The Golden Age of Cinema Returns to Los Angeles

Photo by San

by Mark C.O'Flaherty, The Daily Telegraph, May 2, 2016

I’ve seen this film already. Perhaps 10 times, probably more. Tonight it’s different – for me, and the 2,000 people in the auditorium. It’s an event. As Bernard Herrmann’s violin strings shriek from the speakers, and Janet Leigh slides slowly down the bathroom tiles into swirls of her own blood, I feel like I’ve never really experienced Psycho before. Certainly not on this scale. In the days of Netflix and the cookie-cutter multiplex, the Million Dollar Theater in downtown Los Angeles is an anachronism and anomaly – a picture palace from 1918, with an extravagant proscenium arch and a 110ft-wide balcony. At either side of the screen there are immense, soaring carved organ grilles, incorporating richly detailed fairy-tale imagery. Apart from the dust roiling through the projector’s radiant beams, it could be a Spanish Colonial cathedral. 

Like the nearby Los Angeles Theater, the Million Dollar looks like Norma Desmond barricaded the doors to the lobby out of spite sometime in the Forties and no one has been inside since. It’s a temple to faded glory and golden era Hollywood. In fact, these theatres have been a place of pilgrimage for modern cineastes, for a few days a year, for decades. Every summer, LA Conservancy hosts the Last Remaining Seats festival, screening classic movies such as Hitchcock’s Psycho in historic Downtown venues. 

It’s the 30th anniversary of Last Remaining Seats this summer, launching on June 4 with the kitschy Eighties homo-erotic romp of Top Gun and closing on June 25 with a screening of the 1923 Harold Lloyd silent film Safety Last! at the Orpheum, with live musical accompaniment from the theatre’s Mighty Wurlitzer organ. Other movies in the season include To Kill a Mockingbird, Some Like it Hot, Singin’ in the Rain and Double Indemnity. 

Last Remaining Seats is a complement to the walking tours that LA Conservancy runs year-round, exploring the city’s architectural and social history. “It was launched in 1987 to draw attention to the plight of Broadway’s neglected movie palaces,” says Sarah Lann, director of education at the organisation. “We have more than 10,000 attendees each year, so we feel we are succeeding. We’re inspiring people to see the theatres and take pride in their history.”

Los Angeles travel guide

At the start of the Thirties, Broadway had the highest concentration of cinemas in the world. Some have been lost to the ravages of time. Others – like the Orpheum and The Theatre at Ace Hotel (formerly the 1927 United Artists Theatre) have been renovated to incredible new heights of glamour. Some are only open for special events (including Last Remaining Seats), and the rest have been repurposed: the 1923 Rialto is now an Urban Outfitters, and the State – which opened in 1921 – is now the Catedral de la Fe. Instead of a 35mm coming attraction, the hoarding promises: Jesucristo es el Señor. 

If you want to stay Downtown, you will probably end up at the aforementioned Ace (001 213 623 3233; ; from £145 per night). As with its properties in Portland, New York and London, this is honed hostel chic – from the crafty typography on the eye-roll-inducing “MAID TIP” envelopes, to the black soap in the bathrooms. The vast red neon “JESUS SAVES” sign at the back (from when the theatre became, briefly, the Los Angeles University Cathedral), adds a fabulously sinister cinematic touch. It glows into the bedrooms, and is visible from the buzzy rooftop pool deck bar.

Many Angelino friends have told me about the gentrification of Downtown, and how smart West Hollywood has decamped into incredible lofts hidden behind the wondrous beaux arts and deco façades of old Broadway. This may be true, but despite the arrival of Ace hotel, this is no Shoreditch. For anyone in search of the jubilee of urban decay that was captured on screen in the likes of Taxi Driver in Manhattan in the Seventies, look no further than this thoroughfare on the west coast in 2016. Skid Row is still real, and starts two blocks to the east. When I joined the Broadway History Theatre and Commercial District Walking Tour on a recent Saturday morning, my guide – Jan Westman, who worked at Disney for 40 years – had his architectural observations punctuated loudly by local colour. At one point, we had to give a wide berth to a woman careering haphazardly down the pavement on a scooter in a leopard-print jumpsuit, giant sunglasses and a floral headscarf, laughing uproariously, with a deafening portable stereo strapped to her pannier. 

