It’s the only large concentration of movie palaces left in the entire country — 12 movie palaces located along a six-block stretch of Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles.
But while Broadway has been home to a number of different types of theaters since the early 1900s — some of which have been miraculously revived — there’s more to it than stage shows, silent films and a vintage movie-going experience.
This corridor is one of the best examples of commercial architecture in all of Southern California. In fact, a huge stretch of Broadway — from 1st Street to 12th Street — is a Historic Sign District, part of an L.A. City Council policy that encourages the use and rehabilitation of neon lighting in the area.
From department stores to hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and even makeshift churches, here’s a guide to the 20 most fascinating Broadway landmarks you can discover on foot.
So put on your hat (and mask), strap on your comfy shoes, and get ready to see this “main street” of Los Angeles — one of the city’s oldest and finest.
1. Million Dollar Theatre
Start your journey on the west side of the north end of South Broadway at the Million Dollar Theatre — one of those historic Broadway movie palaces that's only open to the public for special events every now and then. Fortunately, the exterior of the 12-story high-rise is a sight to behold with its opulent Churrigueresque architectural ornamentation, the work of architect A.C. Martin and sculptor Joseph Mora. Look for representations of actors, dancing ladies, musicians, artists, and other stalwarts of the movie industry (as well as some skulls, gargoyles , and animals) in terracotta by Gladding McBean.
Having opened with a tiny stage and a sizeable orchestra pit, the Million Dollar was designed to show silent movies —not stage shows. But it being a creation of theater impresario Sid Grauman (actually, his first in L.A.), elaborate prologues began preceding the movie screenings shortly after the movie palace opened in 1918 (as “Grauman’s Theatre,” until it was renamed in 1922).
Inside, it touts a seating capacity of more than 2,000 — which was used for Spanish-language cinema screenings and church services until 2005, when it closed for regular public events. Fortunately, it reopened for performances and screenings in 2008 and has recently partnered with Bringing Back Broadway, Cinespia, Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation (a nonprofit of which this author is a member), and more.
307 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
2. Grand Central Market
When you talk about "Grand Central" in L.A., it's not in reference to a train station — but what Grand Central Market does share with Grand Central Terminal in New York City is an eclectic food hall. It’s been providing public gathering space centered around food since 1917, when it opened on the ground floor of the Homer Laughlin Building (as the Grand Central Public Market) under the same ownership as the Million Dollar Theatre next door. Although that building’s ownership has changed over the last 100+ years, the two landmarks once again share a single owner — which creates a nice synergy between the two properties when there are events to promote.
Over the last decade or so, many of the market’s longtime vendor stalls have given way to more modern eateries like Belcampo Meat Co., Wexler's Deli, and DTLA Cheese. It has also attracted the first outpost of The Donut Man outside of Glendora since it opened in 1972, which is now baking its infamous strawberry and peach donuts (when in season) onsite. If you prefer the older flavors of Broadway Historic District, you can still get ready-to-eat meals at legacy vendors like Roast to Go (since 1952) and China Café (since 1959), or dry goods and other groceries at longtime vendors Valeria's and Chiles Secos (since 1975).
The open-air Grand Central Market looks a little different than it did when it first opened thanks to every permanent stall using neon signs to attract customers. These days, however, the indoor seating areas are filled by temporary vendors and their wares, ranging from jewelry to clothing, candles, gifts, and more.
317 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
3. Bradbury Building
You may be tempted to exit Grand Central at its far end on South Hill Street and take a ride on Angel’s Flight — and if you’re so inclined, you should absolutely indulge that desire. But upon descending back down Bunker Hill, I encourage you to backtrack through Grand Central, exit on Broadway, and cross the street to visit the Bradbury Building in all its brick and sandstone glory.
