rejectomorph (flying_blind) wrote,

Los Angeles' Downtown Movie Palaces, and a Couple of Links

My earliest memories of the movie theatres of downtown Los Angeles are hazy. I know that before I was six years old, when we moved some distance away from a main bus line, we made frequent trips downtown, and these trips usually included a matinee at one of these theatres. But my only clear memories of them are of the R.K.O. Hillstreet, at 8th and Hill, and the Warner, one block up Hill street on the corner of 7th. In both cases, what I remember is mainly the lighting in the ceiling. Both theatres had large reveals with indirect lights in them in those parts of the auditoriums under the balconies. I was fascinated by those glowing spaces.

My clear memories of the downtown theatres comes from a time several years later, when I began going into the city on my own. For a few years, I went to the movies frequently, and became familiar with most of the major theatres. This was very near the end of the movie palace era in Los Angeles. The largest of the theatres, the Paramount, at 6th and Hill, was demolished before I had a chance to see it again. I did manage a few visits to the Hillstreet before it, too was destroyed. The Warner's, by then called (economically) the Warren's, was converted to a retail space soon after. But the theatres on Broadway continued to operate somewhat longer, some with Spanish language movies, some with triple features of Hollywood movies. Today, almost all of those theatres are closed, and I believe that the only one operating on a regular basis is the Palace, on the east side of Broadway between 6th and 7th. At least the surviving theatres have been spared the ultimate indignity of being turned into multiplexes, as has been the fate of movie palaces in many other cities.

There is, however, some good news. The Los Angeles Theatre, across the street from the Palace, has been able to survive, and even finance some restoration by being made available for filming of movies, commercials and music videos. And, the owners of the Orpheum have managed, with some assistance form community groups, a complete restoration of that theatre, and it is available for concerts and stage productions. They have also created an excellent Orpheum Theatre web site, with a photo gallery containing pictures of the restored theatre and a half dozen old black-and-white pictures from the theatres early days, as well as a page of technical information, with a decent floor plan and cross section of the theatre.

Also, for many years, the Los Angeles Conservancy has sponsored an annual film series at some of the theatres. This year's series consists of five movies, shown at three of the theatres; the Orpheum, the Los Angeles and the Palace. Information is available at the Conservancy's 2002 Last Remaining Seats web pages. There are links at this site to information about the theatres themselves, and some small pictures of them. This is a rare chance to see these classic movie palaces the way they are best enjoyed: with an audience in them and a movie on the screen. The conservancy also has occasional tours of the theatres which are a bit cheaper, but it isn't the same as being there for a show. It is rather expensive; non-members of the Conservancy pay $85 for the entire series, or $16 for individual movies. Since the Conservancy is a non-profit organization, I think this might be tax deductible, however. (I'm not sure, so don't take my word for it. Check with them.) If I could make it to L. A., I'd be willing to pay these prices, even though I can remember paying only $1.50 for an evening show at the most expensive of these theatres- and that was for a double feature of first run movies.

The great age of the movie palaces will probably never return, but we can get a glimpse of what it was like at these web sites, and at the Last Remaining Seats film series. I'm glad I was around for even the tail end of that era. I hope that the Los Angeles Conservancy can continue to preserve this small echo of it.

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