LA's Million Dollar Theater

Vendor Just Blocks Away From LA's Financial District
The next day I purchased tickets for Universal Studios with the LA Westin Bonaventure concierge. I mentioned that I had crossed Broadway Street and how impressed I had been with the architecture of all the old theaters. The hotel concierge, Lupe Pitone, told me that it was a beautiful area and assured me that there was nothing to fear during the day. In particular, she mentioned the Million Dollar Theater on Broadway and spoke of its sumptuous interior and thick velvet curtains. She said that as a little girl, she used to wait in a line that snaked around the block to see a double feature on the weekends. "I have some wonderful childhood memories of the Million Dollar Theater," said the concierge.

I went back up to our room with our Universal Studios tickets and information that my husband should not take the subway to LAX at night to pick up our rental car, advice that he fortunately heeded. He said that taking the subway through South Central Los Angeles reminded him of riding the RER through the northern and eastern suburbs of Paris where there are endless low-rent highrise apartments and seemingly nothing else. He also said that there were a few unpredictable commuters who exhibited signs of questionable sanity.

Entrance to the Million Dollar Theater
Back in our hotel room, enthusiastic suggestions of outings elicited crossed-arms and shrugs. My bumps on a log didn't even want to step outside for lunch. I sat back and read another of our California guides and learned about the highly rated Grand Central Market, which happened to be next to the Million Dollar Theater the concierge had talked about. I also read online about Bringing Back Broadway, an LA initiative to restore "the largest historic theater district west of the Mississippi." I just had to take another look, so I offered to go out and pick up some lunch for everyone and told them that I would be back in 45 minutes to an hour.

I walked as quickly as I could down Fifth Street to Broadway, but as the people and scenery changed I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach--yes, apprehension. It had been over 12 years since I had traveled anywhere alone, and as I looked north down Broadway, I thought of the many places I had to forego in Latin America because of this very feeling. There were two tall dirty men dancing erratically on the sidewalk about 10 feet away, and even the hipsters in this part of town suddenly appeared grimy and tough. It would be hard to explain to my husband that on a quick trip to buy band aids and tacos, I got roughed up on Broadway, blocks away from our hotel. I decided against walking anywhere further north and headed south where there were fewer people on the sidewalk.

China Café at Grand Central Market
Along the way I was greeted in Spanish by shopkeepers selling gold, t-shirts, magazines and sunglasses. Then I saw the ornate Million Dollar Theater. Its name apparently comes from the fact that it cost a million dollars to build in 1917. Unfortunately, I was only able to take pictures of the outside because it was the site of a film shoot. The Grand Central Market, which has been in operation since 1917, was also a wonderful surprise, something I never would have expected to see in Downtown LA for many reasons. For one, it was colourful, cheery, and devoid of Armani suits. Two, it was extremely cheap. I bought two chicken tacos for $2.50 each, heavenly shrimp ceviche for $4.00, and a small basket of strawberries, a bag of cherries and a red pepper from a vegetable vendor for just $2.50.

When I got back an hour later with lunch, I showed my husband my pictures, and he was instantly jealous. "I wish I had gone too," he said.

Of all the things we would see in California, historic Downtown LA was the biggest surprise. The "birthplace of vaudeville and cinematic entertainment" did not figure in any of our guide books, nor had I ever seen pictures or heard of these nine blocks on Broadway housing 12 historic theaters. When we think of LA, we rarely think of history, and we really should.

I highly recommend this area. Just dress down and go with someone else during the day. If you go a few years from now, these precautions might not be necessary. Something tells me that Broadway might be completely transformed in the near future.

For further reading on historic LA
Pictures and history of the 12 theaters (A must-see)
Million Dollar Theater

Other posts about LA
Disney Theatre W/ the Kids
Unexpected Beauty of Historic Los Angeles


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