It must always come as a shock to see Garth Brooks anywhere besides the arena stage or the umpteenth Wal-Mart CD signing, let alone the lobby of a gilded downtown L.A. movie palace. "I stopped and thought, 'God, this is really bizarre,' " recalls Jon Olivan. "I see this man on posters and on videos, and here he is at the Orpheum on a Sunday morning."
Yet Olivan could not have been that surprised. As director of events and locations for Metropolitan Theatres, which operates the Orpheum, he knows that it has served as backdrop to dozens of music videos and movies, including "Last Action Hero," "Conspiracy Theory" and "Ed Wood." Brooks was at the ornate Orpheum--with its bronze chandeliers, brass doors and silk wall panels--to film a music video. Metropolitan has also resurrected downtown's Million Dollar and Tower theaters, which no longer screen first-run films, and the Palace, which does. All are used as filming and special-event sites.
In 1989, Olivan, then a paralegal at 20th Century Fox, took one of the Los Angeles Conservancy's Saturday morning downtown theater tours. The velvet curtains! The working pipe organ! Those chandeliers! Olivan was "overwhelmed by the ornateness of the architecture. I was having flashbacks to when the theaters were filled to capacity day and night." He wondered why no one had come to their rescue. So he did.
"It gives me satisfaction to be in these places and to see them come alive," Olivan says, goateed and affable in an office adjacent to the Orpheum's former smoking lounge. With the volunteer organization Friends of the Orpheum, Olivan puts on an annual Halloween Spook-a-thon horror festival to raise funds to replace the stained-glass exit signs, restore the lobby's marble and refinish the solid brass entrance doors.
Last year, the Illinois-based Theater Historical Society named him "Honorary Member of the Year." Olivan "has done so much for theaters in L.A.," says Steve Markham, a historical society member. "The Orpheum is a thousand times better than it was."
The theater is currently hosting films in the Conservancy's "The Last Remaining Seats" program on Wednesdays through July 7: "Aventurera" will screen there June 23, and Clara Bow's classic silent, "It," July 7. "It's a very emotional experience," Olivan says of the regularly sold-out program. "It shows you what the theaters have the potential to be.
"I hope I am with the theaters," he says, "forever."
For tickets to the L.A. Conservancy's "Last Remaining Seats," call (213) 623-CITY.