Wednesday, May 31 I went to see the film Mark of Zorro at the Los Angeles Theater downtown on Broadway sponsored by the Los Angeles Conservancy. The Los Angeles Conservancy in its attempt to preserve and revitalize the historic architecture of Los Angeles has for twenty years had the annual film series "Last Remaining Seats" in the great movie palaces on Broadway in downtown. These movie theaters held Hollywood's first premieres in the 1920s and 1930s--both stars and public flocked to them to see opening nights as Broadway was the theater district--a theater district to rival New York's with live stage plays, vaudville houses, and movie theaters.
In fact, the Los Angeles Theater, 615 S. Broadway, opened in 1931 to premiere Charlie Chaplin's City Lights. As I walked up on May 31, 2006, a long line was again waiting to get in the door just like that 1931 premiere. The exterior--three huge columns on each side surrounded a tall, thin central sign saying "Los Angeles" above the ornately carved marque--was impressive. Yet the inside was more amazing and recalled the French palace of Versailles. The lobby had huge sparkling chandaliers; tall, fluted columns; a sunburst theme reminiscent of Louix XIV, the sun king; and a central staircase leading up to a crystal fountain on the 2nd floor.
The auditorium reminded me of the great opera houses of Europe with a painted curtain on the stage; two balconies which extended into elegantly carved boxes on each side of the auditorium; and ornate carvings all over the ceiling in the style of the French baroque. If one returned to the lobby and descended down the spiral staircase two floors, one got to an elegant central ballroom and on the left, the ladies room. The ladies room lobby was circular with mirrors alternating full-size mirrors and half-size mirrors as well as a child's playroom decorated with circus figures to the side. And all the toilet stalls were marble! This movie theater is really a palace all right!
This year's Last Remaining Seats is called "Lights, Camera, Los Angeles!" as it focuses on films that have Los Angeles as subject or site starting with Mark of Zorro. I have never before seen any of the Zorro films (there have been many) about the fictional Robin Hood/bandit of 1820s Los Angeles, but before the feature film there was a 1931 documentary made by 20th Century Fox movie studios about itself which was quite fascinating.
In the 1940 Zorro film I enjoyed the receation of early L.A. as a sleepy Mexican village. Tyrone Powell played a dashing Zorro who was both son of the former mayor and daring masked bandit who aimed at overthrowing the present tyrant mayor. Basil Rathbone played Captain Esteban Pasquale, the villain enforcer for the evil mayor. The sword fights between Powell and Rathbone were terrific as both men could really fence! The character actors were terrific, particular Eugene Palette as the fat, revolutionary Father Felipe who rails against the evil mayor. In the last scene Zorro leads a revolution of peons and caballeros overthrowing the mayor. All in all a good film.
Next week I'm going to see 1954 A Star is Born with Judy Garland at the Orpheum, another terrific movie palace. Here's the schedule for Last Remaining Seats:
June 7- A Star is Born- Orpheum
June 14- Harold Loyd comedies - Palace sold out
June 21 Chinatown - Orpheum soldout
June 28 Dos Tips de Ciudad - Los Angeles
July 5 Rebel Without a Cause - Los Angeles
The LA Conservancy also does terrific tours--both self-guided tours with map they provide and group tours--showcasing architecture highlights of downtown. I took their tour of Spring Street, the old Wall Street of the West where from 1920-1950 the leading banks and stock exhcange used to be but now many of these fine buildings are being converted into apartments, lofts, nightclubs, etc. For more information about The Last Remaining Seats or the tours check out