The Cameo Theatre (1910)
Architect: Alfred S. Rosenheim
The Cameo Theatre, which opened October 10, 1910 as Clune's Broadway, was the longest continuously operating movie theatre in the State of California and preliminary research indicates that it may have been the longest in the United States. The Cameo is also the last vestige of the motion picture entrepreneurialism that shaped the City of Los Angeles’ most important industry.
In 1910, when the Cameo opened, motion picture production and exhibition were two parts of a fledgling industry. By 1916, however, “Moving Picture World" reported that there were over 80 picture houses in Los Angeles. The most important of these were operated by three men: Thomas H. Tally, J. A. Quinn and William H. Clune. William H. Clune was one of the most successful motion picture men of his day. Born in Hannibal, Mo., Clune arrived in Los Angeles in 1887 while working on the railroad. A savvy real estate investment provided him with the capital to enter the motion picture exhibition business, and as early as 1907 he was operating store front theatres. In 1910, Clune added Clune's Broadway to his growing number of theatres and real estate holdings. He would one day own or operate five theatres, including "Clune's Auditorium," also known as the Philharmonic Building (now demolished). Described as an "active and shrewd showman" in one of his obituaries, Clune "had the happy facility of landing what the public wanted" and was loved by both the public and the press.
Everything played at Clune's, from "The Adventures of Kathlyn" (a popular story of the day that was even serialized in the Sunday paper), to the "The Perils of Pauline," starring Pearl White, "perhaps the world's most famous picture actress." It's been a great many years since the Cameo could be called "elaborate" or "handsome" but that's how it was described by an eager "Los Angeles Times" in July of 1910. Humble in comparison to the theatres that would spring up in the next decade, "Clune's Broadway" was touted as a "picture playhouse." This was still a new breed in 1910. Neither a storefront nickelodeon nor a lavish movie palace, Clune's Broadway represents that initial step reflecting a new commitment to constructing theatres solely for the purpose of motion picture exhibition. It is the only one of its kind left in Los Angeles
The development of film exhibition was only one of Clune's contributions to the motion picture industry. He was a financial backer of D.W.Griffith's "Birth of a Nation," principal stockholder in a company that manufactured and developed motion picture cameras, and owner of one of the most active studios in Hollywood, now known as Raleigh Studios (the longest continuously operating studio in Hollywood). He retired from the theatrical business and sold all of his theatres in 1924. A member of several leading clubs, and a regional advisor to the Bank of Italy, when he died in his apartment at the Los Angeles Athletic Club at the age of 67 in 1927, Clune was remembered as "the genial, kindly figure that was wont to distribute sprightliness and good cheer as the sun does light." His romance with the press apparently lingered longer than he did. His fortune was estimated at more than six million tax free dollars. Clune was just the kind of man Los Angeles has always loved. A real estate developer, motion picture entrepreneur and showman, he was a man who had it all in a time when it was all still to be had. Today, the only remnant of his exhibition days is the Cameo Theatre. Little did he know that his ads proclaiming "continuous performance" would remain true for 85 years. (Courtesy of Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation)