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In Downtown Los Angeles, a landmark shines again.
Ninety-four years after its premiere on 8th and Broadway, Tower Theatre has returned in original splendor to dazzle and delight visitors. Working with preservationists, Apple carefully restored original details and updated the theater to create a grand Apple Store for downtown. Inspired by the power of the movies to draw people together, Apple Tower Theatre offers a new experience to connect and energize the community.
Step into the lobby and take your seat. It’s movie night.
Tower Theatre is a palatial French Renaissance gem in the Broadway Theater District, a stretch of downtown’s Historic Core once home to dozens of the most gilded movie theaters in the United States. In the early 1900s, the breakthrough of motion pictures sparked an era of movie palaces, where theater architecture captivated audiences as much as the films themselves.
Movie palaces fell out of favor in the second half of the 20th century, and the Broadway Theater District suffered. Just under two dozen original theater buildings remain. The survivors have weathered neglect, decay, and a revolving door of occupancy.
But today the Broadway Theater District is filled with new energy and optimistic hope for the future of Downtown Los Angeles. Historic theaters are being saved through adaptive reuse and reactivated into functional spaces once again. Broadway is developing vibrant retail, entertainment, and living communities. Apple Tower Theatre is a crowning achievement for the district.
Tower Theatre was designed by architect S. Charles Lee and opened in 1927. The building’s unique namesake clock tower and stunning use of the latest technology made it an instant downtown icon. The theater was the first in the area outfit with Vitaphone and Movietone systems for “talkies” — films with sound. Cutting-edge refrigeration kept the building cool in summer. Guests could even enjoy chilled water fountains.
Before the era of television, Tower Theatre enjoyed a brief run as Newsreel Theater, where audiences could catch up on current events. Regular film screenings at the Tower ended in 1988. For the past 30 years, the theater struggled to find a purpose. Film shoots, concerts, and special events sporadically brought the marquee to life.
“It is conceded by those who have studied the situation that the architect, S. Charles Lee, of Los Angeles, has succeeded to an unusual degree in obtaining a perfect solution for this building.”
Motion Picture News, March 3, 1928
In 2018, Apple began a comprehensive restoration and reimagining of the dilapidated Tower Theatre.
The clock tower, partially destroyed during a 1971 earthquake, has been repaired and made operable again. The original 1927 marquee has been totally replicated with bronze detailing and interchangeable readerboard signs. The mammoth stained glass window gracing the lobby has been repaired and shines again.
Covered in terracotta tile, Tower Theatre was expertly cleaned to its original appearance. Black Belgian marble keystones along the facade’s faux window panels were restored. Terracotta arched bays on 8th Street were replicated along the Broadway side of the building and a granite base was added.
Original advertising panels along the roof were faithfully hand-painted by a team of 15 artists commissioned to celebrate the store's grand opening. Apple discovered an original cast bronze Tower Theatre panel in the attic stock and relocated it above the entryway.
Apple Tower Theatre is an exemplar of architectural storytelling. Like a great film, you’re swept in from the title and carried through a captivating journey of sights and sounds that resolves to a memory not soon forgotten. Visiting the store conjures a cinematic experience without a single reel of film.
Start on Broadway, where restored marquee lamps evoke the thrill and opulence of movie night in the Roaring Twenties. Theater was a luxury experience made accessible to all, and Apple has returned the space to the community again.
In the lobby, a grand marble staircase decorated with brass handrails and red carpet draws the eye up to the original crystal chandelier, restored and sparkling in the warm light of the ornate stained glass window. French Napoleon and Italian Botticino marble, plaster molding, and contemporary terrazzo combine in surprising harmony.
Stepping through the lobby, you’ll pass under the balcony with its domed cove lights and radial stained glass ceiling lamps outlined by intricate plaster molding. It’s here that Apple’s signature tables begin, accented with brass lamps.
The balcony ends to reveal the full height of the auditorium, soaring upward to a restored ceiling dome painted with a sky motif and surrounded by tiled plaster rosettes. The proscenium and adjacent Juliet balconies are decorated by murals and attentively repainted plaster work. No longer shrouded by the darkness a projection screen necessitates, the entire theater has been relit to highlight its elaborate detail.
Under the right balcony walkway, a row of Avenue display shelving stretching the length of the theater provides a point of familiarity to customers who have visited more traditional Apple Stores. Apple Tower Theatre debuts an all-new Avenue bay dedicated to highlighting AirPods, AirPods Pro, and AirPods Max.
When Tower Theatre was built, small shops lined the building’s 8th Street facade. Retail space kept a steady flow of customers past the theater during the downtime between shows.
Apple’s renovation unified the shops and auditorium into one space, opening the theater to the sidewalk for the first time. Glass accordion doors allow light and fresh air to stream in and can be totally unfolded to create one seamless connection between indoors and out.
At Tower Theatre, Apple’s ambitions span far beyond the auditorium walls. Downtown stores are as much about the community as they are about retail. As in-person events return, Los Angeles will enjoy the best of Today at Apple, the program of creative sessions offered online and in Apple Stores around the world.
Beginning at Apple Tower Theatre, Today at Apple Creative Studios - LA will develop the talents of underrepresented young musicians with nine weeks of free programming. Additional virtual and in-store sessions will share creativity with the entire community.
Located at the site of Tower Theatre’s original projection screen is the Forum and Video Wall, a space for creators to gather. It’s here that Apple will welcome local artists and the store’s own Creative Pros to host special performances and share creative insight.
In the balcony is the Genius Bar, where help from an Apple expert has never been more comfortable. Customers can access the balcony from the grand lobby staircase or new accessible elevators.
The Genius Seating Gallery is filled with leather benches and chairs that overlook the auditorium. Near the site of the original projection booth is a new repair room.
Apple’s community connection continues under the auditorium, where the original marble stairwell has been reimagined as a one-of-a-kind gallery space. At a basement fireplace, 1920s theater patrons once enjoyed music direct from the auditorium through an innovative microphone transmission system. Now, visitors can enjoy the restoration story of Apple Tower Theatre with artifacts including original auditorium seats and photographs.
We are stewards of the spaces we occupy, making our mark for a short time before passing off the page for someone else to write the next scene. The story of Tower Theatre didn’t begin with Apple, and it won’t end with Apple either.
As stewards of architecture we can choose to neglect, destroy, and squander in ways that serve our own interests. We can do what is convenient.
We can also choose to celebrate, preserve, and grow spaces that connect and inspire. We can plan for the future by respecting the past.
When the credits roll at Tower Theatre, Apple can be proud to have its name on the screen.
Site Created By Michael Steeber