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To heck with a movie; let the theater entertain you

Neither the weighty gray of the skies nor the chilly drizzle could dampen Theo Kalomirakis’ anticipation, so feverish was it. Once again, he would be seeing the interior of the Los Angeles Theatre, but he didn’t yet know what a revelation it would be the second time around.

We met up on a Saturday in the lobby of downtown’s Million Dollar Theatre, where an L.A. Conservancy guide was just about to surprise an intrepid tour group by telling them that Broadway, our Broadway, is the largest historic theater district in the country. Twelve National Register theaters in a six-block stretch, from 3rd to 9th streets.

For the record:
12:00 AM, Feb. 28, 2004 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday February 28, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 45 words Type of Material: Correction
Los Angeles Theatre -- A photograph of the Los Angeles Theatre accompanying The Eye column in Thursday’s Home section should have been credited to Berger/Conser Photography, not Stephen M. Silverman. The photo was from the book “Last Remaining Seats,” for which Silverman wrote the introduction.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 04, 2004 Home Edition Home Part F Page 5 Features Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Los Angeles Theatre credit -- A photograph of the Los Angeles Theatre accompanying The Eye column last Thursday should have been credited to Berger/Conser Photography, not Stephen M. Silverman. The photograph was from the book “Last Remaining Seats,” for which Silverman wrote the introduction.

Theo was back in town from his home base of New York, here to see a client about designing a home theater but also to have another look at the movie palace he considers the finest example of French Renaissance he’s ever seen in theatrical architecture. Michael Delijani, the son of the man who rescued the Los Angeles Theatre from demolition, was going to give him a private viewing of the palatial wonder that his father, Ezatollah, has been restoring with his own money for the past 20 years. Theo could scarcely contain himself, giving the appearance of a racehorse on the verge of breaking out of the starting gate before the gun is fired. “I’m salivating,” he said.

We slipped past the cheerful lecturer and his attentive audience of 12, hurrying up the block toward 6th and the awaiting Michael. In a severe case of words failing, I was struck nearly dumb when I entered the Los Angeles with its staircase, its chandeliers laden with starry crystals, its columns and cartouches and marble and murals and great vaulted ceilings. Going on and on, room after room after glorious room, even into the ladies’ room.

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Now I understand why these theaters were not called theaters at all, but movie palaces. Palatial was about the best I could do as I struggled to get my oxygen back and to describe it to myself. This was in a category unto itself, like some American version of Versailles, maybe, or suitable, at the very least, as a weekend getaway for one of the Louis kings, but with a Baroque cathedral element -- all those scrolls and curves, all that ornamentation. It felt both royal and religious at once.

This was a first for Theo, too, in the sense that he was at last getting to study every architectural detail with all the lights turned on. “Look!” he commanded in his fabulously overcome way, syllables on top of syllables italicized as he breaks into his own thoughts in constant interruptions of himself. “This is just not done anymore. It takes your breath away, just imagining! And it took less than six months to build. Six months! How is it possible? It took me nine years to do Dean Koontz’s.”

Michael is no less committed in his ardor, if somewhat more restrained in its manifestation, for this theater -- designed by S. Charles Lee in 1931 -- that he’s been intimately involved with for much of his adult life. He is president of L.A.'s Historic Core Business Improvement District, and works diligently to bring the city to its senses about the need for convenient and affordable parking if we are to fully resurrect downtown.

How appropriate to be here in this theater that is like no other, with these two men, each born into ancient cultures -- Theo in Greece, Michael in Iran -- exchanging their enthusiasms in their country-of-origin accents, still musically intact, and linked in their burning desires to see Broadway fully restored.

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And how suddenly wrenching to realize that the theater district, with its flamboyant movie palaces that were among the best ever designed, is all but moribund, at least in its original purpose. Just think of being able to see “The Lord of the Rings” at the Los Angeles Theatre. If you thought the trilogy couldn’t get any better, you’re wrong. It could. If only this were still a working movie theater. Schedule a tour with the L.A. Conservancy, and you’ll be persuaded.

“Doesn’t this stop your heart?” Theo asks, or, more precisely, insists, as we take one last look before reluctantly going on. “Does it stop your heart?”

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Barbara King is editor of the Home section. She can be reached at barbara.king@latimes.com


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