Is this the Tiki Theater?
What are you showing tonight?
What movies are you showing tonight...
Pornos! Three pornos...Come! You like!
What are their names?
What does the Tiki, an L.A. porn house, have in common with the St. George Theatre, a movie palace I helped keep alive in Staten Island way back in 1976? Well, for one thing, like every self-respecting single-screen theater in the mid-seventies, the St. George ran a little porn. Granted, it was soft, but it did attract an unusual clientele and required considerable clean-up. We did not have leather seats, alas.
I’m evoking the Tiki, end of a long long road, one that’s involved the three previous posts, exploring theaters on or near old Route 66, which wound, at mid-twentieth century,
...from Chicago to L.A.
More than two thousand miles all the way...
The Tiki happens to be on old Route 66, the last pure porn house in town, and, it is said, a silent theater built in 1919.
The conversation quoted above took place between my husband and whoever answered the phone there, proving that some people can still get their kicks on Route 66 (or at 5466 Santa Monica Blvd, as the USPS knows it these days).
Going from the ridiculous to the sublime, porn is the least of what you’ll find as 66 ends. The entire Broadway district, is chock-full of theaters. Since the district grew up at the same time as Route 66, it became a kind of glorious theatrical end for the iconic pilgrimage highway.
The National Parks Service waxes poetic on this subject, “As the western terminus of Route 66 between 1926 and 1936, the [Broadway] district was a portal to coastal California for a national audience ranging from Dust Bowl refugees to pleasure-seeking tourists.” To this declaration, the Los Angeles Times (2006), adds “...screen goddesses and guys in fedoras rubbed elbows with Army nurses and aircraft pioneers.”
Here’s a brief tour of theaters more or less still extant as show houses in downtown L.A.The United Artists (now the Theater at the Ace Hotel), presents an interior inspired by a cathedral in Segovia; the hotel grew up around it, a great example of adapted use, if that kind of thing must exist, and it must. Moving right along, Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights premiered at the Los Angeles Theatre, in 1931, but you can happily book your own event their right now. The Palace (originally known as the Orpheum before the other Orpheum opened nearby) became the Newsreel Palace, then just the Palace, and boasts the first decorative polychrome terra cotta in L.A. Meanwhile, the Spanish-Rococo State Theatre was doing time as a church until this year — but seems about to become a theater again, thanks to the Broadway Theatre Group who owns and lavishes TLC on it and three other district theaters. Hats off to these people. Don’t forget the Orpheum, the only house in the district that still has its Wurlitzer organ; and then there’s the Globe, a legitimate theater whose marquee received recent restored neon.
I’ve listed theaters that are still in some manner working houses, but a nod goes to: the Roxie, the Olympic, and the Arcade, all currently in retail, the Cameo, once a 775-seat Nickelodeon and these days a swap meet, the Mayan, a nightclub, the Warner Brothers Downtown, a jewelry store. The Tower, an S. Charles Lee renaissance revival gem, is destined to become an Apple retail location. The Los Angeles Conservancy seems pleased that this long-time vacancy will be filled. Such is the world.
By 1931, the original district housed so many theaters that it actually contained roughly 15,000 seats. Post millennium, half these theaters are doing duty as something other than theaters, but, well, they’re still standing; and the rest are, in some fashion or another, working houses. Shakespeare would approve, I think, and Marcus Loew as well (“We sell tickets to theaters, not movies.”).
In New York, and all the way across the U.S., the same can hardly be said. Let’s hear it then for L.A. and the Broadway Theater District, the only large concentration of movie palaces left in the United States.
As for Route 66, it's time for me to go home.
Afterthoughts and apologies:
1. My husband protests that he was only doing “research,” calling the Tiki on my behalf! Or was he thinking of hopping the red-eye?
2. I apologize for skipping over the last mentioned stop in the Route 66 song lyric, and giving short shrift to the one before it. So here’s to the Skyline Drive-In in Barstow, and the California Theatre of the Performing Arts in San Bernardino, which has a kick-ass ticket booth; check it out!
Next week I’m recalling a warm August night, when we took in Lawrence of Arabia, at a still-standing palace of some note in New York City, an original Loew’s Wonder Theater. While the movie’s on, you can gaze in rapture at the wide screen, but at intermission, all you can do is look up. Up’s the thing, baby.