History Timeline 1900's

Photo above: Wright Brothers airplane 1903. Right: Mesa Verde Cliff Dwelling. Photos courtesy Library of Congress.

Mesa Verde

U.S. Timeline - The 1900s

The World Takes Flight

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  • Timeline

  • 1902 Detail

    April 2, 1902 - The first movie theatre in the United States opens in Los Angeles, California. It was known as the Electric Theatre.

    Electric/Lyric Theater, Thomas Lincoln Tally

    It was known as Tally's Electric Theater, located at 262 South Main Street in Los Angeles, California, and was built as the first theater to solely be used as a movie theater. It's opening day was April 2, 1902 (there are some conflicting dates to this, all in early April). Prior to Tally's new invention, motion pictures were shown in storefronts or vaudeville theaters, but this theater would specifically show movies from the burgeoning business in California and all over the nation. Thomas Lincoln Tally had been in the arcade business plus owning a phonograph parlor at various locations before his final stop at 339 S. Spring Street, so he understand the notion of foot traffic. He had shown some early films in those locations in back room spaces and machines. Once committed to opening that first movie theater, Tally found the building in the right location on Main Street, then sold his previous equipment from the arcade and phonograph business.

    Tally was ready to open his movie theater by April. It would seat two hundred and fifty people. At first, Tally showed the films from 7:30 to 10:30 at night, but had so much success, he added matinee performances quickly to add more profit. Tally charged ten cents for an hour's entertainment. That was double the charge of the nickleodeons of the time. Despite the higher price, his shows often sold out. Sighting Tally's success, entrepreneurs began constructing more and more theaters; by 1910, there were ten thousand in the United States.

    Early Advertisements

    "Electric Theater - 262 S. Main, Opp. Third St. New Place of Entertainment. Up-to-date, High Class Moving Picture Entertainement. Especially for Ladies and Children. See the Capture of the Biddle Brothers, New York in a blizzard and many other interesting and exciting scenes. An hour's amusement and genuine fun for 10 Cents Admission. Evenings 7:30 to 10:30." Los Angeles Times, April 5, 1902.

    "Electric Theater - 262 S. Main, Off Third St., New Place of Amuseument, Just Opened. Tonight and Every Night. The grandest Moving Picture Exhibition ever given in the city, admission 10 cents. Continuous performance 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. Children admitted for five cents to matinee every afternoon at 2:30 p.m." Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1902.

    After a year, it seems as if Tally's Electric Theater's success began to wane. Some blame the lack of motion pictures to add to his inventory at the time. He surprisingly changed the Electric Theater into the Lyric Vaudeville Theater in June 1903. First vaudeville show was on July 18, 1903. Motion pictures were still sometimes shown. Tally would sell the theater later that year. The enterprise lasted seven years under the new owner, but was sold back to a movie theater company, renamed as the Glockner Automatic Theater. William L. Glockner ran motion pictures at the old Tally for twenty years, closing in 1930.

    How big a thing was the Tally Electric Theater to the motion picture industry? Upon its fiftieth anniversary, even though the theater was closed, the Council of Motion Picture Organizations held a year long festival to honor it. Ads were taken out in newspapers, motion picture stars of the era sang its praises, and there was a contest to bring one American family on a trip to Hollywood.

    Despite its storied history, the building that housed Tally's Electric Theater was demolished in 1998, and never received the Historic Preservation status it deserved. It had been used since 1930 in a variety of businesses; one of which was a Veteran's Hotel in 1949 with retail on the lower floor.

    Thomas Lincoln Tally

    Born in Rockport, Texas in 1862, Tally was always interested in the amusement business, first visiting Los Angeles in 1890, before returning to San Antonio, Texas to run a phonograph parlor in 1893. The next year he moved west permanently, opening phonograph parlors in Santa Monica and at the 245 S. Spring Street location in Los Angeles. By 1895, Tally caught site of Edison's motion picture invention at a parlor owned by Peter Bacigalupe. These Edison Kinetoscope machines were one person at a time devices which Bacigalupe showed.

    In 1895, Tally took over Bacigalupi's business at 248 S. Spring Street, renaming it Tally's Phonograph Parlor, showing Edison's video of the Corbett fight on the one person machines by October 8, 1895. Tally would move his phonograph parlor in 1896 to 311 S. Spring Street.

    Once the Vitascope projector was perfected by Edison, it was no longer necessary to use a one person machine, now showing his films on the big screen. They were first shown in Los Angeles in the Grand Opera House, before making their way to Tally's for a showing in the back of the phonograph parlor on July 25, 1896. Tally later went to the peep hole machines to show Edison Kinetoscopes, Mutoscopes, and the large screen pictures through a peep hole. Edison had replaced the Vitascope with the Projecting Kinetoscope, with first use in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in November 1896.

    Tally made several moves of his phonograph shop in the ensuing six years, even opening a second location, before creating the Tally Electric Theater. After selling the Tally/Lyric theater in late 1903, prompted by the spectacular success of Edison's film, "The Great Train Robbery," Tally took that film on the road all over the west. He would return to Los Angeles after that venture ended, and would resume operation of other movie theaters. In 1910, Tally's Theater, later known as the Broadway or New Broadway opened. It cost $45,000 to build and held nine hundred seats. It had an orchestra pit lift, the first of its kind. In 1912, he added a four thousand pipe theater pipe organ, the first theater organ, and showed the first color movie in Los Angeles. By this era, the competition within Los Angeles and other cities was fierce. The El Capitan, photo below, was just one of Tally's competitors, opened in 1926 on Hollywood Boulevard, and has now been restored. Tally's New Broadway closed in 1929.

    Once Thomas Lincoln Tally gave up some other side businesses to focus on the theaters, he began to think that his time should be spent on the other side of the camera. Tally began executive producing films under his and partner James Dixon Williams' First National company name in the 1920's, contracting stars such as Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin to million dollar deals. First National was begun in 1917, merging six hundred cinema chains to counteract Paramount Pictures. First National would distribute films by independent producers, including Louis B. Mayer. They later produced their own films, beginning in 1924, on a sixty-two acre film lot in Burbank. Other film companies had been popping up since First National; some on the East Coast, Lubin's Betzwood Studios being one of the most successful. Williams left the company in 1927 and Tally, two years later, would merge First National with Warner Brothers on November 4, 1929. The First National Burbank Lot would become the official home of Warner Brothers studio.

    Photo above: We have not found any good straight forward photos of the Electric/Lyric Theater on Main Street, the Montage (background) shows the Lyric Theater, on the left side of Main Street, but it is hard to identify, 1906, C.C. Pierce. Courtesy California State Library Collection via losangelestheaters.blogspot.com; (inset) Thomas Lincoln Tally, 1915, the Moving Picture World. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons. Below: restored El Capitan Theatre built in 1926, 2013, Carol M. Highsmith. Courtesy Library of Congress. Source: Wikipedia Commons; theclio.com; losangelestheaters.blogspot.com; Library of Congress.

    El Capitan Theater

    History Photo Bomb