LGBT HISTORY MONTH: Los Angeles’ First Porn Theatre Getting Renovated

An LGBTQ+ masquerade similar to the ones hosted at Theatre Merced.

Often titled the oldest stage venue in Los Angeles, Theatre Merced has a long standing, titillating history in the LGBTQ+ community. In January 1971, it opened as a melodrama theatre named after Swiss owner William Abbot’s wife, Mercedes.

Theatre Merced, c. 1900

After a few decades of struggling to keep theatre doors open, Theatre Merced went bankrupt and the space was often rented out to host LGBTQ-friendly masquerades that allowed attendees to socialize and cross dress under the safety of masked anonymity. Later, Victorian Sex Clubs produced highly satirical plays, as they were the only ones who could afford to rent out Theatre Merced. By the early 1900s, the theatre was viewed as L.A.’s first porn theatre. 

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Despite the highly welcomed queer space, Theatre Merced still struggled to stay open through much of the 20th century, sitting vacant for 30 years before finally before the City of L.A.’s $23 million renovation in 2014. Channel 35 broadcast station moved its headquarters there. Recently, the City has approved another $40 million renovation to the block of historical buildings on which Theatre Merced sits. Phase 1, which will retrofit the buildings structurally begins in 2019.

Theatre Merced is located at 420 N. Main Street in Los Angeles. 

Theatre Merced, c. 2014