Mrs. Fenyes and the Movies (Part 3 of 4): Warner’s Egyptian Theater

Letterhead, 9 May 1936. (Fenyes Collection, FCP.162.4)

Warner’s Egyptian Theater opened in Pasadena, California on May 6, 1925 as a combination vaudeville, legitimate theater, and movie house. It offered the latest feature films, newsreels and comedies, plus first rate vaudeville acts between the pictures. Newspaper articles promoting a gala opening emphasized that Warner’s Egyptian would provide the community with employment as well as entertainment. Pasadena residents were hired as orchestra members, usherettes, machine operators, stage hands, doormen, and ticket sellers. (1)  

Warner’s Egyptian was built by theater impresario Henry W. Warner who began his career in motion pictures in 1906 when the industry was in its infancy. He bought his first motion picture projector in Chicago for $125 and opened a small theater in his home town in Indiana. Warner himself said, “I am one of the few men in the profession today who ever had a theater before he ever saw the projection machine. When I went to Chicago to buy my first machine, I was totally ignorant of its working or its scope.” (2) This first theater was a great success, and Henry Warner soon developed a name for himself throughout the Midwest.  

Warner’s long time theater manager was a man named Richard Addison, a contemporary who shared Warner’s enthusiasm for the movies.  In 1914, when Henry Warner moved to Pasadena, Addison came along to manage Warner’s Photoplay Theater at 28 East Colorado Street. Addison eventually moved to San Diego and became Assistant Director of the San Diego Zoo, but in 1925 he resigned that position to return to Pasadena and the Egyptian Theater. Addison said, “This is the ninth theater Mr. Warner has had in different parts of the country. He pioneered the industry in Indiana many years ago and is well known in this city for his activities in the movie theater line.” (3) 

Henry Warner built Warner’s Egyptian Theater on property owned by John and Emma Hickmore. It was located at 2316 East Colorado Street, between Roosevelt Avenue and Huntington Drive in the Lamanda section of Pasadena. 

Warner chose the location because “…the entire town is moving east; it could not move any other direction than east.” (4) The Hickmore-Warner collaboration is reminiscent of the proposed Mission Theater project explored by Eva Fenyes and Henry Warner in 1921. J.H. Woodworth and Son, the same firm who was involved in planning the Mission Theater, was the building contractor. As with the proposed Mission project, the Egyptian Theater was adjacent to several shops and had incorporated a previously existing commercial building into its entrance and foyer. 

Portion of Sanborn Map, Pasadena, 1930, vol. 1, sheet162
Portion of Sanborn Map, Pasadena, 1930, vol. 1, sheet162. Accessed through Pasadena Public Library Online Database.

You can view an image of the exterior of Warner’s Egyptian in 1929 from the collection at The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens on the Pasadena Digital History Collaboration database.

Architecturally, Warner’s Egyptian Theater was impressive. The discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922 had inspired a mania for all things Egyptian. The décor of the new theater exemplified this, and the architecture was characterized by “…massiveness, simplicity, and dignity…” (5) Columns and small pyramids graced the foyer, lobby, and auditorium. 

“Egyptian Traits Strongly Marked in New Theater,” Pasadena Star News, 5 May 1925, p. 17. (Newspaper Collection)

“Egyptian Traits Strongly Marked in New Theater,” Pasadena Star News, 5 May 1925, p. 17. (Newspaper Collection)

“Egyptian Traits Strongly Marked in New Theater,” Pasadena Star News, 5 May 1925, p. 17. (Newspaper Collection)

The plaster ceiling in the auditorium was gilded and painted to resemble the open sky with a large rayed sun above the proscenium arch. The organ was located above the stage, and the sound wafted to the auditorium below via a specially built grill in the ceiling. Seating was all on one level. In place of a balcony, there was a nursery on the east side with a plate glass window overlooking the screen so parents with small children could enjoy the show without disturbing the rest of the audience. A lounge area opened off of the auditorium on the west side. The doorways to these two areas were ornamented with friezes of hieroglyphs replete with pharaoh heads, winged scarabs, and double-headed snake gods. (6) 

The furnishings were chosen with equal care. The foyer boasted custom designed “picturesque furniture” of Egyptian design. A large tapestry and carpets imported from the East echoed this theme. (7) A copy of King Tut’s golden throne (made of solid aluminum, gilded and colored to resemble the original) stood in the foyer. Moviegoers were encouraged to sit and make a wish, and “the shades of the Egyptian monarch will see that the wish comes to pass.” (8)    