Completed in 1893 and designed by George H. Wyman as an office building for local “capitalist” and mining magnate Lewis L. Bradbury (no relation to Ray), it’s the oldest commercial structure still standing in Los Angeles. It was originally inspired by 1888 utopian sci-fi novel “Looking Backward” by Edward Bellamy which described a futuristic building circa the year 2000 as a “vast hall of light” similar to the Bradbury’s light-filled Victorian atrium, replete with “birdcage” elevators, decorative ironwork, marble flooring, and more. Appropriately, the Bradbury Building later went on to inspire the creative forces behind the 1982 dystopian sci-fi flick “Blade Runner,” much of which was shot in the building itself.
At one time or another, the Bradbury’s upstairs tenants have included countless law firms and attorneys, doctors and dentists, the Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, L.A.P.D.’s Internal Affairs Department, and currently, a NeueHouse co-working space. Downstairs retail spaces have been filled with shops and cafés — and today, you can grab a cold brew (or even a book!) at the Bradbury’s outpost of Blue Bottle Coffee on the corner of Broadway and 3rd. It’s just a tiny taste of this landmark, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1977. Keep an eye open for when the public is allowed to once again enter the atrium — although access to any upper floors has been verboten for decades.
304 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
4. Biddy Mason Memorial Park
Its official address may be on Spring Street, but you can access this charming and historic pocket park from its Broadway entrance, just to the right of 332 South Broadway (which is currently Maccheroni Republic). Walk past the “Water Columns” fountain — keeping an eye out for some ghost signs of Broadway businesses both operating (Goleth’s Beauty Salon) and defunct (Central Foto Estudio) — and toward a 81-foot-long concrete wall, where you’ll find a timeline of the life of the park’s namesake, Bridget “Biddy” Mason.
Born a slave in Mississippi in 1818 and illegally denied her freedom in California (where slavery was illegal at the time), Mason miraculously convinced a judge to confirm her freedom in a groundbreaking 1856 court case. This allowed her to own land, starting with a homestead she built in 1866 on the parcel between present-day Spring and Broadway (then Fort Street) and 3rd and 4th Streets. There, she hosted meetings for the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (of which she was a founding member). She also ran a daycare, delivered hundreds of babies and nursed the sick and poor.
“Aunt” Biddy’s story — from her birth to her death as one of L.A.’s wealthiest women in 1891, with several real estate holdings — is told on the memorial wall in an installation by artist Sheila Levrant de Bretteville called “Biddy Mason's Place: A Passage of Time,” located approximately at the site of the former “Mason Block.” It’s now sandwiched between the back of the Bradbury Building and the Broadway Spring Center.
333 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90013
5. Roxie/Cameo/Arcade Theatres
Between 5th and 6th Streets on the east side of South Broadway is a cluster of three small historic theaters that have been converted into retail spaces — including Broadway’s last movie theatre to open, the Roxie (circa 1931, closed 1989). The Cameo and Arcade Theatres both opened in 1910 as Clune's Broadway and the Pantages, respectively. All three share a common owner, Downtown Management, which has floated the idea of restoring them to become entertainment venues once again. For now, they’re available for film shoots so they can appear in movies, rather than show them.
From the sidewalk or across the street, you can admire these three theaters’ marquees (vintage, though not original), blade signs and — in the case of the Roxie — decorative terrazzo sidewalk at the front entrance. Admire the Art Deco stylings of the Roxie — Broadway’s only theater in that architectural style — and the masterwork of architects Morgan & Walls at the Arcade, which opened as a vaudeville theatre and got renamed as a hat tip to the nearby Arcade Building. Renowned theater architect S. Charles Lee renovated its façade in the 1930s but today, you can still see the original lettering that spells out “PANTAGES.” The Arcade stopped showing movies in 1992.
The Cameo Theatre was originally a project of Hollywood producer W.H. Clune, whose name once sparkled in incandescent lights on a rooftop sign, dazzling passersby. Once he sold the theatre in 1924, it became rebranded the Cameo — and by the 1970s, it was open all night, running quadruple features as a grindhouse. It, too, closed in 1992.
