…to Downtown LA We Go.

Downtown Header

{Heigh-Ho, Heigh-Ho…to downtown LA we go!
And this time, my camera was charged and ready.}


What: LA Conservancy Walking Tour
Where: Broadway Theatre District
Location: Historic Broadway, Downtown LA
Cost: $10.00


It feels as though a modern-day renaissance, a rebirth, is taking place in our own backyard. The interesting thing is how. As much as there is an effort to revitalize Downtown Los Angeles, there’s an equal push to hold onto its history. The duality here is that while constructing some of the most revered contemporary architectural structures, hosting the trendiest restaurants in town (my favorite restaurant happens to be downtown), and rejuvenating the streets; if you were to walk for several blocks in a particular direction, say, toward Broadway, and open your eyes passed what appears to be a random storefront or abandoned building…you’ll see it.

It’s Hollywood’s origins, as early as 104 years ago.

After a memorable Saturday night last month at the Los Angeles Conservancy’s special screening of Back of the Future (minus what has to be my least favorite restaurant that also happens to be downtown), I channeled firsthand what it would’ve been like to go to the movies 80 years ago at one of the most lavish movie palaces ever created.

Movie palaces weren’t just about seeing the film, it was a night out on the town, ball gowns and top hats required. Though I was dressed more circa 2014 California chic in a bright sundress and a pair of sandals – one could still feel the old Hollywood decadence as you walked around the United Artists Theatre that night. The Spanish Gothic design, frescoes painted high on the walls and ceiling, the ultra glam vanity room to touch-up your lipstick after a trip to the restroom, and the massive 1,600 seat theater was a lot to take in. Needless to say, it was a gem.

And in fact, these gems are sprinkled throughout Downtown LA. There are 12 of them in total, built between 1910-1931 and all located on the same street over a 7-block radius on the now, historic Broadway. From movie palaces screening the latest films to vaudeville acts performing on large stages; Art Deco to French Baroque-style architecture, each theater was distinct in its design and purpose, though all were originally constructed with the same goal, and that was to entertain at the highest of standards.

I was eager to learn more. Thanks the heavens for the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Walking Tours through Downtown LA.

Tour Start FINAL

{Saturday, 10:00am. View of the skyline from Pershing Square as we gathered to start the tour.}

Two hours on a bright, warm, summer Saturday morning a few weeks ago, found me walking along what is known as the “Broadway Theatre and Commercial District.” Escorted by a tour guide from the LA Conservancy, I was taken back to a history I had never really known much about and their efforts to save it.

The tour guides you to 11 out of the 12 theaters (the Million Dollar Theater is a few blocks away from the main cluster), stopping frequently to hear about its structural design and contribution (or failure) during Broadway’s entertainment heyday.

MAP FINAL

{Map of the Broadway Theatre and Commercial District. Click to enlarge.}

Little did I know that what looked like a less than glamorous storefront, was once an auditorium that hosted extravagant film screenings or performances. And while some of the buildings aren’t necessarily in the best shape or much to look at if you’re just passing by, the tour does a fantastic job of making you look past the facade to see a little deeper. The details are still there, though perhaps a little (or more than a little) weathered. In some instances, while the theater space now acts as a retail shop, the interior is preserved. In others, it is no more. Typically what remains is the structure.

Roxie ATG FINAL

{The Roxie. Built, 1931. Now a retail store. Though pretty weathered, it retains its Art Deco style.}

Tower FINAL

{The Tower. Built, 1927. Renaissance design.}

GLOBE FINAL

{The Globe. Built,1913.}

DSC01183

{The Palace. Built, 1911. French Baroque.}

The State Final

{The State. Built, 1921. Currently a church and the only place with air conditioning during the long hot tour!}

The good news is that a few of the theaters are in relatively excellent shape, so much so that you can feel the energy of the early 20th century the moment you walk in. I got the sense that is just depends on what day you take the tour (and the fact that many of these buildings are now retail venues or closed altogether), but we were only allowed inside of one of the theaters (other than The State).

