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Downtown Los Angeles

Broadway's Historic Theaters

From the late 19th century to the 1950s—before malls and freeways—Broadway glittered with the finest shops and the highest number of luxurious theaters in the world, making it a rich, cultural haven.

Though it remains the main road through Downtown's Historic District, the area has changed dramatically over the years.

Currently bustling with stores and businesses catering to a mostly Mexican and Central American immigrant community, between 1st and 9th streets you can find mariachi and banda music blaring from electronics-store speakers, street-food vendors hawking sliced papaya sprinkled with chili powder, and fancy dresses for a young girl's Quinceañera (15th birthday).

But to see the glory of its golden years, you merely have to look "up," above the storefront signs, to see the marvelous architecture and theater marquees of the majestic buildings they reside in.

For A Guided Tour

The Los Angeles Conservancy regularly conducts Saturday-morning walking tours of Downtown architectural landmarks and districts.

Tours begin at 10 am, last about 2½ hours, and are offered rain or shine. Call for schedule and fees.

For information, call 213/623-2489 or visit www.laconservancy.org.

The Million Dollar Theater

Million Dollar Theater. The Million Dollar Theater opened in 1918 as part of Sid Grauman's famed chain of movie theaters. This Spanish Baroque–style venue had the special feature of having its own organ. Film stars such as Gloria Swanson, Rudolph Valentino, and a young Judy Garland frequently made appearances. In the '40s, the venue swung with jazz and big band performers including Billie Holiday.

Later incarnations included Spanish-language variety shows and headline acts from Mexico and a Brazilian Christian Church that made alterations to the original interior, including painting the walls white. The lofts above were meant to house the entertainment community, but so far its most famous resident was Nicolas Cage, who lived in the penthouse suite in the early '90s.

The theater is open for special events and it's worth a stop if you're walking past to inspect the lavish exterior with entertainment figures carved into the molding. 307 S. Broadway, Downtown, Los Angeles, CA, 90013. 213/617–3600. www.milliondollartheater.com.

The Orpheum Theatre

Orpheum Theatre. Opened in 1926, the opulent Orpheum Theatre played host to live attractions including burlesque dancers, comedians, jazz greats like Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, and Duke Ellington, and later on rock-and-roll performers such as Little Richard.

After massive renovation and restoration work, the Orpheum now books a variety of concerts and special events. It's worth the ticket price just to see the interior, with its stunning white marble lobby, majestic auditorium with fleur-de-lis sidewall panels, modern seating refurbished in vintage styling, exquisite detailed moldings, and two dazzling oversize chandeliers.

A thick red velvet and golden-trimmed curtain signals "Showtime," and a white Wurlitzer pipe organ (one of the last remaining organs of its kind from the silent movie era) is at the ready, as the original 1926 Orpheum rooftop neon sign again shines brightly over a new era for this theater. 842 S. Broadway, Downtown, Los Angeles, CA, 90014. 877/677-4386. www.laorpheum.com.

The Palace Theatre

Palace Theatre. Built in 1911, the Palace Theatre is loosely styled after an Italian Renaissance palazzo. Though only the entrance is viewable through the locked gates, you can see the multicolor terra-cotta swags, flowers, fairies, and theatrical masks. Now the oldest remaining Orpheum Theatre in the country, the Palace still hosts occasional shows. 630 S. Broadway, Downtown, Los Angeles, CA, 90014. 213/629-2939.

The Los Angeles Theatre

Los Angeles Theatre. The Los Angeles Theatre built in 1931, opened with the premiere of Charlie Chaplin's City Lights. Full of glorious French Baroque–inspired decor, the six-story lobby is awe-inspiring with its dramatic staircase, enormous fountain, grandiose chandeliers, and ornate gold detailing. Officially closed to the public, you can still witness the old Hollywood glamour by catching a special movie screening. 615 S. Broadway, Downtown, Los Angeles, CA, 90014. www.losangelestheatre.com.

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