518, 528 and 534 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90013
6. Broadway Arcade Building
Built in 1924, the Broadway-Spring Arcade Building isn’t just one building, but actually two towers connected by an alley that runs between Broadway and Spring Street that was converted into a three-story, glass-roofed atrium (inspired by London’s Burlington Arcade). You can enter the Arcade Building from either Broadway or Spring and the entrance signage will reflect your location accordingly.
The Spanish Revival-style landmark with Beaux Arts details would be worth a visit even if none of its merchants were in business — but fortunately, it’s still got the makings of a food hall in a historic setting, with offerings that differ from what you’ll find at Grand Central. Your options include tacos at Guisados, brunch at Blu Jam Café, gelato at Gelateria Uli and a bear claw or French cruller at Downtown Donuts. All are offering carryout/to-go options, with some al fresco seating available as well.
Before you move onto the next stop, make sure you cast your gaze up, up, up, all the way up to the rooftop, where you’ll still find the 220-feet-high radio towers of KRKD. The towers date back to 1932 when the station moved to the Arcade Building (R-Kayd, get it?) — and they stayed even after being purchased in 1960 by the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (founded by Sister Aimee Semple McPherson in 1923). After years of being defunct — even the F.C.C. and F.A.A. had no use for them — they were saved from demolition in 2014, refurbished, and relit. They remain beacons to Broadway visitors, especially at night.
541 S Spring St, Los Angeles, CA 90013
7. Los Angeles Theatre
The Los Angeles Theatre tends to be remembered best perhaps for hosting the premiere of Charlie Chaplin's film, “City Lights,” in 1931 on the theater’s opening night. In the time it opened, movie palaces were just as much an attraction as the films they was were showing — and the Los Angeles Theatre was no exception, at the time billed as “The Theatre Unusual.” The exterior by architect S. Charles Lee gives only a hint as to the explosion of French Baroque decor that adorns the palatial interior lobby, which was reportedly modeled after the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles in France. Notice how the brightly colored terrazzo sidewalk design complements the muted concrete and terracotta exterior façade above the marquee.
The Los Angeles was the last such movie palace to be added to Broadway’s collection, predating the Roxie by just a few months — and far more opulent. Advertisements billed it as “The World’s Finest & Most Luxuriously Appointed Cinema Playhouse,” perhaps not an exaggeration as it offered a number of amenities including a children’s nursery, “crying” rooms off the balcony, and marble powder rooms.
Like many of its neighbors on Broadway, the popularity of the Los Angeles waned in the 1960s as attention shifted away from Downtown L.A. to the suburbs and TV television gave the movie theater biz a run for its money. In 1994, this movie palace closed its doors to the public for regular events, although it’s currently available for rentals and special events, like screenings in conjunction with Cinespia, Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, Los Angeles Conservancy’s “Last Remaining Seats,” and “Carrie: The Musical.”
615 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
8. Palace Theatre
The Palace Theatre — sometimes called the Downtown Palace — opened in 1911 as a vaudeville theater for the Orpheum circuit, subsequently converting to movies and at one point or another operating as the Palace Newsreel Theater and a cinema specializing in Spanish-language film. Look for the original “ORPHEUM” lettering on the terracotta façade, above and between some carved figures (the muses of vaudeville) and below a series of arched windows.
The five-story building’s Renaissance Revival design was by “luxury” theater architect G. Albert Lansburgh, who also contributed El Capitan, the Wiltern, and Broadway’s present-day Orpheum (#15 below) to the L.A. streetscape. The marquee will attract the interest of some ‘80s babies, who’ll recognize it from the music video of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Although it officially “closed” in the year 2000, a $1 million restoration effort in 2011 helped repair damage and get the theater back up and running for film shoots, special events and more. It’s now the oldest standing example of a theater built for the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit in the U.S.
630 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
9. Clifton’s Cafeteria
Clifton’s Cafeteria — or Clifton’s Republic, as it’s called now — is the sole survivor of a chain of restaurants that once had 10 locations throughout the Los Angeles area. Founded by Clifford Clinton, Clifton’s was a cafeteria-style eatery offering meals on a "Pay What You Wish" basis, with the promise that you’d "Dine Free Unless Delighted." After all, it was the Great Depression, but that didn’t mean that people couldn’t eat cheaply and in style. Hence, the redwood forest theme of the Clifton’s Brookdale location on Broadway.