If there was one interior venue I wanted to see with my very own eyes, it would be the luxurious Los Angeles Theatre. It. did. not. disappoint. Built in 1931, this lavish venue cost $1.5 million dollars to construct. The lobby boasts crystal chandeliers, a sweeping staircase, a fountain, custom-made carpets and drapery. It has individual stalls in the women’s restroom made from unique marble materials (no stall looks alike!), a vanity area, children’s playroom, men’s shoe shine area, downstairs lounge, dance floor, and a crying room (a place where mothers could take their crying babies so as to not disturb the audience and still watch the movie!). It also seats 2,000 people!

Yes, seeing a film or attending an event at the Los Angeles Theatre was certainly living it up back in the day! Even better, though privately owned, it’s a working venue and still in-use/for rent today.

Los Angeles ATG FINAL

  {Exterior, Los Angeles Theatre. Built, 1931.}

LA Lobby FINAL

 { Los Angeles Theatre. Ticket booth.}

LA Chandelier FINAL

{Los Angeles Theatre lobby. 50 foot ceiling, crystal chandeliers.}

Interior LA FINAL

{Los Angeles Theatre stage.}

Shoes final

{Sidewalk in front of the Los Angeles Theatre. It’s marble!}

PS: I encourage you to visit the Los Angeles Theatre’s website to see their gallery photos of the interior space. Mine certainly don’t do it much justice!

UA 2 ATG FINAL

{The equally decadent United Artists Theatre at Ace Hotel. You can read more about this venue from another post I recently wrote, here.}

EASTERN FINAL

{Though not focal to the tour, we had to stop and chat about the famous Eastern Building which is also located on Broadway, just across the street from the Orpheum Theatre. It’s considered to be on the finest examples of Art Deco style architecture in existence. Apparently, a loft here can set you back well into the millions!}

DOWNTOWN LA ATG FINAL

Approximately 2 hours and 90°+ later, I walked away from the tour with an appreciation that I didn’t necessarily have before. My eye is typically always drawn to what’s pristine, modern, and aesthetically pleasing (perhaps that’s why the Walt Disney Concert Hall was such a thrill for me to tour last year!). However, this was a classic case of not judging a book by its cover. While the Los Angeles and United Artists Theatres don’t necessarily draw you in by the exterior, you’d never know such opulence would be behind those doors. Essentially, this experience taught me to applaud the duality that’s taking place downtown. Modern structures speak to forward movement, but there’s something special when it comes to surrendering to history and wanting to keep it alive.

I’m glad that organizations like the LA Conservancy make it a goal to preserve what was.  Though I enjoy the plush large seats at the Arclight as much as the next Angeleno; I doubt I’ll ever wear a ball gown, drop my faux children (as I don’t have any!) in the theater playroom, watch a film, sit in a marble bathroom stall, walk a grand staircase while enjoying the sounds of the neighboring fountain, just after making my way to the lounge, where I’ll sip a cocktail and dance the night away…all at the same place.

If you’re ever looking for an inexpensive, educational, and explorative thing to do on a beautiful Saturday morning in LA, this is for you!


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6 thoughts on “…to Downtown LA We Go.

  1. I loved this! Even though It took me three hours to read it. I kept getting distracted lol! Your pictures were amazing! I loved the aged looks of these old theaters, I’ve always thought of vintage things from the 20’s or 30’s age more gracefully, they never lose their value after all these years. That’s what I’ve always loved about the Golden Age of Hollywood, even though it was so long ago. Old portraits of the actors/actresses make them look and feel timeless, like a bit of them is still here. A bit is still here inside these old buildings. Nobody can see the beauty within them anymore. 😦

    • Awww, thank you so much, Meghan! And thanks for hanging in there for 3 HOURS! I couldn’t agree with your comment any more. There’s always beauty…if you’re looking for it.

      • You’re welcome! I kept the tab up the whole time of lbloggers chat and after it ended I started reading it, got to the third paragraph before my mom and sis brought the kittens in my room. Lol 🙂

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