Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Finding Aid for the S. Charles Lee Papers, 1919-1962.
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (0.87 Mb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Biography
  • Chronology
  • Scope and Content
  • Organization and Arrangement
  • Indexing Terms
  • Related Material
  • Related Oral Histories

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: S. Charles Lee Papers,
    Date (inclusive): 1919-1962
    Collection number: 1384
    Creator: Lee, S. Charles (1899-1990)
    Extent: 28 boxes (14 linear ft.) 172 oversize folders 114 oversize boxes
    Repository: University of California, Los Angeles. Library. Department of Special Collections.
    Los Angeles, California 90095-1575
    Abstract: S. Charles Lee (1899-1990) graduated from Technical College, Chicago in 1918 and the Armour Institute of Technology in 1921. He relocated to Los Angeles in 1922 where he designed numerous theaters and office buildings (1927-40), developed the Los Angeles International Industrial District (1948) and built several theaters in Mexico City (1942). The Collection contains drawings, renderings, blueprints, photographs, and surveys relating to Lee's professional career including his work as a developer and the most prolific architect of art deco movie palaces in Los Angeles.
    Physical location: Stored off-site at SRLF. Advance notice is required for access to the collection. Please contact the UCLA Library, Department of Special Collections Reference Desk for paging information.
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information

    Restrictions on Use and Reproduction

    Copyright has not been assigned to the Department of Special Collections, UCLA. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Manuscripts Librarian. Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Dept. of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

    Restrictions on Access

    COLLECTION STORED OFF-SITE AT SRLF: Advance notice required for access.

    Provenance/Source of Acquisition

    • S. Charles Lee bequest, 1990
    • Gift of George E. Keiter, 1990 and 1995

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], S. Charles Lee Papers (1919-1962) (Collection 1384). Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

    UCLA Catalog Record ID

    UCLA Catalog Record ID: 4233286 


    S. Charles Lee was born in Chicago on September 5, 1899; graduated, Technical College, Chicago, 1918; senior architect, South Park Board, City of Chicago, 1918; U.S. Navy, 1918-20; graduated, Armour Institute of Technology, Art Institute of Chicago, 1921; moved to Los Angeles, 1921; opened architectural office, Los Angeles, 1922; designed and built Tower Theatre (1927), Fox Wilshire Theatre and Los Angeles Theatre (1929), Max Factor buildings, Hollywood (1931-35), Fox Florence Theatre (1931), Municipal Light, Water and Power Buildings, Los Angeles (1934-35), Bruin Theatre (1937), Tower Bowl, San Diego (1940), and built several theaters in Mexico City (1942); honored by Royal Institute of British Architects at International Exhibit of Contemporary Architects, London, 1934; began partnership with Sam Hayden, 1948; began development of Los Angeles International Airport Industrial District, 1948; established S. Charles Lee Foundation, 1962; named Vice Consul to Beverly Hills! by President of Panama, 1963; established S. Charles Lee Chair, UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, 1986; died in 1990.

    Biographical Narrative

    Born Simeon Charles Levi in Chicago in 1899, Lee was the son of American-born parents of German-Jewish ancestry, Julius and Hattie (Stiller) Levi. Lee (who later changed his name from Levi) grew up in the Chicago of Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Lee's own favorite building was Sullivan's Carson Pirie Scott Department Store. He also grew up with the evolving motion picture; he went to vaudeville theatres, nickolodeons,and early movie houses. A tinkerer interested in mechanical things, Lee built three motorcars as a teenager.
    His interest in mechanics took him to Lake Technical High School in Chicago. He started out in architecture in 1915 by working after school in the office of Chicago architect Henry Newhouse, a family friend. Newhouse specialized in theatre design: small motion picture houses, nickolodeons and remodeling storefronts into theatres. After graduation in 1916, Lee attended Chicago Technical College, graduating with honors in 1918. His first job was as architect for the South Park Board of the City of Chicago. During World War I he enlisted in the Navy. After his discharge in 1920, he entered the Armour Institute of Technology to study architecture. The course followed the principles of the Ecole des Beaux Arts and this training is reflected in the composition and imagery of his later drawings. It is also reflected in his own emphasis on the plan as the driving force of the design. This practical approach would serve him well in his many commercial designs.
    Other influences on the young architect were Sullivan's lectures in his architecture classes and Wright's work, particularly Midway Gardens and Wright's house and studio in Oak Park. Lee was also impressed by the 1922 Chicago Tribune tower competition, which juxtaposed historicism with modernism. Lee considered himself a modernist, and his career revealed both the Beaux Arts discipline and emphasis on planning and the modernist functionalism and freedom of form (Valentine, p.32). He was also a pragmatist, designing his buildings to support and enhance the commercial ventures they housed.


