A very Los Angeles love story is being told downtown this Valentine's Day weekend.
It’s the story of a movie legend and her mirrors, a church leader and his ex-porn-star-turned-pastor wife, a hip hotel and its perfectly vintage building, and a 1,600-seat theater coming back to life with the help of some UK space rock.
Last month the new ACE Hotel opened in the old United Artists building on Broadway downtown. It’s 13 floors and sometimes called the Texaco building, and inside is a golden-age movie palace — one of 12 massive, historic movie theaters packed into six blocks.
The UA was built in 1927 and designed to look like a Spanish Cathedral. It was very much Mary Pickford’s theater. She was one of the co-founders of United Artists and UA’s top talent. She was intricately and intimately involved with every detail of the construction, right down to backing of the mirrors, which are gold, not silver, because, as legend has it, she wanted everyone who entered to look like they had a California suntan.
The theater, which has been closed to the public, reopens Friday with the UK space rock band Spiritualized performing live their 1997 album “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.” It'll be performed in its entirety, accompanied by an orchestra and choir. The show sold out almost instantly.
It's a historic property and, historically, a movie theater, but its ability to double as a live venue is sort of in the building’s DNA. David Berman, a docent with the LA Conservancy, said it wasn’t designed to exclusively be a movie theater — it was built with a stage meaning live performance was always part of the plan.
The reopening is also significant because of how long it's been closed to the public. The theatre closed briefly during the Depression. Then there was a wave of remodeling in the mid-to-late 1950s, but it still ended up closing anyway for about a decade. When it reopened it showed Spanish language movies. And in the 70s it was known for screening disaster flicks. Those films, like "Airport" and "Earthquake," shook the theater and the lights, and the tiny crystals that covered the sconces would rain down and pelt audiences.
Somewhat apocryphal, there is a story circulated by the docents that in the 1980s the lobby served as a bakery and piped exhaust into the theater. The story may not be true, but what is true is that they all tell that story.
Then, in 1989, Gene Scott and his ministry took over the space. Now, the ACE has done a great job completing Scott’s work, but, Scott really deserves the bulk of the credit for restoring that theater. The ministry started broadcasting there in 1990 and for years the building was topped by the very neon, and now historic, “Jesus Saves" sign.
Scott's wife Melissa, who led the church after his death in 2005, denies she was known previously in adult film circles as actress Barbie Bridges. But that’s an entirely different transformation story.
More of the transformation happening downtown on Broadway includes a “Streetscape” plan to widen sidewalks, add parking, increase foot traffic and reconfigure some traffic lanes. There’s a push to fill empty commercial space, and already some major retailers like the ACE have moved in.
See links below for more on the Broadway project, the Broadway theaters, ACE renovation, Spiritualized, and ideas for Valentines Day. And good luck lurking around the Rite Aid for half-priced cinnamon candies.