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Alex Theatre continues to make history

The classic venue is scheduled for improvements.

July 05, 2013|By Kirk Silsbee
  • Pedestrians walk past the Alex Theatre on Tuesday, July 10, 2012. The public was invited to explore the Alex Theatre on Sunday, June 30, and take a last look before big changes are made to the building's south and western sides.
Pedestrians walk past the Alex Theatre on Tuesday, July… (Roger Wilson / Staff…)

History can be seen everywhere in Glendale's venerable Alex Theatre. It's in the classic terrazzo walkway before the front doors. It's in the neon of the one-hundred-foot high art deco tower, added to the building in 1946. It's in the deep carpet of the lobby, where Bing Crosby nervously paced during a preview screening of "Going My Way" in 1944 (as he agonized over whether the public would accept him as a movie priest). It's in the painted, cement-block walls of the dressing rooms below the stage, lined with framed posters of past productions including "Always…Patsy Cline," "The Phantom," "Disney's Mulan," "Forever Plaid," "Evita" and other shows.

The Alex is a rare example of a tenacious old vaudeville and movie theater that has been able to survive by adapting to the times. Were it located elsewhere, the theater probably would have been demolished decades ago. The city of Glendale, though, has long recognized the Alex's importance — and potential — as the town's cultural centerpiece, and supported it at every juncture.

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The public was invited to explore the Alex Theatre last Sunday, and take a last look before big changes are made to the building's south and western sides. Four architectural renderings by the PMSM Architects firm sat on easels on the stage, showing the projected renovations.

"There will be new expansions, like the loading dock," says Glendale Arts CEO Elissa Glickman. She began as marketing director of the Alex ten years ago. "We're going to make some changes that will allow the theater to accommodate some bigger productions. We hope that will, in turn, attract some promoters whom we had to turn away, because of the building's logistical limitations."

The faux Egyptian and Greek-styled Alex opened in 1925, named for architect Claude L. Langley's son, Alexander. It boasted a $48,000 Wurlitzer organ, played by Frank Lanterman, later a 28-year California State Assemblyman. A teenager named Marion Morrison worked in a nearby soda fountain, and his pal Bob McCaskey ushered at the Alex, where he let the future John Wayne in for free, in exchange for Morrison's on-the-house sodas. First-run movies like "Gone With the Wind," "Ben-Hur" and "Star Wars" ran at the Alex.

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