The Broadway Theater and Commercial District is a six-block thoroughfare containing the vestiges of the Los Angeles theater and commercial center developed from the early 1890 1 s to the early 1930’s. The area is significant not only for this activity, but also for the high concentration of important architectural creations which document the development of both commercial and theater growth in Los Angeles, and the evolution of progressive design for these types of structures.

Prior to the turn of the century the commercial center in Los Angeles was located near the intersection of Spring and First Streets. The area of Broadway below Third Street was primarily residential until small businesses located there in the l89/0’s. Construction of the new city hall in the late 1860’s on Broadway between Second and Third Streets was a primary impetus in turning the commercial district southward to take advantage of the close proximity of municipal headquarters. By 1900, several large business structures including the Bradbury Building (l893), the Grand Central Market (Homer Laughlin Block in 1897) the Nelson Building (Grant Building in 1897), and several smaller blocks, the O.T. Johnson Block (1895), the Hubert-Thorn McAn Building (1900), and the Jacoby Brothers store (1900) began to change the Broadway skyline and pulled the business center further south.

The 1900-1910 period was a decade of rapid development in Los Angeles, as well as all of southern California. Broadway was a perfect example of this growth along just one street. Although many small blocks were built to about Sixth Street at this time, including the large O.T. Johnson Building (1902), Finney’s Cafeteria (Gebhart Building in 1904), the Reeves Block (1903), the Remick Block (1902), Karl’s Shoes (1903), and a number of small brick structures, the dramatic turning point in this development was the announcement that Hamberger’s (now the May Company) was going to build a large department store at Broadway and Eighth Street, then generally considered too far south of the business district. This statement by one of the city’s largest retailers was met with skepticism by local businessmen. However, as construction of Hamberger’s began in 1905, many investors followed suit so that before the end of the decade a number of important structures were added to the district including the Trustee Building and O.T. Johnson Building #2 in 1905. the Judson Rives, Bumiller, Hoffman, Norton, and Bullock’s buildings in 1906. the Blackstone, Forrester, and Parmelee buildings in 1907, the W.P. Story and J.E. Carr structures in 1908, and the Barker Brothers and Wilson Buildings in 1909. The Lankershim Hotel (1902) and the Yorkshire Hotel (J.D. Hooker Building in 1909) were built during this period to help support the district. By 1910, Broadway was the commercial and retail thoroughfare of the city.

In the next decade still more new structures appeared which increased retail trade and office space in the district. The Chapman Building and Baker Building (1911), the Jewelry Trades Building and Bullock’s-Hollenbeck (1912), the Metropolitan, Issacs, Cheney, and Broadway Mart Center buildings (1913), and the Merritt Building (1914) provided additional growth in this area. Clifton’s Cafeteria (Boos Brothers Restaurant in 1916) was also built at this time, as were many of the theaters that eventually made Broadway the theatrical center of Southern California.

The real estate and building boom of Southern California in the 1920’s is probably best illustrated in the further development of Broadway during this decade. A number of notable structures including Silverwood f s, Woolworth’s, and the Swelldom Building (1920), the Singer and Wood Brothers buildings (1922), the Metropolitan Theater Annex and the highly colorful Apparel Center Building (originally the Wurlitzer Building) in 1923 9 Desmond’s (1924), the Chester Williams Building (1926), the Anjac Fashion Building and the Fifth Street Store (1927), and the Ninth & Broadway and Eastern-Columbia buildings (1929-30) were all completed during this decade. Along with the Broadway Cafeteria (1928) and several more theaters, the district as it appears today was substantially complete by 1930. Other than Hartfield’s and Reed’s (1931) the only major changes since that time have been a number of facade alterations and the addition of several intrusions which include parking structures and small food stands.

As the commercial center of the Southland, the Broadway district continued to function in this capacity until well after World War II. As suburban shopping centers began to increase in number and popularity, major retailers along Broadway found it convenient to place regional stores in these centers to attract customers living a good distance from downtown Los Angeles. Along with other factors, the increase of these shopping centers diminished the trade that once came to Broadway. The area now serves a clientele that, for the most part, resides in and near the downtown area.

