…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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Back to the Future, Living in the Past

1-2014-06-21 18.36.41

Where: (The Historic) United Artists Theatre at Ace Hotel / LA Chapter

Location: 929 South Broadway, Downtown LA


If I had to pick one movie that I could watch over and over again with as much excitement as the first time I saw it, undoubtedly, it would be Back to the Future. It’s one of those films that hold up almost 30 years later as a uniquely fun, creative expression of what that amazing thing we call cinema can be: and that’s however far and wide the imagination chooses to go. It’s also one of those near-perfect films that never gets old: the acting, the writing, the story line, the music – everything about it epitomizes a now classic comedy. It’s pretty funny how a 1985 film is a now considered “a classic.”

And because of this much-deserved status, let the record show I’d boycott any attempts at Hollywood getting cute and wanting to re-make what has to be my all-time favorite trilogy. Hands off!

1-2014-06-21 18.43.57{Waiting in line.}

Needles to say, I was beyond excited when I learned the LA Conservancy was hosting a special screening of the film, along with a Q&A with a few of the actors in the newly restored United Artists Theatre last Saturday night. Since I wasn’t yet quite able to understand nor enjoy films in 1985 (because I was too busy taking on the important task of learning how to walk and talk), what a treat to finally see the film on the big screen and in such a special way.

1-2014-06-21 18.40.21{Exterior, The Historic United Artists Theater at Ace Hotel.}

The United Artists Theatre was built in 1927 as a movie palace for the then unstoppable United Artists Movie Studio formed by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, and Charlie Chaplin (i.e. Hollywood royalty!). In January 2014, the 1,600 seat theater was re-opened, restoring its incredible Spanish Gothic vibe while maintaining all of its historic Hollywood glamour. The building now also hosts the ever-popular boutique luxury Ace Hotel, L.A. Chapter, and the Upstairs Bar.

1-DTLA_Theatre_Flow_Vert{Unfortunately, my digital camera died so all of the pictures in this post were taken with my phone. It was too dark to capture the exquisite intricacy of the interior of the theater, but you just have to see why this theater is SO special. I sourced this photo from the website.}

I think the highlight of my evening was the DeLorean sighting. My boyfriend told me he overheard that this wasn’t the original DeLorean used in the film. Apparently, this is the one from the Back to the Future ride located at Universal Studios. Either way, I was happy to see it!

1-2014-06-21 18.36.10{DeLorean sighting…}

1-2014-06-21 18.41.20{…the icing on the cake.}

After the screening, we  made our way over to LA Chapter, just steps away from the theater. Currently, this one of the most buzzed about places on the restaurant circuit downtown. I promised last week that I’d give you the scoop. Unfortunately, I can’t say it’s worth the hype. Let’s break it down, shall we?

1-2014-06-21 18.38.27{Exterior, LA Chapter.}

To start: I ordered an iced tea, though I’d swear an iced coffee came to my table. I’m pretty well-versed (I think…I hope!?!) about the differences in taste when it comes to coffee and tea (because I happen to have an addiction deep affinity for both). When I mentioned this to the waitress her response was that she grabbed it from the “iced tea dispenser” and that she’d been “serving it all night without complaint.” Now, perhaps I’m crazy, but there is a distinct difference between tea and coffee, right? I mean, iced tea is usually a dark-brownish color. This was opaque black! Is it possible they were using some super trendy high-end tea bags, brewed so strong, it starts channeling the taste and look of coffee? Yeah, this was not a good way to start a dining experience. And if, by chance, it was my faulty taste buds (though it certainly didn’t taste like iced tea to me) I’ll apologize in advance.

She was kind enough to switch if for a Mexican Coca-Cola (which was perfect!), but it was still just so off-putting to me. How do you screw up iced tea?

I tried to muster some excitement about my favorite part: the food. I ordered a burger (medium well) as did my BF (medium) and we both agreed it was the driest thing we ever ate. Both our burgers were over-cooked. Much to their credit, the french fries were delish.

Suffice to say, I wasn’t impressed, boys and girls. In fact, I was quite disappointed. It stinks when you hear about an awesome new restaurant, make the trek across town to make a night of it, and get there to iced tea that tastes likes coffee, realizing that you could have gone to In-N-Out and gotten a much better burger at 3 times less the cost…drink included.

1-2014-06-21 18.38.43{Exterior, Ace Hotel.}

That being said, it was still a nice change of pace from our normally pretty boring Saturday nights in over the last few months. And it’s starting to get to me. We all know I’m a gal who likes to get out and explore…then report back to you! It’s been awhile since I’ve done a good “let’s check out LA” post.

As I write this and take in the weight of this experience, I wish I would’ve been a little more present now that I think about it. Of course, I was glad to put on my favorite new lipstick (MAC’s Perpetual Flame), and be out late on a Saturday night, at an event, excited to see one of my all-time favorite films in one of the most celebrated old Hollywood movie palaces ever created.

However, at the time, I was also slightly bummed that I didn’t check the battery on my camera before heading out, knowing I wouldn’t get quality images for the blog and we’d be in low-lighting spaces all night. And my poor boyfriend was clearly exhausted, teetering on getting sick (though he didn’t want to go home and still tried to keep things happy).

In a sense we were essentially getting a taste of the past, watching a film the way those did 87 years ago, when movies were truly a grand event, a celebration! Where attention to detail and craftsmanship was on a whole other level when thinking about architecture and design in the late 1920s.

I went to use the restroom in the basement of the theater and they had a separate vanity area with those awesome Hollywood dressing room-like, bright, light bulbs (that make EVERYONE look good…I’m so getting these installed in my dream home someday), and I can only imagine the history that’s walked through that same room.

As I reflect back, I realize that though dinner really sucked at that over-hyped restaurant, which has only been open about 6 months now – it’s a trend that will come and go. Another will take its place. That’s just the way it goes. But that theater, all of its grandeur and design will remain, saluting the origins of Hollywood. It’s pretty cool when you think about it: we were there to see Back to Future, but for one night only truly living in spirit of the past.


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