One of my first goals after moving to Downtown Los Angeles was to memorize the lattice of streets traveling west to east (alongside several cross streets stretching north to south). Figueroa. Flower. Hope. Grand. Olive. Hill. Broadway. Spring. Main. Los Angeles. These ten streets downtown are its most prominent, in sum making up the majority of the city’s historic core.

Photo: Brett Miller

With perpendicular streets numbered, wayfinding across Downtown is fairly simple, with each street reflecting its own particular and unique vibe. But of those numerous streets connecting Downtown Los Angeles, it’s the theater-lined Broadway I remember best.

Photo: Brett Miller

During the roaring 1920’s, vaudeville venues were being constructed almost annually along Broadway. And when I say “theater”, I don’t mean a movie theater, or a simple unimaginative entertainment center. Think exorbitant, ornate exteriors with equally grandiose interiors: Parisian tier fixtures, artisan stone/plaster work, vaulted decorated ceilings, and thick red curtain theaters to greet patrons for the evening. Bestowed majestic names like The Palace, The Orpheum, The Rialto, The Tower, and my favorite, the Los Angeles Theater (not to mention the numerous theaters demolished over the years), these gilded auditoriums hosted a roaring entertainment landscape, their illuminated signs glowing across Downtown Los Angeles for decades.

The Rialto Theater along Broadway back in 2008, before its conversion into a gentrified retail space in 2013. Creative Commons photo credit.

While some theaters dropped off the map sooner than others, many of these masterpieces of architecture began to close their doors to the public during the 80s and 90s. The momentum of development across Los Angeles had moved westward away from Downtown, and thus the lights across Broadway eventually dimmed, their audiences long gone, their grandeur somehow forgotten. Being new to Los Angeles, I previously did not recognize a connection between Los Angeles and Broadway at all. The association was a connection typically reserved for New York, or perhaps Chicago.

Photos: Brett Miller

But Downtown has gone through a vigorous rebirth over the past 10 years. Some credit belongs to Councilmember Jose Huizar, whose initiative, Bringing Back Broadway has helped bring economic and cultural revitalization to the diminished landscape of Broadway. This past January, Downtown LA’s theaters reemerged to host artists, musicians, food, drink, and even roller derby and dodge ball as pop-up installations, bringing tens of thousands of people down to the evening event. What began in 2014 with just 3,000 visitors, the 2018 event now known as Night on Broadway reportedly brought over 80,000 visitors downtown.

In September I investigated the impact temporary installations can have upon a landscape, alongside how these installations could be used in response to community needs, problems, or simply the public’s desire for communal space. Night on Broadway meets all of these goals. By creatively reusing our city’s existing resources, Los Angeles was able to fill one of its most historic corridors with color, music, and energy, breathing new life into an evolving and storied community. The event was temporary, its effects more permanent.

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