630 S. Broadway,
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Opened June 6, 1911 as the Orpheum Theatre presenting vaudeville. This was the third Orpheum Theatre to open in downtown Los Angeles, and it is now the oldest surviving building in the USA that was built for the original Orpheum Vaudeville circuit. Designed by architect G. Albert Lansburgh, assisted by Robert Brown Young, it is fronted by an office building that has a six story exterior loosely based on a Florentine early piazza, believed to be modelled on the Casino de Municipale in Venice, Italy. Built in brick and concrete, the façade is notable as incorporating the first use in Los Angeles of polychrome terra cotta as a decorative medium, here depicting multi-coloured swags, flowers, fairies and theatrical masks. At first floor level four panels depicting Song, Dance, Music and Drama – the muses of vaudeville – were sculptured by Domingo Mora, father of Joseph Mora who sculptured figures on the nearby Million Dollar Theatre. The name ‘Orpheum’ was sculptured into the stonework above the entrance.
Inside the auditorium, seating is provided on orchestra, balcony and, unusual for a normally tolerant Los Angeles, there was a second balcony with its own separate entrance that was for the use of African-American patrons only. The balconies are supported by slender posts, and when first opened there were four pairs of boxes on the side walls next to the proscenium. The decorative style of the auditorium is French Renaissance, and has remained unaltered over the years, apart from the removal of the boxes when it became a full-time cinema in the 1930’s. In their place are two large framed oil paintings by Anthony Heinsbergen in a French style. A Smith 2 manual 16 rank organ was installed at this time, and the second balcony was opened up to the general public in the 1930’s, but it has not been in use in later years. The ‘modern’ style neon lit marquee was another 1930’s addition to the Orpheum Theatre.
The Orpheum Theatre attracted many stars to appear on its stage, including: W.C. Fields, Sarah Bernhardt, Will Rodgers and Harry Houdini, as well as some of the greatest animal acts in vaudeville. When the new Orpheum Theatre was built further along Broadway in 1926, this theatre struggled along for a few years as a second house, known as the Orpheum-Palace Theatre. After conversion to movies it was operated for a time in the early-1940’s by Sol Lesser’s Principal Theatres Corp. of America as the Palace Newsreel Theatre.
Later taken over by Metropolitan Theatres it was occasionally used for film shoots which included “The Frank Sinatra Story” (a TV movie), the Bette Midler version of “Gypsy” and Steven Seagal in “The Glimmer Man”. It played out its final years as a movies theatre showing general release films with Spanish sub-titles until it was closed in late-2000. It was the last operating cinema in the downtown area, and the original silent movie screen still hung in the stage fly-tower. The fate of the Smith organ is unknown.
The Palace Theatre was then open for special events and all sorts of location filming. Last seen in the movie “Dreamgirls”(2006). In 2010, work began on a $1 million restoration, and the Palace Theatre reopened in June 2011 as a live show venue, with occasional film screenings.
The Palace Theatre is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
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