Those looking for a taste of Hollywood’s Golden Age need not venture to the Broadway theater District in Downtown L.A., or that strip of Hollywood Blvd. that is akin to driving into the belly of the beast. The newly expanded Alex Theatre in Glendale provides a similar trip back in time, but with much more accessible parking and less traffic. It’s also now even better equipped, thanks to a just-completed $6 million infrastructure expansion, for everything from movie programs to concerts to live theater.
To celebrate the theater’s grand re-opening on Saturday night, Martin Short will combine virtually all of the above during an evening of song, dance and comedy. Proceeds from the event will benefit Glendale Arts, the non-profit that produced the show and is responsible for roughly 15% of the venue’s programming. The other 85% is attributed to such resident companies as the Alex Film Society, the Los Angeles Ballet and the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which rent out the space.
If gazing at the Alex’s ornate facade elicits a sense of deja vu, it’s because the architects behind the fabled Grauman’s Chinese and Egyptian Theatres, Meyer & Holler, also built the Alex back in 1925. Its deep courtyard definitely takes a page from the Egyptian, while its combination of Doric (exterior) and Ionian (interior) columns — associated with both Greek Classicism and Ptolemaic Egypt — give the building a kind of Cecil B. DeMille grandeur.
In 1940, a 100-foot neon-lit art deco marque was added, designed by theater architect S. Charles Lee, also known for the Bruin Theatre in Westwood. It all feels very much of a bygone era, including the bar in Terrace Lobby, which wouldn’t feel out of place in the Hotel Overlook of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.”
This is not the first time the Alex has been upgraded. When the Glendale Redevelopment Agency (now the City of Glendale Successor Agency) purchased the Alex in 1992, a one-year restoration ensued before the movie palace was re-opened as a performing arts and entertainment center.
But what’s new to the Alex is not necessarily something patrons can see since it involves the backstage area, where an additional 6,600 square feet — including three new chorus-sized dressing rooms — was built out to accommodate larger performance companies. These spaces now hold 160-170 people, approximately three times the previous capacity. The expansion also included new passenger and freight elevators.
Glendale Arts CEO Elissa Glickman sees the Alex, which seats 1,400, as a legitimate rival to such medium-sized L.A. venues as the Wadsworth, the Saban and Royce Hall on the UCLA campus.
“With our sound-system upgrades (Dolby Digital Surround), our lighting system upgrades, all of the upgrades we’ve done over the last couple of years — coupled with this expansion — the Alex Theatre is really a venue powerhouse to be reckoned with.”
Glickman admits that the one thing the Alex lacks is a digital projection system for film, which the theater is working on. “Aside from that,” she adds, “we’re state-of-the-art everything.”
(A view of the Alex Theatre dressing room)