This Day in Tech History

On This Day . . .

A Shift in Our Culture


April 2, 1902:

World’s First Movie Theatre Opens

On April 2nd 1902 the world’s first theater built exclusively for the showing of movies was opened at 262 South Main Street, Los Angeles. Tally’s Electric Theater was to change the way the world was entertained and eventually to how the world gets its news.

A humble store front in California, that is all it was, began a revolution of the kind that would have been unimaginable to Thomas Lincoln Tally when he set out on this venture. Previously, moving pictures had been shown in France and in other parts of the United States, what Tally did was to be the first to construct an establishment built solely for the purpose of showing movies.

In 1896 Thomas Armat’s Videoscope, a projector that could show pictures on a screen, built and marketed by Edison, was used at business demonstrations in New York City. Edison then went on to exhibit moving pictures mechanically synchronized to a soundtrack. The Kinetoscope soon entered Europe where thousands were sold. The Videoscope was also becoming popular as a sideshow but there was no building specifically designed and built for the showing of movies.


Not until Thomas Lincoln Tally opened his shop in Los Angeles.  When technological advances permitted group screenings of motion pictures, the earliest audiences watched movies in small-time vaudeville houses, in town halls, churches, lodges, schools, playhouses, county fairs, amusement parks, circuses, and arcades. Traveling exhibitors like Hale’s Tours circulated early films around the country. To the earliest audiences, films were technological curiosities or optical illusions.

Tally’s Electric Theater in Los Angeles was the first permanent structure devoted entirely to movies. Built in 1902, it preceded filmmakers’ relocation to the West Coast from New York and New Jersey and the establishment of Hollywood.

Inside Tally's

Inside Tally’s

Furnishing these theaters was an easy matter; often a sheet for the screen, ten or twelve rows of benches, a box for collecting admission (hence the term “box office”) and a curtain separating the “lobby” from the screening room sufficed.

Thomas_LincolnThomas Lincoln Tally was a showman, an astute businessman and entrepreneur. He saw the potential for moving pictures and opened his Theater in downtown Los Angeles. His advertisement read;

New place of amusement…High class Moving Picture entertainment…Especially for ladies and Children!

Admission was 10cents for an hour long sitting that included “The capture of the Biddle Brothers” and “New York in a blizzard” On the first day the Theater opened from 7:30pm to 10:30pm but demand was so high that from the next day he had to run matinees.

His advertisement, run on the front page of the Los Angeles Times, March 10th 1902 reads:

Capture of the Biddle Brothers
NEW YORK CITY IN A BLIZZARD, THE HINDOO FAKIR and many other interesting scenes.
A REFINED Entertainment for
Ladies and Children
Continuous Performance 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.
T.L. Tally, Mgr.
Phone John 7191

Moving pictures swept the world and have become a part of world culture. Los Angeles became the movie capital of the world and much has been accredited to this storefront in downtown Los Angeles.

The success of the venture continued and a year later the Theater was re-named “The Lyric Theatre” Advertising “Refined vaudeville…New moving Pictures…Continuous performance”

Train Rob

Then came a movie sensation; “The Great Train Robbery” The movie was only 12 minutes long, it told of a daring train robbery by a gang of outlaws and how the local posse chased them down and brought them to justice. A huge crowd pleaser was a scene where one of the outlaws fires his gun straight at the audience.


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