Sunday, February 27, 2005

freaks come out downtown

So much going on in downtown Los Angeles. I hit the Out In Downtown L.A. special open house at the Tower Theater in the Broadway Theatre District. The Tower isn't included in the L.A. Conservancy's regular Saturday morning Broadway theatre district walking tours, this was an open house held for L.A. area film location managers, with Out In Downtown L.A. as special guests.

The place is in pretty bad shape. They've filmed a lot of movies there, but Mambo Kings and Mulholland Drive were the only two that I remember. It is an ornate, but moldy and decaying theater - it smelled like it, too. Someone sitting behind me said the place looked like an old whore. I was afraid to touch anything, much less sit in a chair for the slide lecture.

Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker of Bison Archives spoke about how the entertainment and filming industries began in downtown L.A. before gradually moving to Edendale, Hollywood, Culver City & Burbank. The slides showed how Hollywood and Highland, Sunset and Vine, and 5th and Spring (among other locations) looked back in the day. Compiling all this historical information is obviously a labor of love for Marc, evidenced by all the detail in his lecture. I was able to catch up on my sleep a little bit, but I'm so glad Marc does what he does. What really made this open house worthwhile was Rebekah Del Rio, who was in the film Mulholland Drive. She sang Llorando (Crying) from the Mulholland Drive Soundtrack and she has an amazing set of pipes. Woke me right up.

From the Tower, took a short walk to the Orpheum Theater which recently underwent a multi-million dollar restoration. We had to enter through the alley and it was the cleanest alley I've ever seen. Cleaner than when designer Jared Gold had his L.A. Fashion Week show in the alley across the street from Score's on 4th a few years ago. The rain washed the urine and trash right off the streets. It's all in Santa Monica Bay now. In any case, the Orpheum visit was a riot. The Los Angeles Theatre Organ Society was in the house, with some guy (whose name I don't remember) jamming on the "Mighty Wurlitzer Organ". The Orpheum Wurlitzer (installed in 1928) is the last surviving original installation of a theatre organ in Los Angeles. General Manager Ed Kelsey said a few words about the theatre, then Saturday Session Manager Steve Asimow took the stage and told us all that casual fans would ever need to know about wurlitzer organs and this one in particular. What a character. Then volunteer whose name I didn't catch spoke about the history of the Orpheum. He was a vaudeville artist who first came to the Orpheum in 1942 and he was an even bigger personality than Steve. He was a vaudeville comedian and a baton twirler and he had some great stories about what went down during the Orpheum's heyday. I highly recommend you take the tour - you'll see some amazing spaces and meet fascinating people with great stories to tell.

After the Orpheum visit we had lunch at Angelique French Cafe, a fashion district favorite. I was relieved that they serve breakfast past 11am on the weekends because their smoked salmon omelette is sublime. It was packed, so I was glad we had reservations. We were seated on the second floor where I had an unobstructed view of Ryan Gosling having lunch on the patio for what seemed like hours. I wish I could be a part of cafe society. It was a beautiful day and it seemed like all of Los Angeles wanted to be out and shake off the rainy day gloom that we'd been subjected to the past few weeks. Unfortunately that meant the place was packed and service was slooooow. I waited 30 minutes for my cafe au lait and an hour for food to arrive. From my perch on the second floor I was able to observe the traffic up and down Spring and Main streets. A lot of hipsters were out and about, clutching maps as they negotiated downtown, checking out lofts. The neighborhood is changing.

After lunch we made our way up Broadway to the Los Angeles Theater. It felt like the whole world was out in the streets. One guy zipped past me on his wheelchair, he was wearing bright red shorts, a red long-sleeve t-shirt and a matching red Chef Boyardee hat. And me without a camera. This was a thought that kept popping in my mind all day long. At the Los Angeles Theater, I thought the same thing when I saw the long row of urinals in the downstairs men's room, the crystal fountain on the second floor, and the refreshments room in the back. I was flabbergasted when I saw these rooms in condition they are now, it really must have been something back in the day.

After the tour I was that much more determined to stay downtown. And that was just the daytime account of my Saturday in downtown Los Angeles. Saturday night meant that I'd be at the Staples Center for the Duran Duran concert. Friends ask me all the time if I would consider living anywhere else. I can't think of any reason why I would want to live anywhere else in Los Angeles. Paris or Prague, that's another story.

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