Saturday, June 25, 2011

100 Years on Broadway

As part of the Bringing Back Broadway initiative, the Palace Theatre opened its doors after a recent renovation to showcase a history of Broadway as the former entertainment and commercial capital of Los Angeles. Incidentally, this summer marks the 100th anniversary of the Palace, which opened in 1911 for vaudeville and eventually, film.

From 1910 to 1931, 12 theaters were built on Broadway from 3rd to 9th Streets. They served as music halls, vaudeville and movie theaters, and even a "legitimate" dramatic theater. Many of them were extravagant and ornate, and each tried to trump previously built theaters in detail, seating capacity, or sheer height. The entryway to the Palace characterized the sometimes European castle, sometimes fairytale, sometimes gothic architectural tastes of the period.

I especially enjoyed the lighting underneath the balcony. The light bulbs had carbon filaments, which created a charming and romantic feel as you sat underneath them in the orchestra. The detail on the glass wasn't lost on me either.

In the hundred years since theaters started going up on Broadway, most of the theaters had been shut down at one point or another due to financial issues. Movie theaters were especially hard hit after WWII when city residents started relocating to suburbs and legislation separated ownership of movie studios and movie theaters. As the theaters struggled in their independence, many came to rely on Spanish-language films to help fill their seats. Broadway soon became a vivid entertainment center with restaurants, shopping areas, and movie places for the immigrant community.

As Broadway enters a new phase of revitalization, it is clear that Broadway is drifting away from its swap-meet, bridal shop, food stall identity and towards the general gentrification taking over Downtown LA. What sets Broadway apart, however, is the pervasive desire to cling to its historical roots. Whether these roots will manifest in a robust (English or Spanish-speaking) entertainment district, art center, food hub, or all of the above is yet to be determined. After learning a brief history of the area today, I'm just super excited that Ración gets to be part of whatever it decides to be.

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