By Alan Reyes
If you walk down 7th St. and arrive on the corner of Hill St. you’ll pass by the old Warner Bros. Theater – but you probably would never know it’s there. It’s now a jewelry store. The only way to identify the theatre from the exterior is to locate the imposing dome-cornered tower. You will notice that it’s flanked by twin facades on 7th and Hill, coated in white terra cotta.
The Warner Bros. Theatre was once a luxurious movie house for the masses. If you peek inside the jewelry store you will see the gutted interior of the old theater. By walking all the way to the back of the store, you can still see part of the stage and the counterweight system. Most of the old decor is still intact and if you look up you can still see the balconies with seats attached.
After taking a gander of the theater remains, you can close your eyes and imagine a different time filled with commotion and excitement that the theatre provided audiences. (Before there were jewelry display cases taking up the aisles).
The Warner Bros. Theatre opened on August 17, 1920 as the Pantages. Benjamin Marcus Priteca, a high profile theater architect based out of Seattle, did a lot of other work for the Pantages theater circuit. His most well-known architectural work that you probably know of would be the Hollywood Pantages, which he developed in 1930.
This 1920 design was very typical of the classical style Priteca favored in the 1920’s. The home of the Pantages theater before this point was the theater at 534 S. Broadway – now known as the Arcade. The theater at 7th and Hill St. was bought by Warner Bros. when Alexander Pantages sold his circuit in 1929. Many other theaters in the circuit were bought by RKO.
The theater reopened in 1929 as the Warner Bros. Downtown Theatre with its first show being “Gold Diggers of Broadway.”
In the mid 1960’s the theater was called the Warrens when it was operated by Metropolitan Theatres.
When the theater closed in 1975 it was then turned into a church for the next couple of years. The main floor and lobby have been used for the Jewelry Mart since the late 1970s. If you go inside the jewelry mart today you will see what was once a jewel in downtown, it’s definitely worth the visit even if you don’t have to buy jewelry. So next time your on 7th st and Hill St don’t forget to look up and see what once was.