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Touring Broadway's First Movie Palace, the Million Dollar

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[Current photos by Elizabeth Daniels]

Last month we took a tour of the Los Angeles Theatre, Broadway's last great movie palace; today we hop up a few blocks to the Million Dollar Theatre, Broadway's first great movie palace. It is, as you might notice, somewhat less great, though still full of strange and intricate details, and a grand main space that makes the Arclight look like your parents' basement. The Million Dollar was also legendary theater-man Sid Grauman's first theater in Los Angeles (eventually he'd open the Egyptian and the Chinese); it opened in 1918 (with The Silent Man) in a 12-story Beaux Arts building designed by AC Martin. William Lee Woollett, known for his bizarro interiors, designed the actual theater, with its enormous cast concrete balcony and intricate Mexican/Greek mashup interiors (most noticeably, the painted wood organ screens at either side of the proscenium).

The main inspiration was John Ruskin's Victorian fable "The King of the Golden River," according to the encyclopedic Hillsman Wright of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, but Woollett was also inspired by images of the American West, Shakespeare, and, apparently, the discovery of fire. The Million Dollar has the second-largest stage on Broadway, a lot of understage space, and dressing rooms, which means it's fit for live shows (Grauman would put on elaborate live "prologues" before the movies).

The theater has been thoroughly altered over the years; its lobby was given a pretty complete overhaul in 1946. It traded hands but remained a theater throughout the decades (it was a Latin American powerhouse for much of the second half of the century) and in the early 1990s local businessman Ira Yellin had a plan to convert it for residential use. Instead, in 1993, it became a church. In 2005, Robert Voskanian leased the theater and gave it a major reno; it reopened in 2008. However, the Million Dollar has now been vacant since last summer and its future is still uncertain. Like other Broadway theaters, it doesn't have good access for loading and unloading, but Broadway is so hot these days (theater rehabs and reactivations, a streetcar, development and more development), that it's hard to imagine someone won't want to take it on and bring it back. Meanwhile, Cinespia and the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation are teaming up this weekend to show Blade Runner at the Million Dollar Theatre, which is still around in the dystopian 2019 Los Angeles of the film. Proceeds will go to restoring the marquee (and tickets are sold out, but maybe you can score something on Craigslist).

For even more inside the Million Dollar, the wonderful LAHTF did a three-part video tour, showing stuff you won't see just visiting: here, here, and here.
· Touring Broadway's Last Great Movie Palace: the Los Angeles [Curbed LA]