Downtown

Check out the rarely seen Million Dollar Theatre on Broadway

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The theater in 1925, courtesy of LAPL. Charlie Chaplin's "The Gold Rush" is on the marquee.

Before he shifted his sights to Hollywood, early motion picture impresario Sid Grauman built his first movie palace on Broadway at 3rd Street, beside the Grand Central Market and across the street from the Bradbury Building. Grauman's Theatre opened on February 1, 1918 with “The Silent Man,” starring William S. Hart. Opening night drew film pioneers like Jesse L. Lasky, Thomas Ince, Mack Sennett, Cecil B. DeMille, D.W. Griffith, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Charlie Chaplin. Since then, the largest of the faded movie houses on Broadway at 2,008 seats — with the deepest stage on the street — has hosted live shows, church services and movies in English and Spanish. For a time there was a restaurant in the basement.

million-dollar-aud.jpgReopening what's now called the Million Dollar Theatre is a top priority of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation. The group has gotten access to lead tours this Saturday at 9 a.m. and noon. Docents will explain the Churrigueresque architecture, the symbols of western Americana such as bison heads, eagles and longhorn steer skulls by sculptor Joseph Mora, and show people the sights. Though built for movies, the theater has dressing rooms and an orchestra pit hidden under the stage — reportedly there's also an old tunnel under Broadway to the Bradbury Building.

"The M$ set a new standard for the national movie palace building boom that swept the U.S. during the 1920’s," the foundation says. "Designed by architect William Lee Woollett, the M$ is unique – a daring mixture of styles,art and colors. Described as a Spanish cathedral set in a Greek temple, the interior was a riot of rich colors, original art works and lush patron amenities. The M$ is currently closed to the public. Don’t miss this chance to see this amazing work of art.

"More than any other Broadway theatre, the many glories of the M$ are faded or completely hidden from view....We’ll take you behind the scenes - from the basement to the balcony - and share the hidden treasures of L.A.’s most unusual movie palace."

Thumbnail image for million-dollar-sofa.jpgI got in last week and wandered around, fascinated by the glimpse at such a storied old Los Angeles venue. I've included a few pics. Tickets for the tour have to be purchased through the foundation's website and are available. You're out of luck if you missed the sale recently of tickets for Saturday night's screening at the Million Dollar of "Blade Runner," Ridley Scott's classic LA film. The Bradbury, of course, figures prominently in "Blade Runner" and there are scenes of the Million Dollar too. Tickets for that show sold out in a few hours, according to foundation head Hillsman Wright. Proceeds are tagged for restoring the theater's original marquee.

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Rigging and dressing rooms seen from the stage


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Make-up table in the basement. There is an old barber shop and chairs on the mezzanine level.


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Deep under the former Edison Building at 3rd and Broadway.


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Balcony seats high up in the Million Dollar Theatre.


All photos by LA Observed except top black-and-white.


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