Los Angeles Event: Touring the Old Theatre District

Touring the Historic Los Angeles Theatre District

     “There’s one million square feet of unused space in downtown Los Angeles,” said Larry, our tour guide, as we walked up and down Broadway, the old heart of the theatre district.
     It was Thursday night, and Broadway was relatively quiet, except for the occasional homeless person staring confusedly at our group, and those closing up their shops. There was 15 of us, standing outside a store selling cheap backpacks, jackets and perfumes, pointing up at the buildings and the awnings.
     Just two blocks to the east, the streets are full, restaurants are open, trendy clothing is for sale, and bands play on the sidewalk: it’s the monthly downtown art walk. But Broadway has not seen this downtown revitalization yet, but there are rumors everywhere.
     This tour was presented by the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation (lahft.org -free tours coincide with the monthly art walk), and we were hoping to enter two of the once majestic theatres, but The State Theatre is now a church, and we couldn’t go in because a religious service was in progress.
     We were able to go inside The Globe, but not through the front, through the back alley. The once proud front of this theatre has been, like almost all the theatres along this block, converted to businesses. But the rear half, the actual theatre, is still there, with the side boxes, the sweeping balconies, and the hanging scene changer to cover the stage. The theatre is now a nightclub called 740 (740la.com).
     We were able to not only about to go inside the club, but climb down, underneath the stage and the dance floor, to what was once the orchestra pit. The pit is just a concrete box, with one wall in a gentle curve, and a few pieces of graffiti. It’s claustrophobic inside, because it’s covered with the new dance floor. But looking through a hole in the wall, is the old sloped floor of the original theatre, that was once full of people watching the golden age of Hollywood.

     As we walked south on Broadway, passing theater after theatre, Larry regaled us with interesting facts and beautiful photographs of the theatres we could not enter.
     “When the theatres were built (usually between 1910 to 1931) they were not allowed to have these huge marquees, so they had blade signs, the tall thin signs hanging off the side of the building. The awnings came later.”

     “There were street cars that went up and down 7th street, and up and down Broadway, so that intersection was the focus of the theatre district. That was where everything was happening. As we get farther away from that intersection the theatres were less and less successful.”
     “Here in the back of the Tower Theatre,” as we stood in the alley behind Broadway, “see that hole in the wall?” And high up, in the middle of the rear wall, was a rectangular hole, “That’s where they cut the hole to fit the speaker when the first talkies came out.”
     “On the first night, the first act at the State Theatre, a girl by the name of Francis Gump performed. Does anyone one know who she became?” A redheaded lady, who was with us on the tour, knew the answer: Judy Garland.

     This row of beautiful, majestic and dilapidated theatres is completely out of tune with the shops selling cheap items and covered in metal shutters up and down this street.
     But the restoration of Broadway is beginning. A few of the theatres have been restored, or are being restored. The famous Clifton’s Restaurant –where we met before heading out on the tour- is beginning a restoration.
     And Larry said there was talk of putting streetcars back on Broadway, and maybe even closing it down for pedestrian traffic only, like the 3erd Street Promenade in Santa Monica.
     “That would be great.” One of my fellow tourees chimed in.

This entry was posted in Photography: Event, Writing: Travel: USA and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Los Angeles Event: Touring the Old Theatre District

  1. Larry Goodfried says:

    It was my pleasure taking you and the group to the Broadway of yesterday.

    Larry the tour guide

Comments are closed.