TRAVEL: The faded grandeur architecture of the Broadway Theatre District in downtown LA

 
downtown LA architecture.jpg

 

High on my wish list of architectural gem destinations,

for a jolly long time,

has been the Broadway Theatre District of Los Angeles


Since way back in Architectural History class,

these gracious and grandiose gals have intrigued me,

because they are a snapshot of another time,

when buildings screamed glamour in ornamental facades

influenced by all the imaginative minds of the Golden Age of cinema.

 

So when we decided to take a family holiday to NYC last month,

I couldn't resist a little stopover to LA to see this heritage listed area.

 

And it didn't disappoint.

In short, I was absolutely blown away by the incredible detail

and sheer scale

of these once-grand buildings. 

 

The Million Dollar Theatre (1918) is built in a Spanish Baroque style, and includes elaborately carved symbols of the Wild West, such as bison heads and longhorn skulls. 

The Million Dollar Theatre (1918) is built in a Spanish Baroque style, and includes elaborately carved symbols of the Wild West, such as bison heads and longhorn skulls. 

 
 

Centred on South Broadway, and stretching for 6 blocks

(from 3rd to 9th streets),

the official Broadway Theatre District includes no less

than 12 ornamental theatres,

all built between 1910 and 1931.

 

And because that time slot coincided with the international fashion

for Art Deco, many of the buildings have a curious mix 

of traditional Art Deco, local Spanish influence & 

of course all the fantastical elements dreamt up by an

industry which traded in fantasy and imagination. 

 

No wonder they are a heady mix of architectural styles!

 

As well as the theatres, around and in between are equally ornamental

commercial & retail buildings,

some of which have been converted into apartments.

 

The Eastern Columbia Building was built in 9 months, and opened in 1930. The facade is clad in glossy turquoise terracotta tile, trimmed with blue and gold glazed terracotta tile. It was the HQ of the Eastern Outfitting Company and Columbia Outfitting Company (clothing & furniture stores). 

The Eastern Columbia Building was built in 9 months, and opened in 1930. The facade is clad in glossy turquoise terracotta tile, trimmed with blue and gold glazed terracotta tile. It was the HQ of the Eastern Outfitting Company and Columbia Outfitting Company (clothing & furniture stores). 

Various motifs adorn the facade, including chevrons, zigzag & sunbursts, as well as very stylised animal and plant forms, in the fashion of the day. The building was converted to apartments in 2006.  

Various motifs adorn the facade, including chevrons, zigzag & sunbursts, as well as very stylised animal and plant forms, in the fashion of the day. The building was converted to apartments in 2006.  

The Ninth & Broadway Building was built in 1930 as an office building. The facade is terracotta textured and coloured to resemble stone. The intricate filagree patterning is of twirled grapevines. 

The Ninth & Broadway Building was built in 1930 as an office building. The facade is terracotta textured and coloured to resemble stone. The intricate filagree patterning is of twirled grapevines. 

 
 
Opened in 1921, as a performance space for both vaudeville and cinema screening, Loew's State Theatre was built within a 12 story office building. It has a mixture of Spanish, Medieval and Classical influences in the interior.

Opened in 1921, as a performance space for both vaudeville and cinema screening, Loew's State Theatre was built within a 12 story office building. It has a mixture of Spanish, Medieval and Classical influences in the interior.

DOWNTOWN LA GOLDEN ERA ARCHITECTURE.JPG
 
 
 
 
I remember walking into those opulent interiors, surrounded by the glory of the Renaissance, or the age of Baroque, and spending two or three hours in the dream world of the movies. When I came out again the sky blazed; the heat bounced off the sidewalk, traffic sounds filled the street, I was back in the hard reality of the Depression.
— Jack Smith, Los Angeles Times
 
 
 
 
Nice to see a familiar "face" - the Melbourne brand of botanical skincare has settled nicely into one of the intricate buildings in the Theatre District - and it looks good - bringing much needed new life into this once-proud area. 

Nice to see a familiar "face" - the Melbourne brand of botanical skincare has settled nicely into one of the intricate buildings in the Theatre District - and it looks good - bringing much needed new life into this once-proud area. 

 

There are so many of these extraordinary buildings,

each with an air of faded grandeur about them,

that it feels as if one is walking on a movie set,

or at least, as if one has just popped in via a time machine.

 

Because after WWII, 

people stopped going to the cinema in this Downtown area,

as the suburbs became the exciting places to be,

and the area fell into disrepair.

 

Many of the movie theatres closed. 

Some were abandoned, some turned into cheap retail outlets.

Some became venues for Spanish language films,

and that is what saved the area from being totally lifeless.

 

But slowly, slowly, this area is regenerating,

and according to the people we spoke with,

in the last 5 years it has started to come back to life,

with buildings being re-imagined into new uses,

like the amazing Ace Hotel (converted from the United Artists building)

 where we stayed.


But that, as they say, is another story.....

 


stay tuned for Part II: my review of the Ace Hotel, LA, to follow shortly