Even outside of Clifton’s (now only- nighttime) operating hours, its exterior is a treasure trove of history to behold —starting with its stunning terrazzo sidewalk design, which features depictions of such Los Angeles landmarks as Griffith Observatory, La Brea Tar Pits, City Hall, Hollywood Bowl, Catalina Island, oil wells, orange groves, and so on. It’s the work of Arthur D. Pizzinat, Sr., president of the Venetian Terrazzo and Mosaic Company of Alhambra, which installed it in 1934.
Look up above the contemporary marquee, and you’ll see the original circa 1935 brick façade — which had been hidden since a 1960s renovation added aluminum sheeting to cover it up. This is just one of the delightful historical details that emerged as a result of a 2011-2015 renovation that brought a reopened Clifton’s beyond the cafeteria and into more of a nightclub setting. To learn more, join Clifton’s Living History Tour for one of its (in-person or virtual) guided excursions through the historic property.
648 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
10. Burlington/Former Bullock’s
Directly across from Clifton’s is the former location of the Bullock’s flagship department store, with Burlington (Coat Factory) as its current anchor tenant. Located on the northwest corner of Broadway at 7th Street, the seven-story structure designed by John Parkinson and G. Edwin Bergstrom dates back to 1906 when it was built at the behest of Bullock’s founder John G. Bullock.
It operated as a department store until the 1980s and has subsequently been divvied up among several smaller retailers, with much of the upper levels having been converted into an above-ground parking structure. Even if you don’t park your car there, it’s worth a gander out of an upper-level window facing Broadway — even if just to get a good look at the exposed Clifton’s façade across the street.
At street level, be sure to meander down St. Vincent’s Court — a quaint dead-end alley that’s surrounded on three sides by the old Bullock’s building. You can no longer pull up a seat for outdoor dining, as its tables and chairs were cleared out in 2013, but its brick pavers and Old World storefronts still suggest a certain European charm that’s worth a stroll through. Access it from the north side of 7th Street between Broadway and Hill Street’s Jewelry District.
659 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
11. The State Theatre
The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God operated its "Cathedral of Faith" (Catedral de la Fe) out of the former Loew's State (as it’s commonly known, though it was taken over by Fox West Coast Theatres in 1924) at Broadway and 7th for 20 years until early 2018, when the circa 1921 movie palace began its transformation and return it to former glory as The State Theatre.
The Spanish Renaissance-style theater, designed by San Francisco-based firm Weeks and Day, is just one part of a 12-story Beaux Arts style office building known as the United Building — the largest brick-clad building in all of L.A. The State is a big part of it as the largest theater on L.A.’s Broadway in terms of number of seats.
As you admire the neon of the circa- 1949 marquee, imagine what it was like when this was one of the city’s busiest retail intersections, bustling with streetcars and pedestrians as well as theater-goers — so many, in fact, that The State once had two entrances around the corner from each other. The (though the 7th Street entrance was is closed now and only the Broadway entrance remains). And But jjust try to picture this same intersection when it served as the terminus of Route 66 from 1926 to 1936!
703 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
12. Globe Theatre
One of Broadway's oldest historic theaters is the Globe Theatre — which originally opened in 1913 as a playhouse called the Morosco (named after the producer who opened it, Oliver Morosco). At the time, it held the distinction of being a small house with comfortable seats (including larger chairs for larger patrons). Later, it also became the first newsreel theater in Los Angeles.
In the 1980s, the theater seats were taken out and the sloped floor was filled in to make way for a swap meet, but since that time, retailers only ever occupied the front lobby. It’s now been restored down to the original marble stairs and mosaic tile floors; current owner Erik Chol has reactivated it as a nightlife destination after a multi-million-dollar renovation.
