Due to bigger and grander theaters opening in the area and a bout of smallpox, the Merced was forced to close its doors in 1877. That darn smallpox will get you every time! The Merced struggled to find new long-term tenants. Finally, a new company, which produced satirical burlesque shows under the umbrella name “Victorian Sex Clubs,” moved into the space. Around the turn of the century, the Merced became known for its Masked Balls and New Year’s Eve parties that were a debaucherous safe haven for all. This was especially true for the LGBTQ community who, with the help of masks, found the freedom to mingle and indulge in cross dressing. Unfortunately, this freedom wasn’t to last. As the city grew, law enforcement tightened its grip on what they considered immoral, and masquerades at the Merced and across the city were soon axed.
Throughout the 1900’s, the Merced Theatre building was used as a boarding house and a variety of commercial ventures. It became a California Historic Landmark in 1935, and was renovated in the ‘60’s and ‘80’s.
A visit to El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Monument’s museums can offer great insight into the beginnings of the city and its diverse culture as a whole. Join us on our LA’s Beginnings tour to explore this area further! As for the future of the Merced Theatre building, there was a proposal to become the new home of the City of Los Angeles public access TV station Cityview, Channel 35. The revamped space would have a studio, admin offices and a theater space for presentations and town hall meetings. Hopefully, one day soon, we will see Los Angeles’ oldest theater structure put to good use in a way that the community can engage with it.
Happy New Year!... And here’s to the roaring 2020’s!
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