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20 Fascinating — and Walkable — Places to Discover DTLA’s Broadway Commercial District 

A view from the "Jesus Saves" sign at the top of the Ace Hotel. | Sandi Hemmerlein
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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

Million Dollar Theatre exterior. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Million Dollar Theatre exterior. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Million Dollar Theatre exterior featuring  figures of gargoyles. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Million Dollar Theatre exterior featuring figures of gargoyles. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Million Dollar Theatre exterior featuring figures of people. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Million Dollar Theatre exterior featuring figures of people. | Sandi Hemmerlein

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 BroadwayCinespiaLos 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

 Grand Central Market exterior. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Grand Central Market exterior. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Vendor neon signs at Grand Central Market. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Vendor neon signs at Grand Central Market. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Bulleit Frontier Works neon sign by Schulte and Donnelly at Grand Central Market. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Bulleit Frontier Works neon sign by Schulte and Donnelly at Grand Central Market. | Sandi Hemmerlein

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

Bradbury Building exterior. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Bradbury Building exterior. | Sandi Hemmerlein
The Bradbury’s light-filled Victorian atrium, replete with “birdcage” elevators, decorative ironwork, marble flooring, and more. | Sandi Hemmerlein
The Bradbury’s light-filled Victorian atrium is replete with “birdcage” elevators, decorative ironwork, marble flooring and more. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Detail of the Bradbury’s light-filled Victorian atrium. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Detail of the Bradbury’s light-filled Victorian atrium. | Sandi Hemmerlein

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

The Biddy Mason memorial at Biddy Mason Memorial Park. | Sandi Hemmerlein
The Biddy Mason memorial at Biddy Mason Memorial Park. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A ghost sign of Goleth’s Beauty Salon, which is still in operation. | Sandi Hemmerlein
A ghost sign of Goleth’s Beauty Salon, which is still in operation. | Sandi Hemmerlein

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

Roxie Theatre exterior. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Roxie Theatre exterior. | Sandi Hemmerlein
Cameo Theatre exterior. | Sandi Hemmerlein