Ace Hotel Downtown Los Angeles Los Angeles, California, United States Telegraph expert rating 8

The west coast outpost of the cooler-than-cool Ace Hotel stable. The website encourages you to ‘Vogue poolside’ so expect the type of clientele that will be au fait doing that. Located in the thick of Downtown, it’s a hipster-meets-LA Noir party palace. Read expert review

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Downtown Los Angeles is still downtown. “A lot of the interiors of the theatres were a counterpoint to the great depression,” explained Westman as we explored the ornately mirrored ladies lounge in the basement of the Los Angeles Theater. “People came here for a whole night’s experience, to escape.” As we stepped back on to the street, I noticed a man sitting in the doorway performing an autopsy on a pigeon with a pair of nail scissors.

But the area is changing. “In the early days of Last Remaining Seats, we sometimes had security escorting movie-goers from the parking lots to the theatre,” says Sarah Lann. “Now there are people on the streets all the time, and downtown is friendly and welcoming.” It’s certainly lively. And not just because of the omnipresent film crews, faking New York streets with vintage yellow cabs and temporary street furniture. There’s a lot to be said for an area that, while having newly opened branches of Aesop, Acne and APC, remains a favourite shopping area for Latino brides-to-be, and anyone on the market for theatrical gold jewellery and supersized crucifix necklaces.

The renaissance of Downtown LA

Aficionados of kitsch will find a lot to love. In fact, you might find window shopping on Broadway more interesting than the recently opened $140 million (£96 million) contemporary art museum, The Broad (001 213 232 6200; ), which has a fantastic building that looks like computer-generated white honeycomb but houses a pedestrian collection of bold face investment pop art.

There is much more fun to be had over at Broadway landmark Clifton’s Cafeteria, which opened in the Thirties and fed locals for whatever they could afford to pay, in a trippy, fairy-tale setting. It reopened last autumn as a 47,000 sq ft even weirder wonderland. There’s still a cafeteria, but there are now cocktails, stuffed lions, a secret grotto, a 40ft-tall fake redwood tree, a hidden tiki bar, and the oldest consistently lit piece of neon in the world. I could go on for pages. One thing that’s particularly worthy of praise is the staffing policy: 10 per cent are sober homeless from The Midnight Mission, helping locals get back on their feet and into work.

There’s an ongoing campaign called Bringing Back Broadway. Clifton’s reopening has been hailed as a huge milestone. I’d recommend it for drinks and people-watching rather than dining – the crowd is an eccentric mix of the hipster, elderly and trailer. Soak up the atmosphere and then head around the corner to Little Sister (001 213 628 3146; ), a compact, clubby restaurant, playing hip hop and serving the best Vietnamese food I’ve ever tasted. I’ve ordered bo la lot (beef wrapped in a betel leaf) from every menu I’ve ever seen it on, and this is the finest.

The interior of the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles

The biggest foodie buzz on Broadway emanates from Grand Central Market (001 213 624 2378; ). It’s been here since 1917, but has been radically overhauled with a maze of food courts and quirky vendors, including the unfortunately named Eggslut (largely egg-based sandwiches), Horse Thief BBQ and Knead & Co Pasta. Each vendor has its own obsessive following, and has spawned a thousand blog and Instagram posts. 

If you go to the Market (and you should), head to the Bradbury Building, opposite, straight afterwards. You know it already. It was built in 1893, and you can tour it as part of the LA Conservancy Historic Downtown Walking Tour. You can also drop by on your own to stare up from the lobby at the ornate Victorian ironwork around its staircases and its open-cage lifts. 

It has featured in plenty of films, and was most famously stylised and immortalised in Blade Runner. I’ve visited many times, and I still can’t comprehend how incredibly sci-fi they made it in that film – full of smoke and searchlights, its roof dripping with noir atmosphere. 

36 Hours in Los Angeles

They created another world out of the bare bones of reality. But then that’s the magic of cinema – transforming the everyday into an event.

The essentials

Tickets for screenings of Last Remaining Seats cost $22 (£15) via .

British Airways (0844 493 0787; ) flies twice a day between London and Los Angeles, with fares from £334 each way.

For more information about the city and surrounding area, visit the official visitor information website of Los Angeles at discover; also see and @discoverLA on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest for news about the city.

