation to us. Even without these two important contributions, Hollywood Heritage is very appreciative and supportive of this restoration of a landmark building into a successful business, and have been working with the owners to help them with their mission for the past year.

Two other notes of fate for this project. They are renaming the theater to it’s original title “The Music Box,” where the initials M, B, and T match those of Marco, Burt and Thad. Before opening here, Thad operated the Blue Palm Restaurant on LaCienega Boulevard. The original restaurant space on the east frontage of the theater was taken over so they can open a new restaurant. Historic photos obtained from Hollywood Heritage board member Marc Wanamaker revealed that, in 1940, the restaurant located there was named The Blue Palm. This month, after an absence of about 60 years, The Blue Palm restaurant returned to The Music Box, and you can now enjoy fine dining there before or after a show there, or walk a block from the Pantages, or just show up and thank Thad, Marco, and Burt for going the extra mile to bring back the “Magic of Hollywood,” as they care calling it, and sharing it with the community.