As of June 2014, the restored theater marquee once again lights up the Garland Building’s stone and brick façade by Morgan, Walls, & Morgan — and its globe even spins!
740 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
13. California Broadway Trade Center/Former Hamburger & Sons
In 1908, Downtown Los Angeles became home to the largest department store west of Chicago. It was a giant Beaux Arts-style edifice, nicknamed "The Great White Store" for its glazed terra cotta tiles. The flagship location of Hamburgers, it was almost like a self-contained city — with its own fire department, medical facilities, power plant, post office, library, barbershop, and movie theater. It even contained the only escalator west of St. Louis (at the time). The Los Angeles Herald called the Alfred F. Rosenheim-designed emporium “magnificent” and “a marvel” — an architectural triumph. And its arrival helped build Broadway up to what it is today: the Broadway Theater and Commercial District.
In the mid-1920s, the Hamburger family sold their company to The May Company, which expanded the store's footprint by adding two annexes — bringing its total square footage up to over one million. The Mays spent about six decades there, on Broadway and 8th Street; and when they vacated, the building got converted (as seemingly everything else did) into an indoor swap meet.
Most recently known as the Broadway Trade Center, it was sold in 2014 to developers and has undergone some renovation and interior demolition of later “modernizations” (like from when the upper levels were being used for garment manufacturing). It’s being prepared for its conversion into a mixed-use complex — with exterior renovations essentially completed and some of that construction fencing coming down, revealing those glazed white tiles, shiny like new. Some even still show the letter “H” (for Hamburgers) tucked inside a crest.
801 S. Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
14. The Tower Theatre/Future Apple Store
The Tower Theatre is a bit of a curiosity on the strip of historic theaters along Broadway in Downtown L.A. It was built on a very small corner plot of land at Broadway and 8th, with its namesake tower rises rising high above a strip of retail businesses. In recent years, it's been tough to get inside — but that’s all about to change.
After a long history of vaudeville shows, film screenings, newsreels, live concert performances, and film shoots (including a role as “Club Silencio” in “Mulholland Drive”), the S. Charles Lee-designed Tower Theatre is ready for its next act —as an outpost of the Apple Store. And that means the movie palace that was at the forefront of technical innovation upon its opening — Downtown L.A.’s first to be wired for sound films — will continue its legacy in providing cutting-edge technology.
Swing by to catch a peek at the relit blade side and restored clock tower behind the veil of construction scaffolding — and rejoice when its French Renaissance exterior with terracotta tiles and stained-glass windows is once again visible to start the show on the sidewalk.
802 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
15. Urban Outfitters/Former Rialto
Although the circa 1917 theater has been gutted on the inside and, as of 2013, turned into a location of the retail chain Urban Outfitters, the Rialto’s historic marquee — one of Broadway’s longest — is a landmark in and of itself. In fact, two years after the theater closed in 1987, the City of Los Angeles declared the marquee our Historic-Cultural Monument #472.
The zigzag-tastic marquee isn’t original to the theatre’s opening but it dates back to the 1930s and has been fully repainted, restored, and switched back on. And it is spectacular.
810 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
16. The Orpheum Theatre
In 1926, the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit found its fourth and final home at Broadway just north of 9th Street, in a Beaux Arts-style building designed by architect G. Albert Lansburgh. The Orpheum Theatre — named after Orpheus, the god of music and poetry — has since embraced film as well as musical performances ranging from jazz to rock and roll. Although it closed as a movie house in the year 2000, a subsequent major restoration set it up for a full schedule of rentals every year.
One of the exterior highlights is its original rooftop sign, which is electrified and still lights up with a litany of incandescent bulbs. Although the neon blade sign isn’t original, it’s from the 1930s; and the marquee dates back to 1941.