    1899 Born Chicago, Illinois.
    1914 Built full-scale gas-powered automobile.
    1915 Licensed radio operator.
    [191_] Graduated Technical College, Chicago, with honors.
    1918 Senior architect, South Park Board, City of Chicago.
    1918-20 Served United States Navy, Great Lakes Training Station.
    1921 Graduated Armour Institute of Technology, Art Institute, Chicago.
    [192_] Worked in office of Rapp and Rapp, Chicago.
    1921 Came to Los Angeles.
    Licensed by State of Illinois to practice architecture.
    1922 Opened architectural office in Los Angeles.
    1920s Designed and built houses, apartment buildings, hotels.
    1927 Married Miriam (Midge) Zelda Aisenstein, Los Angeles.
    Designed and built Tower Theatre, Los Angeles.
    1928 Daughter Constance born, Los Angeles.
    Designed and built Hollywood-Western Building for Motion Picture Producers Association, Hollywood.
    1929 Designed and built Fox Wilshire Theatre, Beverly Hills.
    Designed and built Los Angeles Theatre, Los Angeles.
    1931 Designed and built Fox Florence Theatre, Beverly Hills.
    1931-35 Designed and built Max Factor Buildings, Hollywood.
    1930s Designed dozens of commercial buildings and remodellings.
    1934 Honored by Royal Institute of British Architects at International Exhibit of Contemporary Architects, London.
    1934-35 Designed and built Municipal Light, Water and Power Buildings, Los Angeles.
    1935 Licensed airplane pilot.
    1935-50 Designed and built scores of small theatres throughout California and elsewhere in United States.
    1937 Designed and built Bruin Theatre, Los Angeles.
    1939 Designed and built Academy Theatre, Inglewood.
    1940 Designed and built Twoer Bowl, San Diego.
    1942 Built several theatres, Mexico City.
    1948 Began partnership with Sam Hayden.
    Began development of International Airport Industrial District.
    1948-50s Built dozens of small factories throughout Los Angeles.
    1959 Began serving on Board of Directors, Braille Institute (treasurer).
    1960 Wife died, Los Angeles.
    1962 Established S. Charles Lee Foundation.
    1963 Named Vice Consul to Beverly Hills by President of Panama.
    1966 Married Hylda Moss, Buenos Aires.
    1968 Received Presidential Medal, Order of Vasco Nuñez Balboa, Panama's highest order of merit.
    1974 Named Consul to Beverly Hills from Panama.
    1986 Established S. Charles Lee Chair, UCLA Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning, Los Angeles.
    • Biography of S. Charles Lee issued by Mr. Lee's office; John M. Grenner, Ed.D.
    • Interview with Mr. Lee, December 14, 1984
    • Men of California 1925-26
    • S. Charles Lee Collection, UCLA
    • Maggie Valentine, Conversations with Mr. Lee, 1984-86

    Scope and Content

    Collection contains drawings, renderings, blueprints, photographs, and surveys relating to the professional career of architect S. Charles Lee. Most of the collection reflects his work as a developer and the most prolific architect of art deco movie palaces in Los Angeles.

    Organization and Arrangement

    Arranged in the following series:
    1. Photographs (14 Boxes).
    2. Surveys (7 Boxes).
    3. Negatives (7 Boxes).
    4. Blueprints (114 Oversize boxes)
    5. Drawings, plans, renderings (172 Oversize folders).
    Arranged alphabetically by client and project name.

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


    Lee, S. Charles--Archives.
    Architects--California--Los Angeles--Archival resources.
    Architecture, Modern--20th century--California.
    Motion picture theaters--Design and construction.

    Genres and Forms of Material

    Architectural drawings.

    Related Material

    The Show Started on the Sidewalk [oral history transcript] / S. Charles Lee, interviewee. UCLA Oral History Department interview, 1985-86. Available at Department of Special Collections, UCLA.

    Related Oral Histories

    The following oral histories are available through the UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research: