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Bringing the Classics Back Home

May 26, 1996|Kathleen Craughwell | Kathleen Craughwell is a member of The Times' film staff

New York may have Broadway, but Los Angeles has the Broadway Theater District, a nationally recognized home to a dozen ornate movie palaces, where once a year filmgoers get the chance to relive Hollywood's heyday.

The annual Last Remaining Seats series, presented by the Los Angeles Conservancy, begins Wednesday. Five classic films will be screened at three of these theaters--the State, Orpheum and Los Angeles--during the next five weeks.

The goal of the series, now in its 10th year, remains the same: to offer the public a chance to see classic films the way they were originally seen, while increasing awareness of Los Angeles' endangered movie palaces.

Although the theater district--Broadway between 3rd and 9th streets in downtown Los Angeles--is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the individual buildings are not necessarily protected; ultimately the fate of the structures lies in the hands of the owners. Downtown landmark theaters such as the Philharmonic Auditorium and the Paramount have been demolished through the years, but the Broadway District theaters have remained intact.

The Million Dollar and the United Artists, which bookend the 12 landmark theaters on Broadway, are both now used as churches. The Orpheum, the State and the Palace continue to show current movies year-round, and the Los Angeles, which has been closed for two years, and the Tower are used primarily for movie shoots and charity events. The owners of the Roxie, Cameo, Arcade, Globe and Rialto have turned the theaters into swap meet-type markets but have left their ornate entrances virtually untouched.

The goal of the conservancy, which has had a hand in saving landmark buildings such as the Wiltern Theater and the Los Angeles Central Library, is to protect the original architectural integrity of the historic buildings.

"We encourage alternative uses of the theaters, as long as they are not demolished or gutted," says conservancy volunteer coordinator Connie Humberger.

And though not all the theaters screen movies year-round, many of the theaters are now being seen in new movies. Tom Hanks recently used the Orpheum as a stand-in for the Orpheum in Pittsburgh for his upcoming directorial debut, "That Thing You Do." Director Walter Hill used the State Theatre (where young Frances Gumm, later known as Judy Garland, used to perform with her sisters in the '30s) in his 1995 western "Wild Bill," and as a result, the theater got a minor face-lift inside, including lavish new drapes.

Even "Beavis and Butt-head"-watching MTVers have been exposed to the theaters in their full grandeur. Guns 'N Roses used the Orpheum for their dramatic video "November Rain," and Sean Penn used the State in directing the video for Jewel's "You Were Meant for Me."

The Last Remaining Seats film series kicks off Wednesday at the Los Angeles with a screening of "The Seven Year Itch" (1955) and a tribute to Marilyn Monroe, including several rare movie trailers and an exhibition of memorabilia. The series continues every Wednesday with a different classic film through June 26.


Wednesday: "The Seven Year Itch," (1955), 8 p.m., Los Angeles Theatre, 615 S. Broadway. June 5: "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1939), with a special behind-the-scenes preview of Disney's upcoming animated "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," 8 p.m., Orpheum Theatre, 842 S. Broadway. June 12: "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967), 8 p.m., the Los Angeles. June 19: "The Black Pirate" (1926), 8 p.m., the Orpheum. June 26: "Singin' in the Rain" (1952), 8 p.m., State Theatre, 703 S. Broadway. Individual tickets are $12; conservancy members, $10. For advance tickets, call THEATIX, (213) 466-1767; Los Angeles Conservancy hotline, (213) 896-9114.

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