Looking at Huntridge Theatre architect S. Charles Lee and his era

A slide image of the Huntridge Theatre in its early years.
Courtesy Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Back in the 1940s, it would have been impossible to predict that a movie theater erected on a two-lane road on the outskirts of Las Vegas would several decades later become a lightning rod for preservation efforts.

But in a town as small and young as Las Vegas, with so much of its architectural history torn down, the stakes aren’t merely high—they’re monumental. For history geeks, the concrete Huntridge Theatre at Maryland and Charleston fits into a larger story, not just of Las Vegas but of a long-waning American phenomenon of moviegoing as glamorous theaters have fallen prey to megaplexes and the sofa.

1. Built in 1944, amid the heyday of the American movie theater experience (post-silents and pre-television) the Huntridge Theatre was designed by S. Charles Lee, America’s preeminent movie theater designer in the early 20th century.

2. So linked was Lee with movie theater architecture that Maggie Valentine’s fascinating book on the subject is titled The Show Starts on the Sidewalk: An Architectural History of the Movie Theatre, Starring S. Charles Lee.

3. As Valentine notes in her book, “The experience of ‘going to the movies’ equaled, and often surpassed, what was seen on the screen,” making, she says, the theater central to the experience.

4. Lee’s rendering of LA’s Lakewood Theatre (1944-’45) makes it appear as if the Huntridge has a near-identical twin, but the Lakewood would instead evolve from an old town hall with only the fluted pylon resembling the Huntridge.

5. Influenced by Beaux-Arts and working in art deco and international styles, Lee’s list of theaters includes the Fox Wilshire in Beverly Hills (now Saban), Mayfair Theatre in Ventura, California, and the Miami Theater in Florida.

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