One of the world’s wealthiest men, Howard Robard Hughes Jr. was a Hollywood filmmaker, record-setting aviator and business mogul who once owned a big chunk of Las Vegas and controlled a major U.S. airline (TWA), among other ventures. Later in life, however, he became an eccentric recluse who feared germs and shunned personal hygiene. What does this have to do with the Hollywood Pantages? The infamous Hughes owned, worked and even resided in the theatre.
Most of what we know about his time as the owner of The Hollywood Pantages is rumor or speculation as he was known to be quite private or even recluse. What we do know is that Hughes purchased the theatre in 1949 and named it the RKO Pantages as part of his national chain of movie houses. He only retained the ‘Pantages’ name due to a contractual stipulation. Hughes had his office and own private screening room on the second floor of the Pantages building. This is still where our offices are located today and the screening room has been converted into our Group Sales office.
One of the amazing things about working in an 86 year old building is that there is no shortage of character. In many blueprints of the building sinks are pictured in nearly every office. Some of those plumbing hookups still exist to this day. I am writing this from what used to be a shower! During his time here, Hughes made sure that all of his employees had access to a sink so they could wash their hands multiple times a day. It was his belief that germs came from the outside world but not from him. It has been said that Hughes lacked in personal hygiene care because of this.
In addition to the many sinks, several showers are located in the basement storage areas of the theatre. There are stories about tunnels running under Hollywood Blvd between the theatre and the Broadway building where Hughes was rumored to have kept an apartment on the top floor. Some suggest he would have his female visitors use the tunnels instead of the street and require them to shower before entering his private residence or offices to ensure they were germ free.
The tunnel, if ever there were one, no longer exists. No evidence of a tunnel was found when Hollywood Blvd. was opened up to create the Metro red line in the early 90’s. Pantages employees suggest that the supposed tunnel was destroyed when Hughes sold the theatre in the 1950’s after RKO suffered turmoil and decline during his control.
To this day we continue to find interesting things left behind by the Hughes era. He had a large impact on the theatre as well as the rest of Hollywood. In 2004 a movie named The Aviator starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes was released about his life. Many scenes for the film were shot right here at the Hollywood Pantages.