Friday, 8 August 2014

Give My Regards to Broadway (LA)

On my visit to Los Angeles last year, I was surprised to discover that the city had a Broadway.

Not as famous as its New York namesake, it declined along with the rest of LA's Downtown in the postwar era, to become a street of tatty discount stores operating out of the foyers of old movie theatres.

But oh, those theatres.

As LA is the home of Hollywood, this long thoroughfare became a flagship of the cinema industry, being lined with ever more extravagant picture palaces as the early 20th century wore on.

Eventually nearly all of them succumbed to the downgrading of Downtown LA (What's the opposite of gentrification? Degentrification?) and became sad shadows of their former spectacular selves.

Now, thankfully, the good times are coming back, as Los Angelenos rediscover the appeal of the Downtown. Broadway's theatres and cinemas are gradually being renovated and being put back into commission, either as cinemas, or as music and theatre venues.

Below are a few of the gems I saw along Broadway last summer, in the company of local tour guide Tony Hoover (and you can find his company's LA tours by clicking here).

This was once Loew's State Theatre, at 703 South Broadway. It opened in 1921 to showcase the films of Metro Pictures, which later became the "Metro" bit of MGM. It's now a church, believe it or not, but is likely to be restored as a theatre in the next few years:


At 800 South Broadway, this somewhat humbler edifice is the Tower Theatre. Opened in 1927, it was the first cinema in Los Angeles to be wired for talking pictures and hosted the premiere of the first "talkie", The Jazz Singer:


I was impressed that such a relic of early cinema had survived. Even more so with the next cinema, The Rialto Theatre at 812 South Broadway. This place opened in 1917, and gained its impressively long neon marquee in the 1930s. Sadly the building was now looking rather worn:


The 1926 Orpheum Theatre, at 842 South Broadway, was decidedly more cheerful to look at. Its bright signage was an indication that the place was in full working order, its interior having been thoroughly renovated in 2001:


The next major theatre heading south was the United Artists Theatre at 929 South Broadway. Opened in 1927 an an outlet for the studio created by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, it had plenty of star power behind it:


Finally, Tom led me back to the Los Angeles Theatre at 615 South Broadway, opened in 1931 and designed to be the most spectacular cinema in creation:


The facade was impressive enough, but once inside I found myself standing within an extraordinary space.

Above me were vast glittering chandeliers, their light showing off heavy red curtains, painted columns, delicately curved iron lace and decorative plasterwork.

It was a magnificent interior, and felt as if it had been lifted whole from one of Europe's great baroque palaces, rather than belonging to an old cinema in downtown Los Angeles.

"It’s like it was modelled on the Palace of Versailles," I muttered to Tom as craned my head to take in the decorative detail.

"It was," he replied. And it really was, intended by the architect to echo the glory of French Baroque. Crazy. But beautiful crazy. A great tribute to the golden age of film.




The Broadway Historic Theatre and Commercial District Walking Tour takes place every Saturday at 10am, fee $10. Click here for more details and to book.

Disclosure time... On this trip I travelled courtesy of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board.