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Tower Theatre

Tower Theatre

First Opened: 12th October 1927 (92 years ago)

Former Names: Music Hall, The Newsreel

Status: Closed; undergoing renovation

Website: www.towertheatrela.com Open website in new window

Telephone: (213) 629-2939 Call (213) 629-2939

Address: 802 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014 Show address in Google Maps (new window)

Featured Photos

Overview

The Tower Theatre was the first theatre designed by architect S. Charles Lee, who would go on to become one of the most prolific and distinguished theatre architects of his time on the U.S. West Coast. Lee’s design for The Tower replaced the 650-seat Garrick Theatre and is notable for fitting a 900-seat auditorium, plus street-level retail stores, onto a lot measuring just 50ft by 150ft.

Garrick Theatre in 1925
Garrick Theatre in 1925

The Tower Theatre opened on 12th October 1927 as the first Los Angeles movie theatre wired for sound. Some sources credit the Tower as being the first theatre in Los Angeles to feature air cooling, however Grauman’s Metropolitan (later known as the Paramount) a few blocks up the street opened with an air cooling system in 1922, and the State Theatre was advertising their new retro-fitted “refrigeration plant” in the summer of 1927. That said, the Tower Theatre definitely capitalized on their state-of-the-art technology by providing windows in the stairway down to the basement lounges where patrons could gaze upon the new and mystical air chilling equipment.

Tower Theatre Auditorium
Tower Theatre Auditorium

The architecture throughout is Baroque Revival, with the auditorium styled after the Paris Opera House. The theatre originally housed a Wurlitzer organ and the organ chambers were cleverly hidden on either side of the upper section of the proscenium arch. The organ was on a hydraulic lift at the center front of the Stage.

A magnificent stained glass window above the theatre’s entrance is dedicated to the art of movie making with, among other items, a roll of film unspooling.

Tower Theatre Stained Glass Window
Tower Theatre Stained Glass Window

The theatre is said to be the location of a sneak preview of Warner Bros’ revolutionary part-talkie The Jazz Singer (1927). Several sources say that on 5th October 1927 (the night before the movie’s official premiere at the Warners’ Theatre in New York) the movie had a sneak preview at the Tower Theatre in Los Angeles. While this sounds entirely credible, especially given the Tower Theatre was wired for both Movietone and Vitaphone sound systems from the outset, no evidence of this fabled industry premiere has been found thus far.

The original audio equipment mounted behind the screen was too big to be accommodated within the 6ft deep stage, so a hole was cut in the rear wall to allow the equipment to poke out into the alley behind the theatre, enclosed by a containing box. If you look at the outside of the theatre’s rear wall you can still see the patched-up hole.

In 1946 Metropolitan sub-leased the theatre and it was renamed the Music Hall, then renamed the Newsreel in 1949. The theatre was remodeled in 1965 with a rather bright color scheme which sadly destroyed many stencil/mural details including the intricate central elliptical dome. At this time the name also reverted to the Tower Theatre.

The flattened Orchestra floor
The flattened Orchestra floor

The main floor, originally raked, had its seats removed and the floor leveled with a “temporary” structure in anticipation of the space being used for a swap meet, however the plans never came to fruition. The stage was re-floored and extended forward in 1991 for filming of the movie The Mambo Kings (1992). The original stage and footlights still survive underneath.

Apple Store Rendering, 2018
Apple Store Rendering, 2018

The theatre has not been in regular use since 1988 although it is used for occasional special events programming. It remains a popular filming location for television and movie shoots with highlights including Last Action Hero (1993), Transformers (2007), The Prestige (2006), Coyote Ugly (2000), End Of Days (1999), The Professionals (1977 TV series), and Twin Peaks (2017 TV series).

The Tower is owned by The Broadway Theatre Group who also own the Palace, the Los Angeles, and State theatres, all on Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles.

Rumors surfaced in May 2016 that Apple Inc. was going to lease the Tower for a Downtown L.A. Apple Store. In August 2018 the Los Angeles Times broke the story Link opens in new window that Apple would be bringing an Apple Store to Downtown L.A. housed in the Tower Theatre. Timelines for the project are currently unknown.

Movie, TV & Music Video Appearances

Movies

Television

Listed/Landmark Building Status

How do I visit the Tower Theatre?

The Tower does not currently offer theatre tours; you can however signup to the theatre’s mailing list to hear about upcoming events on The Tower Theatre website Link opens in new window.

The theatre has previously participated in Councilmember Jose Huizar’s annual Night On Broadway event (usually the last Saturday in January) when the theatres along Broadway in Downtown LA open to the public for free and host a variety of live entertainment programming. The Tower was on the bill in 2015 and 2016 but not 2017. Check out the Night On Broadway website Link opens in new window for more details and to stay informed.

Further Reading

Online

Books

Historic Photos & Documents

Historic files shown here may be subject to copyright; review our “Fair Use” statement here.

Photos of the Tower Theatre

Auditorium

Most of the photos here are taken under high pressure sodium light. To see a faithful color rendition of the auditorium look for the “True Color” photo.


Exterior

Lobby

Other Public Areas

Projection Booth



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