842 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
17. Eastern Columbia Building
It's one of the Art Deco treasures of Los Angeles — or, really, of the entire Western U.S. But since it was converted from a department store to residential lofts, most people can only admire the Eastern Columbia Building from the outside. Named after the Eastern Outfitting and Columbia Outfitting companies, for which it was built to serve as their flagship store, the Eastern Columbia features a turquoise-colored, terra cotta-tiled, gold-leafed exterior that’s one of L.A.'s most photographed and filmed (appearing in everything from the pilot of “Moonlighting” to the blockbuster movie “Transformers” blockbuster movie).
Past its zigzagged, chevron-ed vestibule is where Angelenos once shopped for furniture and rugs as they stood on concrete floors between monumental column under wedding cake-shaped Art Deco lighting fixtures. After Eastern Columbia Outfitters went out of business in 1957, those retail floors were converted into office space and, most recently, residential lofts — making the interior of the 14-story, Claude Beelman-designed high-rise from 1930 more exclusive than ever before.
However, you can experience the building by grabbing a snack from Swedish coffee purveyor ilcaffé and a seat outside. Stay awhile in the shadow of that decorative clock tower (which still keeps time), or head over to its street-level retailers— like MYKITA for eyewear and Acne Studios (pronounced Ack-nay) to reinvent your personal style.
849 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90014
18. Ace Hotel/The Theatre at Ace Hotel
The Ace Hotel’s neon “JESUS SAVES” sign is a leftover from the 10-year period when Dr. Eugene Scott's University Cathedral Church took over the former United Artists Theatre (which now operates as the Theatre at Ace Hotel). But there’s so much more about the Ace that should attract a good look-see.
The hotel, which opened in 2014, occupies the former California Petroleum Corporation Building — known later as the Texaco Building (though the company eventually moved its L.A. headquarters to Wilshire Boulevard in what’s now Koreatown). Built by Walker and Eisen, the 12-story office tower was the tallest privately owned building in Los Angeles until 1956.
In fact, the pressed metal rooftop tower actually made it exceed the city’s height limit at the time (such that no building be taller than City Hall) — but because the building permits called it “signage,” and it housed elevator equipment, it was allowed. You can see that rooftop tower from the street level — but why not see it up close by visiting the open-air, rooftop Upstairs bar? It’s currently open for hotel and non-hotel guests alike by advance reservation (masks required).
929 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015
19. The Hoxton
The Hoxton occupies the 1922 Beaux Arts building that once served as the headquarters of Henry Huntington’s Los Angeles Railway Corporation (a.k.a. the “Yellow Cars”) and its successors (Los Angeles Transit Lines, Metropolitan Transit Authority). Known colloquially as the Los Angeles Transit Building, and designed by the architectural firm of Noerenberg & Johnson, it most recently housed a garment factory.
Book a room, or make a reservation for the rooftop restaurant and bar, which has most recently partnered with the all-day diner in the lobby (currently closed for because of the pandemicCovid-19) to offer weekend brunches. Reportedly, a basement bar has also been in the works.
1060 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015
20. Herald-Examiner Building
The Julia Morgan-designed Herald-Examiner Building, commissioned by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst himself, is like a little tiny slice of Hearst Castle right in Downtown Los Angeles. For the headquarters of the then-Los Angeles Examiner, Morgan incorporated Mission Revival and Spanish Colonial architectural styles so well, it got her the career-defining job of designing Hearst’s infamous home in San Simeon.
Unfortunately, newspaper operations ceased in 1989 — and since then, pretty much the only visitors to the interior of what would become known as the Herald-Examiner Building (after a 1962 newspaper merger) have been the casts and crews of the productions that have filmed there.
Fortunately, this circa 1913 landmark has undergone a major renovation and is slated to become a satellite campus for Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, among other undergraduate programs. While the Hearsts maintain a stake in the building, the family has partnered with New York-based developer Georgetown Co. to bring new life to the shuttered landmark.
1111 S Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Your journey ends here, but your discoveries don’t have to. Backtrack to your starting point and see what you missed along the way. There are many more stories to tell and mysteries to uncover!
Top Image: A view from the "Jesus Saves" sign at the top of the Ace Hotel. | Sandi Hemmerlein