The development of Broadway as a commercial district coincides with its emergence as the theatrical center for the Southland. At the turn of the century the major theaters of Los Angeles (the Merced, Grand Opera House, and the Burbank)were located along Main Street. In 1903 the Mason Opera House (now demolished) opened on Broadway and began the accelerated development of the theatrical district on this street. The Orpheum (now the Palace), Clune’s (now the Cameo), and the Pantages (now the Arcade) opened in 1911 and were the first theaters to locate within the present district. Following these pioneers were the Morosco (Globe) in 1912, the Rialto in 1917, the Million Dollar in 1918, Loew’s State Theater (United Building) in 1920, the Metropolitan in 1923, the new Orpheum in 1925, the Tower in 1928, the Los Angeles in 1930, and finally the Roxie in 1931. Of these, only the Metropolitan has since been razed.

The importance of the theater district in the home of the motion picture industry is clearly evident. The theaters provided drama, comedy, and vaudeville presentations until full-length motion pictures became popular. Thomas Tally, Sid Grauman, Oliver Morosco, and others vied for the honor of city impresario as the theaters along Broadway became larger and more numerous. Theater architecture was more flamboyant than commercial styles and the influx of theatrical structures helped to provide variety for the Broadway streetscape. In all, theater development along Broadway provided a major source of revenue and a location for premieres for the movie industry, an important form of entertainment for Southern Californians, and a variety of architectural designs which gave a unique character to Broadway.

The zenith of the Broadway theater district was in the 1920’s. In 1922 the Egyptian Theater was built on Hollywood Boulevard in the midst of movie studios, and in 1926 Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theater opened further down the street. The major theater chains were now beginning to establish Hollywood as the center for motion picture theaters. Although several Broadway theaters were built as late as 1931, the new trend had already been clearly established.

It is surprising now that so many of the theaters built on Broadway have survived even though the theatrical center moved so long ago. The structures that remain on Broadway, typically flamboyant in design both inside and out, are still viable movie houses from both economic and functional standpoints. As older theatrical sections of many cities have since been leveled for new use, the Broadway theater network continues to provide motion picture entertainment in buildings that are remarkably intact considering their uninterrupted use over so many years.

Architecturally, the Broadway district contains some of the best examples of commercial and theater architecture in Southern California. The Bradbury Building, Million Dollar Theater, and Eastern-Columbia Building are well-known, and the Los Angeles Theater is considered to be the best example of theater architecture in the entire Southland. The district is represented by a number of important styles including American Commercial, Sullivanesque, Italianate (O.T. Johnson Block), Romanesque (Jewelry-Trades Building and the O.T. Johnson Building), Spanish Renaissance (United Building, Apparel Center Building, Million Dollar Theater, etc.)* French Renaissance (Tower and Los Angeles theaters), Italian Renaissance (Merritt Building and Swelldom Building), Spanish Baroque (Desmond f s), Gothic Revival (Anjac Fashion Building and Issacs), Art Deco (Woolworth f s, Hartfield f s, and the Roxie Theater), and Zig Zag-rMbderne (Eastern Columbia and Ninth & Broadway buildings), among others. Architects from New York (Schultze & Weaver), Seattle (B. Marcus Priteca), Oakland (Weeks & Day), and San Francisco (G. Albert Landsburgh, and Kenneth MacDonald, and the Reid Brothers), as well as local architects Morgan & Walls, R.B. Young, George Wyman, A.F. Rosenheim, A.C. Martin, A.M. Edelman, Meyer & Holler, J.M. Cooper, C.R. Aldrich, Walker & Eisen, Curlett & Beelman, S. Charles Lee, C. F. Whittlesey, and others have contributed to the architectural integrity of the street. Although not always consistent in scale, Broadway as a whole contains some of the best examples of commercial and theater architecture in Southern California that could possibly be integrated in such a compact area.