Born in Ohio in 1851, J. Euclid Miles moved to Santa Monica where he became active in civic affairs, was elected city council member, and was involved in the development of Santa Monica as a partner in the investment firm Miles & Tegner. Upon his death he left the city $25,000 for the construction of a recreation hall for youth in honor of his wife Mary. This theatre, designed by leading local architect John Byers and completed in 1929, was the result.
What is known today as Reed Park has long been a recreation spot for Santa Monicans and was a natural choice for the site of the new theatre. The choice of architectural style was also unsurprising. It was built at a time, as architectural historian David Gebhard notes, of “passionate involvement with the Spanish Colonial Revival which held center stage through much of the 1920s.”
But while Spanish Colonial Revival architecture was ubiquitous during this period, few architects were as talented as John Byers in interpreting historic forms for twentieth century purposes. This very visible building, together with some 27 other known Byers projects in the city, ensured that “Byers had a greater impact on the Santa Monica architectural landscape than any other local practitioner.”
The Miles Playhouse is a harmonious structure with relatively spare ornamentation displaying many features of Spanish Colonial Revival style. The low-pitched red tile roofs, stucco exterior finish, projecting porch on the north supported by massive pillars, arcade on the south supported by finer columns, and the appearance of thick walls emphasized by the small inset window above the front door are all consistent with the style. The use of wrought iron, heavy studded wooden doors, restrained placing of windows, and a balconette on the west façade complete the look. Byers’s approach to the playhouse avoided the Baroque effects often seen in other Spanish style structures of the era—the Mayfair Theatre for example—settling instead on a look more akin to the California missions.
Since its completion in 1929, the Miles Playhouse has been home to numerous organizations providing cultural programming for youth. Though damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, it has been sensitively repaired and continues to fulfill the purpose intended by J. Euclid Miles some eighty years ago.