DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - In 2012, no street in Downtown Los Angeles generates more attention than Broadway. Decades after its golden years, this long-challenged thoroughfare is, once again, a hub of discussion and commerce. Every month it seems there is another attention-generating development, whether it concerns a restaurant, a new use for an old building or the proposed streetcar.
The trend shows no sign of slowing: This year alone we’ve been deluged with, among other things, information about the street getting a department store, Ross Dress for Less, and jewelry designer Tarina Tarantino’s plan to turn an empty building into her new headquarters. A boutique Ace Hotel is under construction. Instantly popular eating establishments including Umamicatessen and Two Boots Pizza have opened.
Still, there may be no issue more important to the future of the street than the state of its faded, century-old theaters. That’s why it was so interesting when Shahram Delijani, part of the family that owns four of the venues, revealed plans to bring them back to life. Los Angeles Downtown News wrote about the proposal last week.
This is, potentially, a major turn of events and we’re pleased that the family that owns the Palace, the Los Angeles, the Tower and the State theaters is thinking seriously about their future and wants to deliver a lineup of concerts and a slate of bars and restaurants. However, we have heard plans and promises from many quarters in the past that these structures would be renovated, only to see relatively small steps forward.
We want the theaters to be upgraded and activated — transforming them would benefit all of Downtown. At this point, however, the best we can do is be cautiously optimistic. This is a difficult task. The family will need to show that they are willing to invest even more money and partner with others, and that the promise of a turnaround will be more than words.
The Broadway theaters are relics of an era when people eagerly took the streetcar Downtown to enjoy vaudeville shows and the offerings in then grand movie palaces. Over time, as Los Angeles grew and technology advanced, there were fewer and fewer reasons to visit the aging venues. Though a couple of them persisted in showing films into the ’90s, most closed up before that. Some became swap meets, others served as churches and a few sat empty.
The Delijani family got involved in 1987, when Mayor Tom Bradley asked patriarch Ezat Delijani to buy the Los Angeles Theatre and save it from the wrecking ball. He did, and over a quarter century the family came to control three other theaters (along with other properties). It was a major commitment to the street and to the city and its history. The family has remained engaged even after the elder Delijani’s passing in August 2011.
There have been occasional attempts to reclaim the glory of the street, with a revival of the theaters always a centerpiece. One, called Nighttime Broadway, was led by Mayor Jim Hahn. Like everything before 14th District City Councilman José Huizar’s Bringing Back Broadway initiative in 2008, it was a good idea with little follow-through. It ultimately went nowhere.
The reality of what a Broadway theater can be in the 21st century came in 2001, when Orpheum owner Steve Needleman spent $3.5 million to renovate the 1926 structure. It now hosts an active concert and events lineup, and is frequently utilized for films and reality TV shows.
The Delijanis appear to be taking a page out of Needleman’s book. They said they will create a production company, the Broadway Theater Group, which will initially focus on the Los Angeles and Palace. The Tower will follow and the State will come into play about five years from now, when a current lease with a church expires.
Promoting and scheduling concerts, theater and other events is harder than it may at first appear. There is competition just in Downtown from the Orpheum, Club Nokia and eventually Main Street’s Regent Theater (which Spaceland Productions hopes to activate), not to mention smaller clubs. Hopefully the Delijanis either have deep connections in the booking industry or plan to partner with or hire experienced people.
Much will likely be revealed in the coming months. So far the family has not indicated how much they intend to spend or when major upgrades could start. We’ve yet to hear which restaurant and bar operators the Delijanis are pursuing.
This is an exciting time for the street, and revived theaters would dovetail nicely with a streetcar and other after-dark dining and entertainment options. We look forward to hearing about the Delijanis’ next steps with their commitment to Broadway, Los Angeles and the historic theaters.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2012