FEATURE image: The Loma Theatre with its vertical sign in San Diego, California. was opened in 1945. This is a true transitional/hybrid building for American architect S. Charles Lee. The architect retains the curves (in the sign) of his pre-war theatre buildings and moves to the angles (in the main structure) that increasingly marked his movie theatres post war. The Loma Theatre was built in the later part of Lee’s career and is one of the scores of movie theatres built by the architect between 1926 and 1950. It was operated by Mann Theatres from 1973 until it closed on December 17, 1987. In San Diego’s Midway District, the Loma Theatre had a reputation of being a friendly, classy place (see video below). Author’s photograph, October 1999 60%.
The Loma Theatre was designed by S. Charles Lee (1899-1990) and opened on May 5, 1945 with its first feature, 20th Century-Fox’s Technicolor musical film, Diamond Horseshoe, starring Betty Grable. While the year 1936 was the most prolific year for Lee’s building designs – no less than 32 individual structures in California – the years 1945-46 of which the Loma Theatre is a part were prolific with 17 new movie theatres erected in California as well as one each in Arizona (250 seats), Miami, Florida (2000 seats), and Managua, Nicaragua (2000 seats). The Loma Theatre was originally opened with 1,188 seats.
S. Charles Lee was one of the foremost mid20th-century architects of movie houses on the West Coast. Simeon Charles Levi was born and grew up in Chicago. There Lee worked for Rapp & Rapp, the renowned Chicago architectural firm that specialized in movie theatre design. Rapp & Rapp’s significant work in this period included State Street’s Chicago Theatre in 1921, and the Bismarck Hotel and Theatre, and the Oriental Theatre both in 1926.
The Loma Theatre’s architect was influenced by Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) and Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). In 1922, before moving to Los Angeles, Lee was impressed by the Chicago Tribune building competition on North Michigan Avenue whose competitors juxtaposed historicism, such as the Beaux-Arts, with modernism. Lee considered himself a modernist, and his design career expressed the Beaux-Arts discipline and a modernist functionalism and freedom of form.
Beginning his career in California in the 1920’s, by the 1930’s S. Charles Lee was the principal designer of motion picture theaters in Los Angeles. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Lee is credited with designing many hundreds of movie theaters in California, including San Diego’s Loma Theatre at 3150 Rosecrans Boulevard.
Mann Theatres operated it from 1973 to December 1987. Its last feature was Paramount Pictures’ Fatal Attraction, starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close. The Loma ’s vintage signage is intact along with some of its movie-house interior although today it serves as a bookstore. For other interesting memories of this friendly and classy movie house, see – http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/1716– retrieved December 29, 2022.