Movie House of Worship: Glendale, California’s Alex Theatre

By  · Published on December 30th, 2012

“Movie House of Worship” is a regular feature spotlighting our favorite movie theaters around the world, those that are like temples of cinema catering to the most religious-like film geeks. This week, guest submitter Ethan Schaeffer shares one of his favorite theaters. His comments are those quoted. If you’d like to suggest or submit a place you regularly worship at the altar of cinema, please email our weekend editor.

Name: Alex Theatre

Location: 216 North Brand Boulevard, Glendale, CA
Opened: September 4, 1925, as a vaudeville and movie house called the Alexander. Reopened on December 31, 1993, as the Alex Theatre Performing Arts & Entertainment Center.

No. of screens: 1

Current first-run titles: none

Repertory programming: The Alex Theatre doesn’t play movies too often anymore, but when they do it’s usually repertory events. The last screening on the calendar appears to have been an annual Three Stooges showcase presented by the theater’s Alex Film Society (reportedly regularly attended by relatives of the Stooges). The titles shown were An Apache in Every Stake, Movie Maniacs, Pop Goes the Easel, Merry Mavericks and Three Little Pigskins. In October, just before Halloween, they showed Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. In September, there was a centennial celebration of Chuck Jones with a festival programming of his work. Over the summer they showed family fare like E.T., The Princess Bride and The Neverending Story. As for future events, the Alex Film Society will hold a Billy Wilder tribute on February 16, 2013, with screenings of Some Like It Hot and Sunset Boulevard.

Special Events: Basically everything on the Alex Theatre’s calendar is a special event, from concerts to plays to screenings. Today, there’s a performance of Russia’s Jazz Ballet of Valery Tereshkin. Next month’s listings include a big band concert and a chamber orchestra performance. And in February they’re putting on Menopause: The Musical. As for major film events, there are still occasional movie premieres reminding us of the theater’s early history as a regular location for preview screenings. This fall, an indie production titled Crossroad held its debut there.

Why I worship here: ”I like this theater, but I don’t get to attend it often because it’s used for more than just movies. They don’t show movies frequently, and they don’t show as many movies that I’m interested in. They have a Three Stooges marathon and a Marx Brothers marathon on a yearly basis though. It’s a real treat. The theater’s built in the same vein as the Egyptian Theater. Ticket booths out front with a great movie theater sign up top. You purchase your ticket and walk down a long open patio before making it to the actual theater. It’s got a mezzanine section as well.”

Recent screening of note: ”I went to see the original King Kong there. Before the movie, someone came out to throw out a few facts, before asking how many people had seen the film previously. A number of us raised our hands. He then asked if anyone had seen it during its original theatrical release. One hand went up. There was one woman who came to see the film who had gone and seen it in the same theater over seventy years earlier.”

Devotion to the concessions: The only mention of concessions on the Alex Theatre website is on listings for the summer movie series, which notes that popcorn and bottled water are available and allowed in the auditorium. It’s assumed that most events don’t allow food inside, but there is a concession stand/bar typical of the sort found at theaters presenting live events.

Last word: The main appeal of the Alex Theatre today for us worshippers of the movie gods is its history. It’s another cathedral of cinema that’s more landmark than regular house of worship. So, here’s some more history about this beautiful building: “From the late 1920’s through the 1950’s, the Alex Theatre served as a preview house for major Hollywood releases and community events attracting the glamorous stars of the time from Hollywood. In 1940 in an effort to extend the glamour of the theatre out to Brand Boulevard, architect S. Charles Lee, a designer of over 400 movie houses, created a 100-foot tall Art Deco neon tower with a spiked starburst at the top. Integral to his design were the three dimensional marquee, outdoor ticketing kiosk, and the decorative terrazzo floor crested in bright tropical colors that were all restored as part of the restoration project.”

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.