Pret-a-Reporter

Downtown's Hot Broadway Makeover

Johnny Depp loves it, "The Artist" glorified it, hip hotel chain Ace just bet big on it. Now the city center's renaissance finally hits one of L.A.'s most fabled streets.

After decades of neglect, the curtain is rising again on downtown L.A.'s Broadway, one of the city's most picturesque shooting locations. Once lined with 34 theaters -- and boasting the largest concentration of such intact venues in the U.S., with a dozen -- the nine-block stretch from First Street to Olympic Boulevard is beginning to play out its next act.

That means movie-star neighbors (hello, Johnny Depp), buzzed-about events (yes, that Banksy doc premiered at the Los Angeles Theatre), a planned Ace Hotel (the first in L.A.) and deal-sealing announcements (a $125 million street car modeled on Portland, Ore.'s, is on pace to begin construction in a couple of years). None of the palaces still functions as a first-run theater, but filming activity is up, including The Artist and Steve Carell's upcoming The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. "The dominoes keep falling into place," says Jose Huizar, the city councilman who represents the area, which is several blocks due east of Staples Center and is defined by its Art Deco and Beaux Arts architecture.

The shifting fortunes of Broadway, which began to decline after World War II, can be traced against the movies that have filmed along the corridor. In 1923's silent Safety Last!, Harold Lloyd famously dangled from a clock tower above the bustling thoroughfare. In 1971's post-apocalyptic The Omega Man, Charlton Heston drove through an eerie urban wasteland. But by 2009, Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt appreciated the architecture while on a date in (500) Days of Summer.

"The change is radical from a decade ago," says indie filmmaker Andrew Meieran (his upcoming dramedy Highland Park stars Parker Posey and Danny Glover), who is rehabilitating Broadway's legendary Clifton's Brookdale cafeteria with a mixology-oriented upstairs tiki bar. "All those people who say they never go east of Fairfax? Now they know better, or should." Indeed, with new restaurants, bars and shops quickly taking root on the strip, even off-Broadway gentrification seems to be getting a bounce. Witness the Belasco theater, which reopened in 2011 one block west and soon after hosted BAFTA's big Brits to Watch bash, with Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge in attendance. Meanwhile, Mitchell Frank, owner of the Eastside indie-rock lodestar The Echo, announced in February that he had taken over the Regent Theatre two blocks east of Broadway, intent on turning the former adult cinema into a live-music venue.

"When you work in the business, there's something special about living on a block with this kind of history," says Yvette Urbina, Nickelodeon's head of production, live action, who lives in the Eastern Columbia loft building along the corridor. The only downside might be for film scouts. Says Lori Balton, president of the Location Managers Guild of America: "The loss of that beautiful decay is a huge bummer. It makes it harder to do a period movie."

The Million Dollar (307 S. Broadway)

Glee, (500) Days of Summer and Justin Bieber have shot at this movie theater. Since October, the UCLA Film & Television Archive has been building buzz at the space -- the first palace built by Sid Grauman -- with an increasingly popular Wednesday night double-feature series of classic movies, including It Happened One Night with His Girl Friday. The upper floors of the building, like most along the row, are mostly vacant office space.

The Los Angeles (615 S. Broadway)

Finished in 1931, it was the last of the grand movie palaces to appear along the corridor when it debuted with the premiere of City Lights. The French Baroque interior has proved a durable filming location, with recent shoots including Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried's In Time.

Clifton's Brookdale Cafeteria (648 S. Broadway)

The kitschy forest-themed restaurant has been in continual operation since 1935. Now being upgraded,  it was a frequent gathering spot in its heyday for visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen, author Ray Bradbury, L. Ron Hubbard and sci-fi promoter Forrest J Ackerman. A mixology-oriented tiki bar will be added to the third floor.

The Globe (744 S. Broadway)

A series of dodgy dance clubs have operated out of the movie theater's rear-alley doorway for years. But THR has learned that new ownership is quietly planning a renovation to return the venue to respectability. Among the concepts is a restoration of the former front-entrance access on Broadway (now under a forlorn marquee), which is currently blocked by a discount clothing retailer.

