Saturday, July 27, 2013

Baroque 'N Roll at the Los Angeles Theatre

We will continue beating the drum of the resurgence of Downtown Los Angeles until we move into the Eastern Columbia Building, see thriving businesses up and down Broadway, and watch happy Angelenos wandering around and enjoying everything the area has to offer. 

I (Lara) truly believe that buildings have souls, and standing in the cool darkness of the Los Angeles Theatre at 615 Broadway recently, I could feel that it has been waiting for this comeback moment for decades.
The Los Angeles was the last (and many say the most beautiful) of all the theatres built in Downtown LA’s historic Broadway theater district between 1911 and 1931.

The theatre was designed by prolific architect S. Charles Lee (who also did the Tower Theatre just down the street and the Max Factor Building in Hollywood)) in the Baroque style, and the lobby was based on the Hall of Mirrors in France’s Palace of Versailles. Others have compared the look of the Los Angeles to that of the Fox Theatre in San Francisco, which was built in 1926.

How about that barrel-vaulted ceiling? The sweeping lobby is six stories high, and there are all kinds of flowy drapes and crystal chandeliers and columns that give it an incredibly opulent feel. In a time where they have been working on widening a section of the 405 freeway here in Los Angeles for what feels like ten years (and are nowhere near being done)…it is impressive to think that this whole theatre was built in less than six months. 

It all began when independent exhibitor H.L. Gumbiner convinced William Fox (who founded the Fox Film Corporation and the Fox West Coast Theatre chain) to let him develop a theatre on a piece of land that Fox owned. Fox agreed, and Gumbiner was the one who hired architect S. Charles Lee to create the Los Angeles. However, as the Great Depression deepened, Gumbiner ran out of money.
Enter Charlie Chaplin.
Chaplin’s City Lights was a silent film, and is now regarded as BRILLIANT. If you haven’t seen it, stop reading and do that now. Or at least watch clips on YouTube. But in the early thirties, talkies were all the rage and City Lights had gotten some…shall we say “unfavorable” reviews and he was having a hard time finding a place to premiere it. Remember that at this time, film companies owned theatres and they would open and run the movies they had made in their own theatres. 

Since Gumbiner was an independent and not tied to a studio, it was decided that the film would debut at the opening of the Los Angeles. Legend has it that Chaplin invested his own money into finishing the theatre, and in January of 1931 the film and the theatre premiere together with a huge gala. Two notable guests: Actress Gloria Swanson…and Albert Einstein! Perhaps one of them tossed a penny into this crystal fountain?

Look at the gorgeous metalwork on the lobby staircase. All of this grandeur must have distracted patrons, at least for a few hours, from the nightmare of the Depression. But reality and fantasy collided even on the theatre’s opening night; there were crowds in front of the Los Angeles to see the stars, but also a crowd across the street…waiting in a breadline.

The draperies and carpets were all custom-made for the theatre in shades of deep red, gold, and royal blue. And even though this stage looks perfect for hosting say, Phantom of the Opera, since the Los Angeles was built as a movie house there is not a lot of room backstage for props and to accommodate large live productions.

If you were super fancy, you may have enjoyed a film away from the general public in a fancy box seat.

But even the “cheap seats” are wonderfully detailed, and there are eight aisles on the main floor so that each row has no more than six seats. There is a balcony, too.

There are offices and ballrooms and lounges downstairs at the Los Angeles. Here’s a spacious ballroom that reminds us a bit of the one in The Shining (this is not where they filmed that, btw).

And right off of the ballroom is one of the loveliest bathrooms we have ever seen, with a large “cosmetics room” full of individual vanities and mirrors and (I never thought I would type this sentence) a very beautiful row of stalls. Men always talk about how women go to the restroom in groups and then stay in there gossiping, but with a powder room this grand, why would you ever want to leave? 

In a nutshell: The Los Angeles Theatre oozes over-the-top Old Hollywood glam, with a lobby that would be perfect for a proposal. It is well worth a trip to Downtown Los Angeles to attend an event and experience it for yourself.
Takeaway Tips:
  • Keep an eye out for Los Angeles Theatre tours offered by groups like the Los Angeles Conservancy and the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation.
  • Host a party, performance, or screening at the Los Angeles. You can also get married here!
  • Visit some neighborhood friends that are also located on Broadway, like the Tower Theatre and the Orpheum Theatre; CafĂ© Figaro (go for brunch on the weekend, definitely get dessert, and say hi to head server Kareem); and reVamp Vintage (Click here for our interview with owner Annamarie von Firley).
 Contact Info:
Los Angeles Theatre
615 Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90014
(213) 629-2939

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