This adventure was a bit of an accident – or happenstance as it were. Invited by a friend to see Wilderbe perform, we planned for dinner and a show – a night in downtown LA. I don’t get to downtown as much as I like, but every time I do it seems the place is a little bit more reclaimed as a destination.
Like any other city whose citizens fled for the suburbs decades ago in search of space and quiet neighborhoods, Los Angeles’ downtown suffered from neglect. Events like the Downtown Art Walk have slowly brought activity to the downtown nights. Starting only with one night a month, new restaurants and galleries have emerged and their success seems to have this slow but steady momentum.
We should have had a clue when every restaurant within 3 blocks of the Theater District was booked solid. Somehow we managed an early reservation at Industriel, which worked to our advantage – Valet parking for $7. Besides the food, I was amused by their teaser frosted windows on Grand allowing voyeuristic peeks into their kitchen.
After dinner we strolled to the venue and came upon a street closure. It seems, the show we were going to see was a small part of a greater event celebrating the revitalization of LA’s Theater district. I think something like seven different theaters were open free to the public, with Broadway blocked off, filled with food trucks, and a street party. It seems this was year seven of a 10-year plan to reopen the closed theaters of Broadway
The hallmark of the even though as the Los Angeles Theater – stepping into it was like walking into a time machine. Celebrating it’s own 84th Anniversary, The Los Angeles Theater retains all the elements you’d expect stepping for a night out on the town circa 1932. The Neoclassical details are just what you’d expect from Hollywood’s opulent heyday. No wonder this shuttered theater still makes its way into the movies as a readymade set.
My pictures don’t do it justice, the entrance is grand. The stairs to the balcony take you past a fountain (filled on this occasion by two mermaids). Downstairs, a bar that begs making a perfect Manhattan, and a Ladies room that boasts an oval sitting room with individual vanities, perfect for powdering one’s nose, and a full size, three-part mirror at the exit, to make sure you are looking good from all angles.
We of course made even deeper archeological digs using our cell phones as flashlights to check out the adjacent kids playroom, with a circus tent ceiling, and wall freezes of giraffes, elephants, and clowns. It is a crime that this place is not in regular use, but at the same time it’s a treasure and a time capsule that surely would have been renovated into nondescript functionality.
Seeing the theater alone would have made the evening worthwhile, but seeing it in use, with Wilderbe was all the more spectacular. A contemporary dance, performance art piece might seem out of place in such a theater, but in an aesthetic that makes new from old, the theater itself was a great found object. Wilderbe was a fun amalgamation of tribal circus dance puppetry and theater, a nice sampling of their talents, and capabilities.
After the show we wandered the neighborhood trying to see as much as we could before the theaters all closed. We slowly made our way beck to the restaurant and our car, but stopped along the way to check out PershingSquare. I tried to create a chess set out of things I could find in my pocket, but it seems even Pershing Square has a closing time and a security guard sent us on our way.
There are three years left on this ten-year revitalization plan. I hope this theater is both put to good use and preserved for future urban archeologists.