Now that they’ve taken on Roman palazzos, orb-shaped floating nightclubs in Singapore, and historic Carnegie libraries in Washington, D.C., Apple and Foster + Partners have unveiled their latest collaboration: A new Apple retail outpost situated within a meticulously restored historic movie palace in Downtown Los Angeles’s Broadway Theater District. Impossible to miss on the corner of South Broadway and West Eighth Street, the new Apple Tower Theatre is set to make its grand debut this Thursday, June 24.
Completed in 1927 on a rather diminutive lot amid a flurry of theater construction along a six-block stretch of Broadway that began in 1910 and continued through 1931, the Tower Theatre is one of the most opulent of the dozen surviving historic movie palaces flanking the storied strip. Designed by S. Charles Lee, who also designed the neighboring Los Angeles Theatre and a multitude of other majestic movie palaces throughout Southern California and beyond during the early 20th century, the Baroque Revival style Tower, as detailed by the Los Angeles Conservancy, is noted for its namesake clock tower, ornate terra-cotta facade, and lavish interior modeled after the Palais Garnier in Paris.
Among other feats, the 906-seat theater was the first motion picture venue in L.A. to be wired for sound films and the first to be air-conditioned. More contemporarily, the building, following a period of abandonment that began in 1988, has housed an evangelical church and its lobby has been used as a retail space for vendors. (It’s also been a frequent filming location and has been featured, among others, in The Last Action Hero, Transformers, and is a favorite shooting spot for David Lynch.)
While some may balk at the conversion of such a grand structure into an Apple Store, the tech giant and Foster + Partners oversaw a painstaking, top-to-bottom restoration that garnered approval from preservation groups including the Los Angeles Conservancy, which noted it “is pleased to see this long-vacant building reactivated.” The Conservancy worked closely alongside Apple to ensure that the company’s proposed—now realized—plans to breathe new life into the Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument-listed building respected its historic character.
Based on just-released photography of the space, the Fosters + Partners-headed project design team, working with preservationists, restoration artists, and the City of Los Angeles, pulled off a herculean feat: converting the Tower Theatre into a high-traffic iPhone emporium while also reviving its architectural splendor. In a news release, Apple refers to the newest store as one of its “most significant restoration projects to date.” Per Apple, the project, among other elements, involved the refinishing of every interior surface throughout the theater, the restoration of the iconic clock tower, the renovation of its historic blade sign, recreating the Broadway-facing marquee, and a meticulous terra-cotta scrub-down. The building also received an all-important seismic upgrade and two new elevators were added for improved accessibility.
Inside, within the balcony-flanked heart of the old theater, Apple customers will find The Forum, an informal gathering space for demonstrations and events including Today at Apple, a daily series of free informative sessions that are “led by Apple teams and members of the local creative community to provide inspiration and teach practical skills.”
Apple’s news release goes on to note that the “expansive auditorium, surrounded by embellished arched bays and restored bronze, displays all of customers’ favorite products,” while the Tower’s original upper-level seating has been “modernized and made accessible to create an open, flexible space for Genius Bar appointments.”
While the Broadway Theater District, home to a network of Latino-owned small businesses, has remained largely devoid of big global chains in its recent history, Downtown L.A.’s historic core is now undergoing a fast-moving transformation as big-box retailers and hospitality brands, including Urban Outfitters (the Rialto Theater) and Ace Hotel (the United Artists Theater), revive and reactivate Broadway’s concentrated wealth of historic theaters, many of which had gone to seed over the decades. Just north of the Apple Tower Theatre on Broadway and West Fourth, near Grand Central Market and the famed Bradbury Building, the neighborhood’s first high-rise constructed in over a century, a 35-story luxury residential tower, opened to residents this spring. Now, new arrivals to the neighborhood won’t have to wander too far when their iPhones bite the dust.