AKA: Mayan Theater, Los Angeles, CA

Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: Morgan, Walls and Clements, Architects (firm); Stiles Oliver Clements (architect); Francisco Cornejo (sculptor); Octavius Weller Morgan Sr. (architect); John A. Walls (architect)

Dates: constructed 1926-1927

2 stories

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1038 South Hill Street
Downtown, Los Angeles, CA 90015-1614

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Carla Breeze, American Art Deco Architecture and Regionalism, (New York: W.W. Norton, 2003), p. 17, says 1038 South Hill Street; Gebhard and Winter, Guide, 1994, say 1040 South Hill Street;


The Mayan Theatre was one of the leading examples of its day of the Mayan Revival Style that had limited popularity in the US, mostly in California. Notabe examples included this theatre by the noted firm of Morgan Walls and Clements, the Aztec Hotel in Monrovia, CA, (1925-1926) by Robert Stacy-Judd, and Miller and Pflueger's 450 Sutter Street Office Building, San Francisco, CA,(1927).

Building History

The 1,491-seat Mayan Theatre accommodated its first live stage show on 08/15/1927, a production of the musical "Oh Kay!" The Mayan was part of the Broadway Historic District; at its opening, it seated 1,491. Artist, Francisco Cornejo, designed the exterior sculpture on the Mayan Theatre. It switched from primarily live-action theatre to film exhibition in 1929.

The Mayan housed a theatre showing pornography c. 1980. It was renovated c. 1989-1990. In 2003, the Mayan housed a nightclub.

Building Notes

The Mayan had, in the 1920s, a tower sign that spelled out "Mayan" vertically. In Los Angeles in the mid-1920s, architects felt the need to discover unusual, novel and exotic styles for their movie palace commissions. The Los Angeles Times theatre critic, Arthur Miller described the new exotic architectural vocbulary of the Mayan Theatre in a column just after its opening on 09/04/1927: "We have had a run of exotic architecture. First the Egyptian, then the Chinese were built, duly opened and remain extremely interesting show places, but it must be confessed they do not excite unrestrained enthusiasm among impassioned admirers of the art of thsoe ancient civilizations. Good theaters, yes, but scarcely archeological monuments. Well, what next? Ah, Mayan, Aztec, Toltec. None of these ancient American architectures had ben adapted to the theater thus far. Gerald O. Davis, manager of the new Mayan Theater recently opened at Eleventh and Hill streets, conceived the Mayan idea. Morgan, Walls and Clement, architects, carried it out with a thoroughness that makes this new musical comedy house unique. But the final impression on the visitor is of color. The authentic and beautifully combined decorative elements, such as the proscenium, made up of symbolic bas relief adapted from the great temple in Guatemala, the sculptureal treatment of the ceiling and great central lighting fixture, the carven panels that abound in the walls, these things could easily have been ruined by injudicious coloring. The decorating contractor is to be congratulated on securing the services of Francisco Cornejo, for this work. Cornejo has preached and practed the use of Aztec designfor decorative purposes for many years. He has brought to this country more than one exhibition of Aztec art from the National Museum in Mexico City. It has been his contention that this old art, native to the soil of this continent, is less exotic and more suitable for our use than the art of those past European periods form which most of our architectural decorative detail is customarily drawn. In a certain measure, he may be conceded his point. There has been a discrepancy between the structure of much American architecture and the type of decoration used to cover it. These early American civilizations conveived a square and angular type of building, which has something in common with our own modern buildings. As their decoration grew out of the shape of the buildings, it, too, was square in general character. In our own business buildings, which are setting the type for our public buildings, also, the arch is seldom used with much success. By the same token the scrolls and arabesques so much used for decoration usually have a tawdry and dinky effect. The straight line is better for us, and by at least that much primitive American architecture and decoration adapt themselves well to our world." (See Arthur Miller, Art and Artists: Good Art Enhances Theater Decoration," Los Angeles Times, 09/04/1927, part III, p. 9.) Architects and critics of the time were eager to germinate a new American archtiecture that was appropriate to the growing and increasingly powerful nation. As mentioned in the article, the artist Francisco Cornejo (1892-1963) promoted Pre-Columbian art as an appropriate basis on which to build a new American architecture.

In the early 1920s, architect Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959) first resuscitated Pre-Columbian motifs in his Textile Block houses in Los Angeles; there was a belief among some in Southern CA, that the rectilinear Mayan architectural vocabulary was formally appropriate for modern, mass-produced commercial use, and that, because it came from our own continent, had more validity and authenticity than styles imported from Europe or the Far East. While Wright became the first to introduce the language in Southern CA, the English architect Robert Benjamin Stacy-Judd (1884-1975) became the region's leading proponent of Pre-Columbian styles in the region. He became something of an archaeologist and wrote an account of his journey to the Yucatan, entitled, The Ancient Mayas, Adventures in the Jungles of Yucatan, (Los Angeles, Haskell-Travers, Incorporated, 1934).

Los Angeles City Historical-Cultural Monument (Los Angeles): 460

PCAD id: 301