The best boutique hotels in Los Angeles 

Palihouse West Hollywood

The loft-like rooms at Palihouse West Hollywood are a hip mash-up of periods and styles – white Chesterfield sofas, Saarinen tables, Bertoia chairs, dark wood cabinets, exposed brick and Noguchi lamps. The 36 loft-like spaces feature full kitchen, washer/dryer and many have private terraces. In the middle of WeHo (West Hollywood), it’s very handy for Melrose Avenue and Robertson Boulevard shopping, and a few blocks away from the Sunset Strip, Hollywood and fashionable Runyon Canyon for hikes.

Doubles from £245;


Ace Hotel Downtown

Located in the thick of Downtown, Ace is a hipster-meets-LA Noir party palace. The website encourages you to “Vogue poolside” so expect the type of clientele that will be au fait doing that. The hotel occupies the former United Artists Building, a multistorey paean to Gothic architecture inspired by Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia. Inside,

it has a shabby but considered look: original poured concrete columns and decorative detailing is still in place, and this is matched by a mishmash of local designers’ artworks and interiors, such as irreverent LA-inspired “hieroglyphics” – think palm trees, Hollywood scenes and local legends – that adorn the walls in public areas.

Doubles from £140;

Ace Hotel, LA

Petit Ermitage

Tucked between West Hollywood’s Santa Monica Boulevard and the Sunset Strip, this hotel has an artsy, bohemian air. A trellised front entrance opens into an intimate lobby space, featuring antiques, art and shabby-chic furnishings. Cosy hallways with painted murals and artwork on the walls lead toward the guest suites, or you can step out into the grassy rooftop garden for fresh air, flowers and the saltwater pool.

Doubles from £200;

Petit Ermitage

Mr C Beverly Hills

Inside an all-white, high-rise building, this boutique hotel exudes class. A baby grand piano, sofas and marble floors adorn the lobby. Outside, rose bushes and California citrus trees bloom on landscaped grounds that are hidden from the street by a high wall, making it almost like a private retreat. Mr C’s 125 rooms and dozen suites are each furnished like an urban pied-à-terre, complete with in-room bars, Italian furnishings, brass lamps, leather recliners and luxury mattresses. Best of all are the city-view balconies, set with rattan chairs. Concierge staff are top-notch, as is the on-site restaurant by Cipriani’s of New York.

Doubles from £255 ; 

The lobby at Mr C Beverly Hills

Carlyle Inn

This intimate boutique hotel is a bargain compared to many other lodgings in fashionable Beverly Hills. Recently renovated with Art Deco design elements, the look is perky and just whimsical enough for sunny Southern California. There are just 32 rooms so staff have time to assist guests with whatever they might need. Concierges are knowledgeable and able to plan a day of sightseeing around LA. There’s no swimming pool but there is a small workout room, an outdoor courtyard, a hot tub and a sun deck.

Doubles from £145;

Carlyle Inn

For a full guide to the best hotels in Los Angeles, see

The best hotels in Los Angeles View all

  • The Beverly Hills Hotel Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, United StatesTelegraph expert rating8

    Oh, if the palm-printed walls of The Beverly Hills Hotel could talk. Its history is laced with star-spangled romance: Elizabeth Taylor honeymooned here with six of her seven husbands; Faye Dunaway learnt how to swim in the pool; and a Yoko Ono and John Lennon 'bed-in' was staged in one of the bungalows. Read expert review

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  • Hotel Bel-AirBel Air, Los Angeles, United StatesTelegraph expert rating9

    Hotel Bel-Air looks like Barbara Cartland’s dream hotel, with its pink stucco front and Swan Lake, but you’ll also find sensuous modern rooms, an incredible Wolfgang Puck restaurant and giant redwoods in the magical 12-acre gardens. The elegant bar is one of the most romantic spots in town. Read expert review

    From£338inc. tax

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  • Chateau Marmont West Hollywood, Los Angeles, United StatesTelegraph expert rating9

    The superstar of Andre Balazs' stable of hotels, Chateau Marmont has remained the go-to hotel for Hollywood stars, who pop in and out largely unseen. Modelled on the Loire Valley's Chateau d’Amboise, expect frescoed vaulted ceilings, estate furniture and a warren of secret entrances and exists. Read expert review

    From£308inc. tax

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This article was written by Mark C.O'Flaherty from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.