Those AMG patrons who were fortunate enough to live in the Los Angeles area during the mid-1960s and early 1970s were likely familiar with the Park Theatre as the nucleus of gay cinema.
Bob Mizer regularly screened his films there for large audiences of friends and supporters. In the 2009 book “Bob’s World,” published by Taschen, AMG model and MIzer confidant Ed Taylor helped to oversee the operations of these screenings.
The Mizer films were, of course, wholly different from the fare shown at the Park up to that point. Originally named the Alvarado Theatre, the venue opened in 1911 and boasted a Neo-Classical façade. The theater was renovated in 1936, as the Great Depression began to wind down (as an aside, ticket sales at the Alvarado remained robust during the nation’s greatest economic crisis in its history – theater owners generally believed in keeping prices as low as possible, since moviegoing was a form of escapism from the stressors of everyday life). The Alvarado was a Los Angeles mainstay for the first half-century of its life, showing all of the latest mainstream films.
The Alvarado became the Park Theatre on April 6, 1966. In that year, straight porn films began to illuminate its screens instead. Eventually, the Park screened gay porn and other films that would appeal to a largely gay audience – and that included Mizer’s own films.
After a few scant years of showing gay porn, the lone auditorium of the Park was halved into two, and the venue went back to playing mainstream films. The theater’s new life didn’t last long, however – it closed in 1986, and today, a swap meet inhabits the Park’s former location
Another larger, more widely known theater only recently shuttered its doors and darkened its screens. The Bijou Theater, inhabiting a four-story Victorian building, opened its doors in January 1970, with owner Steven Toushin overseeing the theater’s operations (Toushin still manages the Bijou’s website, which sells vintage gay porn films, magazines, brochures, posters and other related items).
Interestingly enough, the first dick that appeared on the Bijou’s screen wasn’t even porn – it was then-President Richard Nixon, delivering his infamous ‘Checkers’ speech. It was an appropriate beginning to a theater with a 45-year history as the ‘gay Mecca’ of Chicago.
In its early years, the Bijou only took up the first floor of the Victorian building, but an expansion in 1980 allowed the business to spread to the second floor (it was around this time that the theater expanded to being open 24 hours a day). A second expansion in 1984 brought the Bijou’s non-stop party to the building’s third floor.
Tastefully designed posters beckoned men to the Bijou, with nude men splayed among modern fonts announcing special events, male stripper revues, and film screenings.
Toushin kept the party going at the Bijou until Sept. 30 of last year, when the theater closed its doors. Still, Toushin maintains bijouworld.com, where lovers of vintage male physique and porn videos may subscribe to a streaming service, buy DVDs of those films, and enjoy the aesthetics of a bygone era.
Like the Bijou, Mizer’s films have moved from the silver screen to the small screen in order to serve the needs of a 21st century audience. The Foundation will soon launch a streaming service so monthly subscribers can watch the full variety of Mizer films digitized by the organization’s staff. For those who want to enjoy Mizer’s celluloid men in a more social setting, the Foundation also hosts screenings on the first Thursday of every month at 920 Larkin St. in downtown San Francisco.
The Foundation even offers merchandise bearing vintage advertisements for Mizer’s film screenings at the Park Theater. You can buy them in our online store. For more information on these theaters and more on our monthly screenings, contact Foundation founder and President Dennis Bell.