By Bob Pool
8:29 PM PST, January 25, 2014
All that was missing Saturday were the searchlights as thousands filed through theater lobby doors to get a rare glimpse of the grand old movie palaces that line Broadway in downtown Los Angeles.
"This is like discovering treasure in an old tomb," marveled Venice architect Peter Culley as he stepped from the opulent 2,000-seat Los Angeles Theatre, which opened in 1931. "This is the first time I've been here. We're really surprised because it doesn't give the impression of being this large from the street."
His wife, high school English teacher Lynn Culley, was amazed by the ornate decorative touches: the crystal chandeliers, the marble women's restrooms in the basement, the 60-foot-wide curtain with three-dimensional figures sewn on it to re-create a 1800s French scene.
"The fixtures are so detailed. I don't think people realize there are still places like this here," she said.
Six of the street's dozen movie theaters were open to the public Saturday, and representatives of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation were on hand to lead tours.
"It's a big surprise to a lot of people today to see these theaters are still here. A small number of people have known about these for decades," said Escott Norton, a downtown home designer who is the foundation's executive director.
Not on public view were the 1931 Roxie, which houses a clothing store, and the Arcade and the Cameo, which opened in 1910 and are taken up by a storage space and a jewelry store. Also missing were the 1921 State, now used as a church, the 1917 Rialto, now an Urban Outfitters store, and the 1927 United Artists Theatre at the new Ace Hotel.
The Ace Hotel's theater was being readied for a Sunday night Grammy party but will be open to visitors on Feb. 1, said Hillsman Wright, a co-founder of the 27-year-old foundation.
Wright termed the Roxie, Arcade and Cameo theaters "the orphans of the street." They sit in a row in the 500 block of Broadway and are ripe for development as entertainment venues, he said. "They could share the sidewalk and a joint lobby. These three have amazing potential, and their owner, Joseph Hellen, is open to finding someone to insure these theaters' long-term survival," he said.
Wright, a 62-year-old semi-retired special events consultant from Venice, characterized the conversion of the Rialto into a clothing store and the restoration of its bright neon marquee as "a win," explaining that it could easily be converted back into an entertainment venue if Urban Outfitters ever leaves. He said the clothing chain is keeping the theater's past alive by projecting videos on the back wall where the Rialto's screen once hung.
The Globe Theatre, which opened in 1913 as the Morosco Theatre, is already being turned into an entertainment center by Frenchman Erik Chol. Its sloping floor was leveled out in 1987 when the movie house closed and the space was used as a swap meet. Aldric Angelier, an associate of Chol, said corporate gatherings, fashion shows and rock music performances will be scheduled once construction ends later this year.
"Even though they filled in the orchestra pit, I'm thankful it's still around," said Kim Rawley, a college English teacher from Lancaster, after emerging from the Globe.
At the 1918 Million Dollar Theatre, El Segundo account manager Robyn Walsh stepped from the auditorium and pronounced it "absolutely gorgeous … it's a hidden treasure."
And Michael Hart, a magazine editor from Mount Washington, said he was making a mental note to return to the Million Dollar to experience a movie. The theater is used for occasional screenings.
Kevin Truong, an insurance contractor from Westminster, was surprised that downtown's stand-alone theaters have survived in the era of multiplexes.
But a friend, Brea medical biller Staci Louie, said Broadway is the perfect place for such spectacular venues.
"This whole street is filled with old buildings and great architecture," she said.
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