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A San Pedro News-Pilot headline advertising Warner Theatre’s opening day, January 19, 1931.

June 18, 1930 – More than 500 citizens gather on 6th Street for a momentous groundbreaking ceremony for the Warner Bros. San Pedro Theatre. The young Jack Warner, Jr. is there to break ground and deliver his father’s message that the new theater will be “the castle of your dreams.”

January 20, 1931 – Opening day brings stars and starlets, Hollywood bigwigs, and thousands of locals to the theater for back-to-back sold-out shows, featuring the slapstick comedy film, Going Wild with Joe E. Brown.

1930s-‘40s – Golden Age of Film, led by the five big producers: Warner Bros., Paramount, RKO, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Fox, carries moviegoers through the Great Depression and World War II. 

1948-52 – The U.S. v. Paramount Pictures – Supreme Court issues the Paramount Consent Decree to break the big studios’ monopoly, requiring them to sell off their theaters. This marked the end of the Hollywood studio system. In 1952, Warner Bros. spins off theater ownership to a new chain, The Stanley Warner Theaters. 

1950s-’70s With the rise of television, theater attendance is dropping nationwide. In San Pedro, Stanley Warner Theaters sells the Warner to Pacific Theaters. Other local theaters are sold or razed. 

The glamorous Fox Cabrillo (1923-57) at 7th & Palos Verdes is torn down. The Globe (1913-62) at 6th & Palos Verdes has a phase as an “exotic” film house. It’s razed in 1971 as part of the Beacon Street Redevelopment Project.

1978 – Pacific Theater Group sells WGT to Wilmington businessman Arnulfo Estrada, who screens Spanish-language films and renames the theater, Teatro Juarez.

August 27, 1982 – WGT is recognized as Historic-Cultural Monument #251 by the L.A. Cultural Heritage Board under the name Juarez Theatre.

1984 – Ray Howell buys the theater from Estrada and renames it the Warner Grand Theatre to reflect its history and set new sights for the future.

1985-89 – Howell and new associate Ray Kaufman breathe new life into the old movie palace. They rent space to the film industry and work with local producers to bring some big names, sparking the idea that the WGT could be a live music venue, but Howell struggles to make ends meet.

November 4, 1989 – After a final midnight viewing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Howell closes the theater.

1991 – Howell sells the WGT to musician and owner of the Killer Shrimp restaurants, Lee Michaels, who plans to create a dinner theater, but nothing comes of it. Four years later, Michaels considers selling the WGT as a church or a swap meet.

1995 – A group of community businesspeople forms what would become Grand Vision Foundation (GVF), a nonprofit to save the Warner Grand Theatre as an intact historic building. They negotiate a price with Michaels and approach then-Councilman Rudy Svorinich, Jr., who rallies the City of L.A. to buy the theater.

January 21, 1996 – City of L.A. becomes the seventh owner of the WGT, purchasing it for $1.2M.

March 20, 1996 – GVF incorporates to “preserve and promote the historic Warner Grand Theatre” and becomes the Friends Group to the WGT.

September 20, 1996 – Locals gather for the Light Up the Night street festival to see the WGT’s restored blade sign and marquee switch on in full color for the first time in 35 years.    

1998-99 – Early GVF and City of L.A. partnerships bring two LA Phil concerts with Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen. 

The WGT is listed on the National and State Register of Historic Places as building #98001633.

1999-2000 – Local resident Susan Wilcox steps in as the first regular producer at the WGT since the City’s purchase. From 2000-10, she presents a foreign film series to audiences of 500 or more. 

Liz Schindler-Johnson becomes GVF’s executive director. 

GVF, with director Sheila Ryle, produces two youth musicals at the Warner Grand. Performances of Grease and City of Angels begin a new era of youth productions on the historic stage.

February 26, 2004 – Movie Palace Mystery Day! GVF hosts a youth event at the WGT featuring professional actors in a live-action game of Clue. Kids enjoy a first-class cosplay experience as they explore the historic theater.

June 11, 2004 – GVF launches the Save Your Seat campaign, inviting community members to adopt seats at the theater to raise funds for essential upgrades.  

2005-2006 – Among many Save Your Seat fundraisers, standouts include Grand Chair Affair (April 2, 2005) and the theater’s 75th anniversary (January 20, 2006).

2006 – WGT closes from March to October to have new seats and steel rigging installed. Theater reopens with a performance by the Golden State Pops Orchestra.

2007 – The Grand Annex, run by GVF, opens down the block from the WGT at 434 W. 6th Street, turning their offices into a live music listening room. Taran Schindler takes the helm as artistic director a year later.

2008 – GVF installs a new stage extension at the WGT, making the stage and pit available for larger productions.

2010 – GVF’s Meet the Music gains momentum with a new partner, LA Opera! MTM is an in-school music program for 4th & 5th graders in San Pedro and Wilmington. Each year, the Opera comes to the WGT to present a youth-tailored concert to a packed house of Meet the Music kids.

2011 – WGT celebrates its 80th anniversary! GVF throws the Think Thirties bash at the theater with a screening of the film, The Brothers Warner, and a swing-style reception in the mezzanine with dancers and a live big band.

2014 – GVF refurbishes the flood-damaged lower lobby of the WGT. On your next visit, make sure to take a look at the historic photos and posters. 

Warner Grand Theatre fire curtain.

May 27, 2014 – WGT fire curtain revealed! During a routine rigging inspection, GVF draws new attention to the original asbestos curtain, painted by Armstrong Studios of L.A. To protect and seal the fire-retardant material, the City of L.A. encapsulates the curtain in 2020.

2015 – A state-of-the-art digital projector is purchased for the WGT. Film distribution is moving quickly away from film formats. The new projector makes it possible for the theater to show current films only available digitally.         

November 2, 2015 –  A severe fire erupts in the building next door to the WGT. Firefighters go to great lengths to ensure the theater’s safety, ultimately saving it from any costly damage.

2016 – WGT turns 85! The Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy presents the Wild & Scenic Film Festival to a packed house. GVF brings cake for all! 

WGT catches the eye of major music promoters. Top acts land on stage, including Band of Horses, Miguel, Goo Goo Dolls, and Chris Cornell.

February 9, 2018 – Jackson Browne plays a sold-out show at the WGT to benefit GVF’s Meet the Music program. 

Lower lobby chandelier, before it was restored.

April 2018 – GVF launches the Love the Lobby campaign to restore the original artwork on the ceiling and walls throughout the WGT’s main lobby to ensure that the dazzling beauty of the Warner Grand will greet visitors for generations to come.

2020 – City of L.A. Department of Cultural Affairs secures significant funding for major physical, technical, and electrical upgrades, including a lobby elevator, for the WGT. A new future is at hand for San Pedro’s historic movie palace. 

December 18, 2020 –  Original chandeliers, restored by Steven Handelman Studios, are installed as this commemorative issue of San Pedro Today goes to press. WGT

Grand Vision Foundation Staff