History of the Bijou Theater
by Doris Beaman with research by Carol Tanner
It was a blooming, building, striving time.
Between wars, the City of Hermosa Beach was moving up, growing fast. At the time an inspiration to build a new bank-theatre edifice occurred to Ralph E. Matteson and his coterie of business allies, other businessmen were expanding their enterprises too. Plans were to build a hotel south of the Pier on the WEST side of the Strand. Iconoclasm! Golden State Silk Mills organization was capitalized at $1 million. Hermosa Glass Works had extensive plans. All these enterprises together could be expected to draw new people with new ideas, new money to spend, seeking new avenues of recreation. Why not combine business and pleasure? Offer banking accommodation for increased circulation of money, and entertainment for the surge of new people.
The project surfaced with a page one news story in the Hermosa Beach Review of January 19, 1923. A $200,000 theatre would be built by the First Bank of Hermosa Beach at the Southwest corner of 13th St. and Hermosa Ave. Adding two more lots to three already possessed by the bank, the site would total five city lots. The new two story complex would offer banking rooms, offices, and a theatre ... all in the "last word in modern construction."
The proposed theatre was to offer 1,200 seats, a $10,000 pipe organ, and the new building, 100 x 150 feet with a terra cotta front, would be erected over the present quarters of the First Bank of Hermosa. In addition, the capitalization of the First Bank climbed from $50,000 to $125,000. In May of the same year a NAME THE THEATRE contest was called. In the May 25, 1923, Hermosa Beach Review, winners were announced. THE METROPOLITAN, suggestion of J.H. Claudius, was winner of the $10 gold first prize.
METROPOLITAN THEATRE was a unanimous choice of the judges. More than 500 contest entries were received, and indeed the name METROPOLITAN had been suggested by others, but Claudius' entry was first and hence the winner. Second prize went for the name ARISTOCRAT (doubtless intended to harmonize with the city's motto "Aristocrat of Beaches".) The second winner chose to remain anonymous and donated the prize money, $5 in gold to the Boy Scouts. A carefully orchestrated publicity program (probably written by the Review staff anyway) faithfully carried some news item every week. Grand opening set for June 27 was fully touted with promises of terrific vaudeville shows and visiting movie stars. Promotion promised the Metropolitan would open with a world premiere of a Hollywood product "CIRCUS DAYS" starring Jackie Coogan. His presence was not guaranteed however, and subsequent stories fail to mention that he appeared personally.
On the big day, doors opened to a "great crowd which overflowed a block down the street." Stage and lobby were awash with flower tributes, sent by businesses of Hermosa Beach, the South Bay, even Los Angeles, Hollywood. Five Orpheum acts were offered, plus the feature, a novelty and a cooking comedy, and the extravaganza lasted till almost two a.m. Well before the opening, the theatre building had already been leased to the biggest corporation of its kind, Venice Investment Co. and West Coast Theatres, a distributing company which already had a chain of more than 100 theatres. Raved the Hermosa Beach Review, "The theatre has a beautiful entrance...underneath a marquee of rare artistic design, a tile lobby surmounted with Homan (sic) stones...jazzed plaster decorated in various colors...prominently arched and filled with expensive hangings...alcoves and costly paintings...
"...seats range from mammoth divans to leather covered opera chairs...more than $10,000 invested in the rear of the theatre, for equipment...lights...a $20,000 Roberts Morgan pipe organ ...settings adequate to handle acts from the Orpheum, Pantages, and Hill St. theatres...first run movies...fresh from L.A..."(The discerning reader may deduce that hyperbole is not the invention of the '80s.)
Architects for the Metropolitan Theatre were R.D. King, local resident, and the Los Angeles Engineering Co. The first floor design included bank and theatre plus one store. Second story, 14 offices, third floor, one half to be the Masonic lodge room of a new Masonic group; the other half to be the club rooms of an existing Masonic group. The very first theatre in Hermosa Beach, a nickelodeon, preceded the Metropolitan by at least ten years. This was the Hermosa Theatre operated by C.J. Barlow, located, approximately where Loreto Plaza now stands.