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Historic L.A. movie theater to offer last peek before makeover

October 26, 2012 | 10:38 am

Tower theater facade
Before workers begin a makeover of the historic Tower movie theater at the corner of South Broadway and 8th Street, the French Renaissance-style movie house will be open to the public one more time Saturday.

The behind-the-scenes tour will show off its small but opulent lobby, said to resemble a Paris opera house with a giant crystal chandelier, marble columns and huge stained-glass window. Also on view will be the auditorium's sprawling balcony with circa-1927 seats still equipped with wire racks on the bottom for moviegoers to stash their hats.

The renovation will turn the building into a concert venue with an indoor-outdoor bar and coffee house along 8th Street and a plush basement nightclub-style bar on the Broadway side.

The renovation will cost several million dollars and will take about a year and half, said Shahram Delijani, whose family owns the Tower and three other South Broadway theaters.

Higher in the back of the theater, visitors will walk through the ancient projection booth, with its built-in toilet for the projectionist and its steel safety shutters designed to automatically drop down in case the projector's hot carbon arc light ignited the flammable nitrate film.

They'll be led through basement tunnels that connect the theater's boiler room and its huge, built-in Carrier air conditioning machinery to hidden rooms under the front of the auditorium. That's where an orchestra pit and blowers that powered the mighty 216-style Wurlitzer pipe organ were located.

A hydraulic lift could make the pipe organ majestically rise so organist Stephen Boisclair could accompany silent movies. The outlines of the original stage can still be seen. Behind where the movie screen once stood is the spot where the pioneering Vitaphone sound system speakers were fitted into the theater wall.

The theater auditorium's main floor was stripped of its 600 or so seats in 1988 after film screenings were halted and plans were made to turn the Tower into an indoor swap meet. That fell through, however, and three years later the sloping floor was evened out with plywood terraces to create a set with a ballroom dance floor for the 1992 Warner Bros. movie "The Mambo Kings."

Since then the theater has been used to film movies and commercials for products such as Nikon cameras and Dr Pepper.

Doors open at 10:40 a.m. The two-hour tours will be led by docents, and tickets are priced at $10 for the public and $1 for foundation members.

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-- Bob Pool
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