It’s starting to look like 2016 is going to be a big year for us with huge life-changing events in store, God willing. Since the beginning of the year, Miguel and I have been spending Saturdays trying to take in as much of Los Angeles as we can while we can.Last weekend, I got a chance to see the inside of some of LA’s best architectural treasures in “Night On Broadway”. I walked 8 blocks to take in all the sights I could and if you know me, you know I wouldn’t walk 100 yards for anything less than what I expect to be spectacular. Below are some of the highlights from that night via my VSCO Journal:
Sponsored by Councilman José Huizar, the once-a-year even is an attempt to draw enough attention and revive the now mostly unused theaters that once lit up Los Angeles’ very own Broadway street.
The city closed down Broadway from 3rd to 7th street and filled it with food trucks, an art walk, a silent disco party and more. There was even a (rickety) Ferris wheel in the middle of 5th.
The highlights, of course, were the beautiful theaters, each with a show or activity and open to the public for free.
The Broadway Theater District is the largest historic theater district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The names are a bit misleading, as most of the theaters are actually movie palaces meant to show movies rather than “legitimate” live performances. The earliest built buildings were meant for vaudeville or full-scale plays but were converted to cinemas with the advent of talkies.
Out of the 12 surviving movie palaces in the district, 7 were open to the public – the Million Dollar (1918), the Los Angeles (1931), the Palace (1911), the Globe (1913), the Tower (1927), the Orpheum (1926) and the United Artists Theater (1927) in what is now the Ace Hotel. Despite the incredibly long lines to get into each one, I was happy to be able to get inside all except the Million Dollar. A bit of a bummer but overall, Still satisfying.
Once the center of entertainment in the entertainment capital of the world, the Broadway district started its decades-long decline after World War II when suburbanization and the automobile took first-run movie-goers away from Historic downtown to Hollywood and other multiplexes. The beautiful movie palaces would struggle to stay relevant and functional, many turning into grindhouses and other less-respectable uses. Most fell into disrepair or were turned into low-end retail spaces and swap meets.
I’m not native to LA, but I’d like to think we are a little more than acquaintances, this city and I. This, this is the Los Angeles I love, the Los Angeles that people don’t think about when they call it shallow and without culture. For almost three years, I worked in DTLA on Hill, the next street over. There are still buildings leftover from the same era as the Broadway theaters but most if not all, have been repurposed and sectioned off into manufacturing spaces. Every so often, I’d get past the dust and dirt and smells, and see hints of a bygone era – beautiful hand carved balustrades, ornate moldings and marble foyers. I’d walk down Broadway and see the remaining facades and unlit neon lights, dingy and unattractive with entrances padlocked and barred off. I’d make a mental note to peek inside someday, when I could afford it. I knew many of the remaining theaters have been repurposed into special event venues or filming locations. One of them, the Rialto, is now an Urban Outfitters store – not sure how I feel about that.
There are those who will say that we should let bygone eras be bygones. The restoration and upkeep of these buildings takes millions of dollars. Furthermore, if we were honest, the revitalization of the historic downtown could very much be no more than gentrification masked as concern for the arts. While I can see how these theaters can be preserved and repurposed back into regular event venues and expensive lofts, I know that this district-wide effort will displace the existing manufacturing industry and put thousands of livelihoods in danger.
But I’m a romantic. I look at these theaters and a train of thought starts chugging in my mind.These movie palaces are in many ways, as LA as it gets. Bold. Beautiful. Glamorous. Ambitious. Fleeting. In a city where appearance is everything, it is poetic that these once-popular gems, frequented by the likes of Chaplin and Griffith are now hidden from public view. The once-beautiful facades are run-down and ignored everyday. The dilapidated outside no longer does justice to the stunning halls inside. Yes. Not everything in LA is skin-deep.
Oh Los Angeles. I will miss you.