Reel Culver City
by Marc Wanamaker
CULVER CITY’S MERALTA THEATRE
The traveling female duo of ‘The large’ Pearl Merrill and ‘The Tiny’ Laura Peralta performed as “Ella Fant and Miss Kito” on the vaudeville circuit for many years, accumulating enough money to build their own theatre at 9632 Culver Boulevard, Culver City.
FILM PREVIEWS LEADS TO FIRST-RUN RELEASES
The Meralta’s opening premiere show included an appearance by Will Rogers, a new Thomas Ince film and an Our Gang comedy (which had all the kids leaping through their on-screen likeness when the projectionist stopped the film!). The duo then began to book other vaudeville acts at the new theatre, and the first was a review titled Half A Dollar Bill with Sherwood Wertz at the organ.
By 1927, the theatre was being used by local studios as a preview house for motion pictures and civic events. On May 27, 1927, MGM Studios hosted their sales convention in Los Angeles and arranged for their guests to see Lon Chaney’s latest film, The Unknown. By 1928, MGM was using the theatre not just for its previews, but also for its general releases such as Beatrice Fairfax’s The Lovelorn starring Sally O’Neil and Molly O’Day (see photo). And, by 1929, the theatre was being used on its “dark days” for Christian Science lectures.
On January 20, 1935, the Los Angeles Times announced that “The Meralta Theatre, at 9628 Culver Boulevard will be remodeled at a cost of $10,000, according to architect C. A. Balch.” The newly-remodeled theatre joined the Fox West Coast Theatre chain and began to show first run films.
In 1938, a typical film program included such fare as Holiday starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, Three Comrades starring Robert Taylor and Franchot Tone, and The Saint in New York with Louis Hayward.
1940S: WAR-THEMED FILMS
During World War II, the theatre was screening war-themed films such as – Fighting Chetniks and Noel Coward’s In Which We Serve. Five Graves To Cairo, starring Erich Von Stroheim, screened in August of 1943.
On August 10th, the Los Angeles Times reported: “Unscheduled Performance! Fire, which is believed to have started in a theater lobby, early yesterday, swept through a Culver City building housing a theatre [Meralta] and small shops at an estimated loss of $100,000.” The devastated theatre was moved to the Culver Auditorium the following year until a new building could be built. Sometime around the end of 1945, a new theatre was built on the original site.
A NEW ERA
After Pearl Merrill’s death in 1961, Laura Peralta Brackett remained in her apartment over the theatre, constructed so she could watch the films from a special room. At this time, The Grass Is Greener, starring Cary Grant opened at the theatre.
In 1969, the theatre was hosting studio previews and fundraiser parties for local schools and colleges. During the 1970s, the theatre suffered some vandalism and became run-down.
On February 24, 1983, the Los Angeles Times announced that “Culver Rebuilds ….. $4 Million Dollar Plaza on the old Meralta Theatre site is the first major development in Culver City in many years.” On June 3, 1984, the new Meralta Office Plaza (a Spanish-style office complex at 9696 Culver Blvd.) opened and was the first major public development in over two decades.