The Pasadena Star News stated that Warner’s Egyptian, “…typifies the great strides which have been made in the motion picture world…in the past two decades in the operation of moving pictures as a public institution.” (9) Going to the movies was now a family affair with a nursery as well as a ladies lounge. Some of the entertainment was comedic, lighter fare, whether it was a movie or vaudeville. But newsreels provided a dose of reality. The theater was located in the midst of an active commercial area. People would presumably come to shop and stay for the show, or vice versa. The theater building itself incorporated some of the visual spectacle and whimsical touches which contemporary audiences might associate with theme parks. This new theater had something for everyone. The cost of the ambitious project was said to have been $165,000, with the furnishings costing $45,000. (10)  

Eva Fenyes had no connection with Warner’s Egyptian when it opened in 1925. However, in March of 1927, she signed an escrow agreement with John and Emma Hickmore, loaning them $95,000 for the property at East Colorado and Roosevelt Avenue where the theater was located. The agreement stipulated that the Hickmores would pay interest only on the loan for the first four years. In 1931, they would start paying off the principal.  The entire loan was to be paid by March 15, 1937. (11) A page from one of Eva’s financial ledgers shows that from 1927 to 1929 she received $1661.50 in quarterly interest payments from this mortgage. (12) However, ledger entries from 1934 indicate that mortgage payments were in arrears, and the Estate of Eva Scott Fenyes foreclosed on the Egyptian Theater. (13)  

We can only speculate why Eva Fenyes became interested in Warner’s Egyptian. As we have seen, she was always open to new investment opportunities and had a continuing interest in movie houses. Her Cameo Theater was thriving in Los Angeles, but Eva had yet to duplicate this success in Pasadena. The décor at 2316 East Colorado Street must have appealed to Eva who had many fond memories of Egypt. When she was twenty years old, Eva and her parents traveled in Egypt by steamship, ferry, carriage, and donkey exploring the ancient ruins along the Nile and the palaces, gardens, mosques, and minarets of the cities. They toured the Great Pyramids of Gizah and Sakhara, the tombs of the Mameluke Kings, the Grand Hall of the Temple at Karnak, and the 4,000 year old ruins at Luxor. While Leonard Scott, Eva’s father, kept a journal of their travels, Eva made sketches and watercolors.

Eva Scott Fenyes (1849-1930). Hall of Pillars. Karnak., 23 February 1869. Pencil on paper, 5.87 x 5.59 in. (Fenyes Collection, ESF.001.0217)

Eva returned to Egypt in the 1890s to study art and paint the exotic landscape and its people. While there, she met Dr. Adalbert Fenyes, the young Hungarian doctor who was to become her second husband.  

Eva Scott Fenyes (1849-1930). Helouan, March1895. Watercolor on paper, 9.68 x 13.07 in. (Fenyes Collection, ESF.007.1839)

Henry Warner continued to oversee the Egyptian Theater, and it prospered for several years. But eventually, perhaps because of the Great Depression, the theater failed, and Warner was forced to sell his lease to Pacific Coast Theaters, a film distributor. In July of 1935, five years after Eva’s death, Pacific Coast Theaters closed Warner’s Egyptian. Audience numbers had declined, and the theater had become a “subsequent run” picture house, meaning it showed pictures later than all the larger theaters in the area. Practically speaking, this meant that the neighboring towns of Sierra Madre, Arcadia, Monrovia, and South Pasadena offered the same pictures four to six weeks before Warner’s Egyptian. It was no wonder that attendance had dropped so dramatically. (14) Many changes were in store for 2316 East Colorado, as Eva’s daughter and heir Leonora Curtin was now in charge. She was looking for a new partnership for her theater. 

- Sheryl Peters

This article was originally published on the Hometown Pasadena website in 2013. Sheryl Peters is a former PMH docent, researcher, and educator.  

Many thanks to Julie Stires, Project Archivist at Pasadena Museum of History, for her research and editorial work.

(1) “New Theater is Modern Example,” Pasadena Star News, 5 May 1925, p. 17.

(2) “Typifies Big Strides in Industry,” Pasadena Star News, 5 May1925, p. 17.

(3) “New Theater is Modern Example, op. cit.”

(4) “Typifies Big Strides in Industry, op. cit.”

(5) “Egyptian Traits Strongly Marked,” Pasadena Star News, 5 May 1925, p. 17.

(6) Ibid.

(7) “Egyptian Traits Strongly Marked, op. cit.”

(8) “Typifies Big Strides in Industry, op. cit.”

(9) Ibid.

(10) “Typifies Big Strides in Industry, op. cit.”

(11) Escrow Instructions, 8 March 1927. FCP.25.13, PMH Archives.

(12) Ledger, “Mortgages 1927, 1928, 1929.” FCP.142.7, PMH Archives.

(13)  Ledger, “Hickmore Colorado at Roosevelt.” FCP.162.11, PMH Archives.

(14) Letter, Oscar L. Horn to W.W. Smith, 27 March 1936. FCP.162.4, PMH Archives.