Nestled among the buildings of historic downtown Los Angeles, these theatres are a window into another era.
When you think of Broadway, black and white films, and the era of old glamour, you likely think of two places: New York City and Hollywood. But wander to a six-block stretch of Broadway in downtown Los Angeles and you'll discover an historic theatre district — the largest of its kind in the U.S.
Nestled among DTLA's concrete and skyscrapers, these theatres could change your perception of what Broadway means. The intricate and aging building facades offer a glimpse of a former epicenter of vaudeville and silent film, where families would come to shop, to dine, and to see the newest “moving pictures.” It’s a world that was a pivotal building block for the entertainment industry, but can go unnoticed to passersby.
I knew nothing of the Broadway Historic Theatre District upon arriving in L.A., but the experience was captivating: Walking into these theatres felt like peering through a window into the entertainment industry’s past. I imagined men and women dressed to the nines, walking on red carpets under crystal chandeliers, lingering in the opulent lobbies of these magnificent works of architecture. Standing in these theatres felt a little like time travel.
“The Beaux-Arts style was firmly in place when most of the Broadway theatres were built, in 1910 to 1931, and therefore many exteriors and interiors favor classic (Greek, Roman, Italian Renaissance) designs,” Bruce Scottow, educational outreach coordinator at the Los Angeles Conservancy, told Travel + Leisure. “By the late 1920s, the Art Deco style had come into favor for office buildings, though theatregoers still loved the ornate, eye-popping styles as featured in The Theatre at Ace Hotel, the Tower, and particularly the Los Angeles.”
Scottow said that while the earliest theatres were on Main Street, DTLA's Broadway had become the go-to for catching a moving picture by the 1920s.
“Signs that Broadway was at least sharing the epicenter role with Hollywood began in the 1920s,” he said. “Grauman’s had already opened the Egyptian Theatre in 1922 and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre opened in 1927.”
But the area's heyday couldn't last forever.
“There’s no clear date that can be stamped on Broadway as its year of demise because the change was gradual,” Scottow told T+L. “But clearly, by the 1950s, with the explosive post-war growth in the suburbs, the completion of new shopping centers, the growth of the freeway system, the end had come.”
The local community, however, has ensured these theatres have survived.
“We owe our Latino audiences and shoppers gratitude for keeping so many of Broadway’s theatres open and vibrant for so many years,” said Scottow. “It’s not unlikely that had the Broadway Theatre and Commercial District been totally abandoned, the area may have fallen victim the bulldozers, which so often marked our 1960s-era 'urban revitalization' programs.”