Sunday, June 04, 2006

If It's Baroque, Fix It (ba-dum-bum-tish)

No, this isn’t a picture of a Baroque-style palace in Europe. It’s the inside of a movie palace, the Los Angeles Theater, on Broadway in—yep, you guessed it—Los Angeles. This theater opened in 1931 and premiered Charlie Chaplin’s "City Lights" and closed in 1994, except for special events and filming.

Last Wednesday night was one such special occasion, as the L.A. Conservancy opened the theater for their 20th Annual Last Remaining Seats and showed "The Mark of Zorro," starring Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell, to an eager crowd of what looked to be about 2000 people. What a blast that was! Nothing beats viewing an old movie on the big screen after the decorative curtain rolls up, with the sound emitting from the top of the screen—no Dolby surround sound here—and the auditorium filled with people enjoying the humor and wit of Power’s character, Don Diego/Zorro. I loved it.

What makes this theater different than the others on Broadway, such as the Orpheum and the Million Dollar? This one had a periscope-like system of prisms that relayed the movie from the auditorium to the lounge downstairs, so one didn’t need to miss the movie if a break was necessary. It also had two soundproof Crying Rooms (how cool is that?) and a playroom for the children. And, of course, one can’t miss the crystal fountain displayed at the top of the grand staircase (as seen in the picture above). Absolutely stunning.

You guys know how much of a sucker I am for anything historical, right? Well, old Los Angeles and Hollywood are certainly no exceptions. I’ve always wanted to write a story set in 1930s Tinseltown, and strolling down the red carpet and soaking up the French Baroque details of this theater only fueled that desire.

The only bummer part--besides the guy kicking the back of my chair throughout the entire movie (grrrrr…)--is that the theater is in disrepair. It’s only 75 years old, yet the plaster is chipping off the walls and frescos, the walls in the ladies restroom have holes, and the parquet floors in the lounge below the auditorium are in desperate need of refinishing. It tears me apart to see such a glorious place in such a sad state. It needs to be fixed before it too succumbs to the ruined existence of the other closed theaters on that street, such as The Pantages where Sophie Tucker and other vaudeville acts performed, the Roxie, and the Tower (which premiered with The Jazz Singer—not even the landmark talkie could save that one from closing). Sigh. That’s the Southland for you. But the good news: the L.A. Conservancy is doing what it can to repair the theater.

If you ever get a chance to tour one of the old movie palaces, I highly recommend you do so. With every step, every turn of a corner, inspiration met me and carried me away to a different era. I’m so eager to get the story that’s forming in my mind down on paper…but I’ve got a few other stories to finish first.