The Orpheum (842 S. Broadway)

The first of Broadway's vaudeville-vintage venues to be brought back to life, it's a frequent filming location (Artist; J. Edgar; the upcoming Burt Wonderstone, starring Carell and Jim Carrey). But its marquee mostly announces concerts, from Esperanza Spalding to The Magnetic Fields (playing March 23), and talent-show tapings (So You Think You Can Dance had tryouts March 3 and 4). The building's top floors have been converted into 37 lofts.

Eastern Columbia Lofts (849 S. Broadway)

Johnny Depp purchased a penthouse in the Kelly Wearstler-redesigned turquoise Art Deco tower in 2007. The condo building moonlights as Bushwell Plaza on iCarly.

United Artists (933 S. Broadway)

Hip hotel chain Ace announced in January that it will renovate the 13-floor building into a 180-room outpost and reactivate the 1,600-seat lobby-level theater. The property opened in 1927 under the aegis of UA founders Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, D.W. Griffith and Charlie Chaplin.

The Sparkle Factory (908 S. Broadway)

Jewelry and accessories designer Tarina Tarantino revealed in February that she will move her headquarters and retail storefront operation into the seven-floor building with a Gothic Revival facade. It was an early address of Hollywood's 100-year-old go-to finery provider Western Costume Co.

Umamicatessen (852 S. Broadway)

Cult chain Umami Burger's new flagship opened March 3. The non-kosher neo-deli concept features modern takes on knishes and turkey on challah, as well as an extensive menu of charcuterie, terrine and salumi, overseen by San Francisco offal enthusiast (and former The Next Iron Chef competitor) Chris Cosentino of Incanto.

The Rialto (812 S. Broadway)

Constructed as an independent movie nickelodeon in 1916 -- with an opening-night screening of silent film The Garden of Allah, starring Helen Ware -- it was soon purchased by developer Sid Grauman. Now dark, it boasted one of the most dazzling neon marquees along the corridor.

The Tower (802 S. Broadway)

Debuting in 1927, the movie theater boasted state-of-the-art sound technology, allowing it to host a sneak preview of The Jazz Singer. Later, it appeared in 1992's The Mambo Kings. In October, the Tower will be the backdrop for  The Gangster Squad, starring Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn and Emma Stone.

The Palace (630 S. Broadway)

A $1 million restoration was completed in time for the theater's centennial in June 2011. Initially a live-entertainment venue, it featured performers such as Harry Houdini, Al Jolson and Will Rogers. These days, occasional concerts take place, but the most frequent visitors are crewmembers on such projects as Mad Men, Shonda Rhimes' upcoming Scandal and The Dark Knight Rises.

Figaro Bistro (618 S. Broadway)

The casual French spot in Los Feliz, popular with Kiefer Sutherland and Kirsten Dunst, is expanding to a second location in the 1928 Schaber's Cafeteria building, which has been derelict since the 1992 riots. Construction began recently, and owner Jonathan Mgaieth hopes to have it open by summer.

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WHAT TO EAT IN DOWNTOWN L.A. RIGHT NOW

First came the bars, then the restaurants. The area is suddenly leading the city's dining conversation, with the arrival in the past few years of Nuevo Latino RIVERA (1050 S. Flower St.), French brasserie CHURCH & STATE (1850 Industrial St.), nose-to-tail cooking nexus LAZY OX CANTEEN (241 S. San Pedro St.), reinvented izakaya ABURIYA TORANOKO (243 S. San Pedro St.), Singaporean phenomenon THE SPICE TABLE (114 S. Central Ave.) and Scottish-Jewish mash-up THE GORBALS (501 S. Spring St.). The past few months have brought two more openings worth the drive. Josef Centeno's Middle Eastern-meets-Mexican-with-an-Asian-twist tavern BACO MERCAT (408 S. Main St.) hit the Historic Core, and BLUE COW KITCHEN & BAR (350 S. Grand Ave.), boasting global farmhouse fare, bowed on Bunker Hill. Set to add to the momentum: Casey Lane, chef-owner of the mobbed The Tasting Kitchen in Venice, is slated to open British gastropub THE PARISH (840 S. Spring St.) by April, less than a minute's stroll from the Orpheum, and Picca's Ricardo Zarate will unveil the second outpost of his more casual Peruvian concept MO-CHICA (514 W. 7th St.), a couple blocks west of Broadway.

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