Saving theaters one historic site at a time through photography

| December 28, 2017 | 0 Comments

CELEBRATING its 90th year, the Wilshire Ebell had 3,000 members in its earlier days. Photo by John Hough

Mark Mulhall and John Hough are two photographers on a mission. They may not be trying to save the world, but they are doing everything in their power to save historic theaters throughout the United States and beyond.

But how can two photographers, armed with nothing more than talent, a camera, and bold intentions, succeed in such a mission?

One photograph at a time.

“I want to shoot as many theaters as I can,” explains Hough. “So many of these theaters are being torn down, and maybe these photographs will help people appreciate them.”

“I want these theaters to become popular again,” adds Mulhall. “I’m hoping to help stabilize them and turn them into a part of today’s society. I want the ‘Millennials’ to think they are a cool place to go.”

Both members of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, Bay Area Historic Theatres and Theatre Historical Society of America, Hough and Mulhall realized that most theaters have never had their palace-like interiors thoroughly documented by professional photographers. Out of their love for these notable grande dames, the two decided to volunteer their services through their organization called Ornate Theatres. Once the theaters have been photographed, Hough and Mulhall hand all of the photographs over to the theater owners to use as they wish.

“By getting these pictures out there, hopefully more people will get involved and raise the social consciousness of their existence,” explains Mulhall.

Up to this point, the Los Angeles residents have photographed dozens of historic theaters around the country, including the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, the State Theatre in Cleveland, Ohio and the Erie Playhouse in Erie, PA. Locally, they have documented the United Artists Theatre at the Ace Hotel, the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Blvd., the Alex Theatre in Glendale, the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego and many more. They would like to start travelling internationally as well.

On the day that I caught up with them, they were focusing their lenses on the historic Wilshire Ebell Theatre on Lucerne and 8th St.

“The Ebell Theatre is celebrating its 90th birthday this year,” declares Virginia Murray, assistant theater manager. “The theater opened its doors in 1927 with a door-opening operetta event.” The Ebell ladies also used the theater back then for membership meetings, she noted. “They had about 3,000 members at the time, so they would have to hold two meetings per day in order to fit everyone into the space.”

The theater, with a seating capacity of 1,266, has a rich history.

“The Ebell Theater is one of the last known places Amelia Earhart spoke before she disappeared,” says Tina Tangalakis, Ebell director of marketing. “Judy Garland was discovered here, performing with her sister, and Michelle Obama has spoken here. More recently, Beyoncé held a holiday ‘Lemonade’ screening at the theater in 2016.”

Hough, who has been snapping pictures for decades and counts real estate photography as his day job, loves being able to use digital cameras to capture the architectural aspects of the theater spaces.

“I absolutely love digital,” Hough raves. “With film photography, it was so limiting. With digital, you can shoot multi-exposures and play in Photoshop and really capture the space.”

Mulhall, a website developer, marketer and photographer, shoots the environmental photographs, taking at least 100 pictures per room and putting them together in a 360-degree “ball.”

“It’s like you can stand in the middle of the room and look around you at the entire space,” he explains.

In order to continue on their photographic crusade, the pair has turned their organization, Ornate Theatres, into a nonprofit. They are hoping that through corporate and individual donations, they will be able to travel to as many of the world’s historic theaters as possible, before time runs out.

“These are such jewel boxes,” says Mulhall. “But they are disappearing. We shot the Michigan Theatre in Detroit, but it’s a parking lot now.”

“If you do something for money, you’ll get bored real quick,” Hough says. “But if you do it for love, you’ll be happy at the end of every day.”

To learn more about Hough and Mulhall’s project, or to donate, go to

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Category: Entertainment

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