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Thursday February 21st 2019

Travel – Los Angeles: Downtown 3


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Orpheum Theatre, South Broadway
Orpheum Theatre, South Broadway

The magnificent Orpheum Theatre, 842 South Broadway, which opened in 1926 as a vaudeville house, has been beautifully restored to accommodate both cinema and live theatre – and in the process has proved a real go-to for movie shoots – becoming ‘New York’s Belasco Theatre’, where the play Bare Ruined Choirs scores a Broadway hit for aspiring playwright Barton Fink (John Turturro); and the ‘New Haven’ concert hall where Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) gets arrested in Oliver Stone’s The Doors.

The exterior is not particularly striking (you’ve probably seen it whizz past in the background of a hundred car chases – though it features heavily during the climax of Transformers as the giant robots trash most of Broadway), but the Orpheum is a regular stand-in for its more famous Hollywood neighbours. In Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, the director’s masterpiece, Plan 9 From Outer Space, appears to be showing at the Pantages Theatre, while Austinpussy, the film-within-a-film which ends Austin Powers in Goldmember, seemingly premieres at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Both interiors, in fact, are the Orpheum’s glorious Twenties style auditorium.

Not all of these movie palaces still operate as cinemas, but a way to see them is with the Los Angeles Conservancy Walking Tours; every Saturday at 10am, there’s a Broadway: Historic Theatre & Commercial District Tour.

The Mayan, South Hill Street
The Mayan, South Hill Street

One place you can get into without being part of a tour is the Mayan, 1038 South Hill Street, which opened as a legit theatre in 1927, and is now a nightclub.

In the fine ‘themed’ tradition of Grauman’s Chinese and Egyptian theatres, it’s a wild, pre-Columbian nightmare, both inside and out – and the decor has survived pretty much intact. You’ll have seen Rachel Marron (Whitney Houston) brave death threats to perform here in The Bodyguard; or maybe its jazzy exterior as the ‘Rockatorium’, where PJ Soles camps out to get tickets for The Ramones in Rock’n’Roll High School.

If The Prestige showcases the theatres, (500) Days of Summer offers a handy guide to some of Downtown’s other treasures. In fact, the Broadway Bar, 830 South Broadway, in which Tom (Joseph-Gordon Levitt) springs to the defence of Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel) – and gets a punch in the face for his troubles – stands right alongside the Orpheum.

Follow Tom’s wise advice and "look up". Above the bustle of markets and discount stores, the historic heart of the old city stands some glorious, if often decayed, architecture from its heyday in the Twenties. Among his favourite buildings, Tom points out the 1925 Fine Arts Building, 811 West Seventh Street at Wilshire Boulevard (remember this place as the 'Swiss Embassy' in the 1997 fantasy Spawn? Of course you do).

Eastern Columbia Building
Eastern Columbia Building

And the unmissable green and gold Moderne tower of the Eastern Columbia Building, 849 South Broadway (on top of which both the alien in Predator 2 and the Autobots of Transformers had the excellent taste to appear).

A sad loss is Tom's favourite spot, where he watched the city from his bench on the quiet green slope of Angels Knoll, at West Fourth Street and Olive Street. Despite the famous seat being marked with a plaque to commemorate its place in screen history, the park has now been fenced off and seems to be awaiting redevelopment.

Angels Flight Railway
Angels Flight Railway

The park overlooked the self-proclaimed “Shortest Railway in the World" (at 298 feet), Angels Flight Railway, is once again trundling up and down Bunker Hill. This funicular railway, dating back to 1901 when the Hill was one of the city’s most fashionable neighborhoods, was dismantled in 1969.

In the early 1990s, the Railway was refurbished and relocated a half-block south. Bunker Hill is all grass now, but you can see what the area once looked like in The Glenn Miller Story, with James Stewart as the bandleader, and in Robert Aldrich’s Baroque thriller Kiss Me Deadly.

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