Last Saturday, armed with an umbrella and ready for the disappointment of cancellation, my significant other and I ventured downtown to the Million Dollar Theater for the Los Angeles Conservancyís Broadway Theater Tour. Our first major success of the day was finding unmetered street parking one block north of the Grand Central Public Market (now only a matter of time before meters are installed, Iím sure).
We assembled with a surprising number of fellow tourists (by surprising I mean twelve) in the underwhelming lobby of the Million Dollar Theater (so-called, the marquee outside reads, uhhh, something different). The group split in two and we were sent into the theater itself, led by a guide who would remain nameless until the end of the tour. Our anonymous guide (later to be named Randy) revealed countless secrets of the theaters’ diverse history as he took us on a southward trajectory down Broadway. The captivating three-hour tour included the scenic backrooms of two electronics shops that were formerly Cluneís and Pantages (more recently Cameo & Arcade) and are now glorified warehouses holding hundreds of stereos. Who would have thought those noisy hole-in-the-wall shops on Broadway had such grand storerooms, or that they housed more than one 54î projection television! Further south, we visited another theater transformed into a lovely (if slightly gaudy) Catholic church and finally, the crown jewel, the fully restored Orpheum Theater where we were introduced to its impressive pipe organ by Steve, a volunteer representative from the Los Angeles Theater Organ Society, and were regaled with stories by former vaudevillian baton twirler, and alleged curtain fanatic, Steve Markham, who not only described the theaterís impressive renovation, but informed us of Michael Jacksonís seat of choice at his recent birthday party. Afterwards, a quick visit to the former Pantages (more recently Warner Brothers theater at the corner of Hill and 7th that currently houses many, many jewelry counters and an odd Old West storefront faÁade at ceiling level) concluded our tour.
I can honestly say that the extensive, thorough, and insightful tour reshaped the way I look at downtown Los Angeles. The LA Conservancyís Broadway Initiative hopes to restore at least some of the theaters to their past glory (and promises a Starbuckís or two and the forced relocation of, I would guess, hundreds of small business owners in its wake), but after this tour, itís apparent that a developerís wet dream lingers down the aisle of a dozen+ landmarks of Los Angelesí glamorous past.