Movie Palace Resurrected

by HFPA March 6, 2014


There was great news for film buffs last month in Los Angeles with the grand reopening of one of the city’s architectural movie treasures. The United Artists Theater on Broadway and 8th street experienced an auspicious rebirth as a venue for live performances when it hosted a three-day inaugural run by the Los Angeles Dance Project, a modern dance troupe that has taken up residence in the beautifully renovated UA. This is wonderful news for lovers of movies and film history who, like the HFPA (through an annual grant to the Los Angeles Conservancy), have supported efforts to preserve the Movie Palaces.

The theater, which for decades served as a converted church for a television preacher, has been lovingly restored by the owners of the adjacent Ace Hotel – and it is a must see destination for any movie lover. The United Artists Theater was designed by the architect C. Howard Crane for the United Artists film studio formed by Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford. The theater occupies three floors of the 13-story building and has a 1,600-seat auditorium. It is one of about a dozen Movie Palaces, which were built in the teens and twenties at the pulsating center of the burgeoning capital of moviedom. Broadway, LA’s main thoroughfare, was soon graced by theaters that competed to outdo each other in extravagant luxury and remain as symbols of silent cinema’s glorious heyday.

The UA was built in the palatial rococo revival style of the time. In the foyer 40-foot high ceilings fairly dripped with decorations and were hung with chandeliers of bohemian hand cut crystals. The 1600 seats were upholstered in plush red velvet, and the walls were adorned with majestic frescoes depicting who else but the studio founders themselves in what appears to be a celestial film set: Chaplin in his tramp bowler, Fairbanks as the Thief of Baghdad, Pickford, at once sultry and ingénue and Griffith directing the proceedings from behind a hand-wound camera. Other silent-era luminaries depicted include Valentino as the White Sheik. They are all still there! We strongly recommend a visit to this beautiful and historic palace.