Night on Broadway brings Magic Downtown

Experience the stunning historic movie palaces of DTLA’s Broadway Theatre District at free annual festival


The Los Angeles Theatre in the Broadway Theater District in Downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Doug de Wet/SAC media.

Reality gently melted away as the crowd, illuminated by the marquee, organized itself and formed a line stretching from street into the immense lobby of the Los Angeles Theater.

I’d heard about the beauty hidden within the mysterious early 20th century movie theaters lining South Broadway in center of downtown Los Angeles DTLA for years. Tonight, I would see them for myself.

The excitement was tangible. The rhythmic music filling the room was loud, but it didn’t matter because words were useless. Astonished faces said what voices could not.

Fantastical, animal-like costumed members of the performance group, Wilderbe, interacted with the delighted guests. Some performers had wings; others towered overhead on stilts as they danced. Their exotically painted, ecstatic faces exuded joy but also conveyed a sense of playful, devilish danger.

It felt more cirque than circus with a generous helping secret masquerade ball.

Towering, contoured columns drew our eyes upwards towards three massive crystal chandeliers, punctuating the ornate arching ceilings swept over our heads. We moved instinctively towards a staircase at the center of the room, our attention captured by a shimmering fountain surrounded by blue-green mermaids, who lounged seductively while posing for pictures with mesmerized guests. Is this really happening?

Later, as I stood against the wall in the lobby trying to absorb the beatific scene, a beautiful burlesque butterfly brushed past me, her wake sucking the breath from my lungs. Remember to breath.

With a sly smile, she floated up the stairs, parting the the crowd as she ascended weightlessly. Topping the balcony, she spread her wings, rhythmically fanning the room in sync with the DJ’s trance inducing groove. Beating butterfly wings transmit meaning as the guests below gazed up with open mouths, entranced.

She told us a secret, “Magic is real, and tonight, it’s taken over Broadway.”

This was the scene inside Los Angeles Theatre during the first Night on Broadway, a free festival celebrating Los Angeles, music, art, history and culture. The fourth annual Night on Broadway will be held Saturday, Jan. 27, from 3 p.m. to midnight along South Broadway in downtown Los Angeles DTLA.

The festival is part of the movement, Bringing Back Broadway, described on its website as “a 10-year economic development and revitalization initiative by Councilmember José Huizar.”

I stumbled onto the event after hearing it mentioned on the radio, not really understanding the scope of the night. The announcement said the theaters would be open for viewing, and it would be free. It did not say Broadway would be closed to traffic and transformed in a street fair, and did not mention the free entertainment inside the theaters.

Every year is completely different, and with each year, the event grows significantly. In 2015, approximately 35,000 people turned out. In 2016, an estimated 60,000 took part in the free festivities. The 2017 event was busier still as around 75,000 took part in the party.

Arrive early to avoid the crowds, which build steadily over the evening. Entering theaters becomes more challenging and foot traffic can become intense as the night goes on.

In spite of the family friendly event’s growing attendance, it seems many people are not aware of it, and that’s a shame.

As of writing, the event map, has not been published, but according to the website, this year it will stretch from First Street to the north, to Olympic Boulevard to the south, covering 10 city blocks, with 10 stages. Six historical theaters will be open to tour and enjoy entertainment. The event is free and will take place rain or shine.

Musical headliners include the B-52s, WAR, La Santa Cecilia and Raul Pacheco and the Immaculate Conception. The lineup also includes dozens of other bands, DJs, dancers and a variety of other performers on the outdoor stages and in the theaters.

Art displays, food trucks, vendors and community organizations will also be on hand.

While Night on Broadway is evolving, one thing has been constant: a showcase for downtown’s historic theaters. This year, six theaters will be open for viewing and entertainment. From north to south, they are: Million Dollar Theatre, Los Angeles Theatre, Palace Theatre, Globe Theatre, Orpheum Theatre and the Theatre at Ace Hotel–formerly the United Artists Theatre.

It is impossible to see everything Night on Broadway has to offer in one night. You’ll need to make some choices. You’ll be well served to focus on the things you can only experience during this event.

Last year, there were large lines of people waiting to get into Clifton’s and the rooftop bar at the Ace Hotel. Of course you should enjoy the evening however you like, but remember that many of DTLA’s enticing restaurants, bars and attractions are open to you pretty almost every night year round.

If you arrive when the event starts at 3 p.m., you have a good chance of visiting all six theaters.

If you can only see one, make it the Los Angeles Theatre. From its striking facade and marquee, to the breathtaking lobby, top of the mezzanine and the unbelievable basement ballroom, this theater exudes magic.

Opened in 1931, the Los Angeles Theatre wears the patina of time, instilling it with mystery and charm. Be sure to explore downstairs. Here you will find the dramatic ovalesque ballroom, a nightmare inducing circus themed children’s area, and the impressive bathrooms–yes, the bathrooms. Trust me.

When in the main theater, look for the crying rooms where parents could retreat to calm crying children away from other guests.

You will marvel at the dramatic details and style of the building. It may feel like a European palace or historic estate, but you’ll have to remind yourself that this was built to be a movie theater. It’s crazy to think this time machine sits here secretly hibernating, empty and unused.

The Orpheum Theatre and the Theatre at the Ace Hotel would be next on my list. Both may be as beautiful as the Los Angeles; however, both the Orpheum and Ace have been restored to like-new condition. The restoration polished away some of their ghosts. They both have stunning lobbies and intricate detail, but they lack some of the strange historical characteristics of the Los Angeles.

Los Angeles is often cynically described as a place with no history, but here in the middle of DTLA there are more than half a dozen vintage movie palaces, artifacts of another time when going to a movie was a special event.

That even one of these theaters exists downtown in its nearly perfectly preserved state, would be amazing and worthy of celebration. The fact that there are more than half a dozen on the same mile of road is  unbelievable! Especially considering most of them sit here keeping secrets throughout the year.

Allow these theaters to transport you to another time. Each has its own unique personality and artistic details incomprehensible by today’s standards.

This event could not happen anywhere else. It reflects this moment in time and captures the uniqueness of DTLA. Night on Broadway shows Los Angeles is willing to work to earn your love.

I urge you to come experience the magical spell of Night on Broadway for yourself. It is a wonderful gift from DTLA, Bringing Back Broadway, and Councilmember Huizar.