American History: Los Angeles First Talkie Theater is Now a Spectacular Apple Store

Downtown Los Angeles First Talkie Theater is Now a Spectacular Apple Store

It was the first theater to screen The Jazz Singer, the first talkie, and now it’s an Apple Store, rebounding after 33 years of darkness.

Michael Buckner for PMC

One of downtown Los Angeles’ landmark clock towers, the one atop the 1927 Tower Theatre, is no longer just twice a day. The landmark theater below it at 8th and Broadway is no longer a place of pigeons, ghosts and David Lynch, who’d used it for the spooky “Mulholland Drive.”

After years of renovation, the 94-year-old venue is now a new Apple Store, and the spectacular redesign is drawing plaudits from the community of historic preservationists.

Hundreds lined up as the Apple Tower Theatre opened for business, and the first few dozen were met by Apple CEO Tim Cook.

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Apple Tower Theatre Store Opening on June 24, 2021 in Downtown Los Angeles, California.Michael Buckner for PMC

The previous day, members of the historic preservation community were invited for a tour. Many had participated in a task force on the alterations and refreshments being made to the theater.

Rumors first surfaced of Apple leasing the space in 2015, and city permits went public circa 2017. But Apple never officially acknowledged the project publicly until this past week.

The two organizations known for being activists and watchdogs in the preservation of historic theaters, the
Los Angeles Conservancy and the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation.
“I think Apple has really struck a balance here, in terms of: it still reads as a theater,” says Adrian Scott Fine, the L.A. Conservancy’s senior director of advocacy, offering perhaps the highest praise that can be offered for this kind of project. “They’re still telling the story that this was the Tower Theater, but it’s decidedly reinvented and re-imagined as a modern interpretation, taking some of the spaces of the theater and re-imagining those for functionality that Apple typically has with these types of operations. The question is, how do you infuse the Apple brand and everything that everyone knows about Apple and put in a space that is also still its own brand? You see the balance in the attention to detail, both with the modern aesthetic that you find with Apple products, but also the (original) detail of this building.

“You can’t walk in that space and not see all the intricacies and the craftsmanship that went into this building. We’re really pleased that Apple brought those details back, because the building has sat vacant for decades, and to see it come back and to see these details shine like this is really exciting.”

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Deirdre O’Brien, senior vice president of Retail + People, and Apple CEO Tim Cook open the doors at the Apple Tower Theatre Store Opening on June 24, 2021 in Downtown Los AngelesMichael Buckner for PMC

 

 

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Apple Tower Theatre Store Opening on June 24, 2021 in Downtown Los Angeles, California.Michael Buckner for PMC

This stretch of Broadway has the highest concentration of largely intact 1920s and 1930s movie theaters in the world.

The Tower was the first theater designed by Lee, the most famous of movie-palace architects. It was the first theater wired for talkies in downtown L.A., with peculiar shape, on a 50-x-150′ lot.

Unlike most other theaters on Broadway, it was dark, except for film shoots and some concerts, since it showed its last triple-feature in 1988.

Lee was commissioned as his first theater design in the mid-1920s for an odd job.  The owners had another theater on the site, which only held 600-some patrons, torn down for the Tower, which would hold 900, based on the assumption that talking pictures would bring larger crowds.

The Tower was the first theater in the Broadway corridor with sound capability. The Jazz Singer had preview screening there before the Tower opened, although it didn’t play at the venue until its second run.

The Tower officially opened in October 1927 with a silent picture, “The Gingham Girl,” and it sported a Vitaphone musical short before the main feature.

Tiffany Nitsche is president of the board of directors of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation. It took on getting official landmark status for the Tower as one of its first acts when it was formed in the late 1980s. She says that it never adopted an official position on the project, because there are members who maintain that a theatrical use can or should always be found for historic venues.

Most would agree that, for practical reasons, the Tower was unlikely to come back as a viable theatrical space, and that they couldn’t have wished for better adaptive result.

“We treaded very carefully as an organization, knowing our membership and followers were split on the idea of it becoming Apple,” says Nitsche, “we just wanted to be careful on what they were going forward with, because you can present one thing and do something vastly different. But looking back is, one thing we agree on is: They went into the Tower because it’s the Tower. They didn’t gut it and make it something else; they love it for exactly what it is.”