Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Photo Essay: The Million Dollar, Sid Grauman's First Movie House

The Million Dollar Theater is one of those historic Broadway theaters that's only open to the public for special events every now and then. But one of the things that sets it apart from, say, the Palace or the Los Angeles, is that it was one of the first.

And it's a real movie house. It was designed with a tiny stage and a sizeable orchestra pit to show silent movies, and not host stage shows.



Of course, The Million Dollar was also Sid Grauman's first movie house, before he helped move Broadway to Hollywood with the Egyptian and the Chinese - before his epic stage shows that preceded the movies. (Shortly after it opened in 1918, the prologues began.)



And because it came from movie house impresario Sid Grauman, The Million Dollar, in its Churrigueresque architectural style, is opulent.



It's not as crazily thematic as, say, the Egyptian, but its decorative features are exotic and atmospheric...



...with intricate lighting fixtures (many still original, like under the balcony overhang)...



...ceiling carvings and lit columns on either side of the proscenium.



Recent renovations over the years have covered up some of the features, though through a hole in the wall above the exit in the back of the auditorium, you can see faint traces of a ceiling mural.



The stage door / side entrances reveal a building that feels small in comparison to, say, the Los Angeles Theatre...



...tucked in between the Edison tower and the Bradbury Building...



...though with a seating capacity of more than 2300, it's quite large.



Upstairs...



...one can still spot traces of The Million Dollar's Hispanic heritage...



...having served as both a Spanish-language cinema and church until 2005, when it closed.



Up in the balcony...



...which seats nearly 1000...



...you can walk up stairs that lead to nowhere, once extending behind a striped wall that was added for sound insulation.



Apparently sconces and other original fixtures are preserved back there.



With neither air conditioning nor heating, these floor vents provided the only air circulation for the building.



Although The Million Dollar is actually in remarkably good shape (compared to The Tower), there are many areas that are cordoned off...



...though you can still peak into areas like the projection booth, replete with toilet on pedestal.



Backstage...



...the original ropes for the flies dangle, ripe for pulling...





...while various sets and construction pieces lie discarded.



Amongst various storage areas...



...are the dressing rooms...



...some of which feel somewhat modern (at least, late 20th century)...



...and others just spooky.



In the basement...



...you hear the whirr of electricity...



...and can spot an entrance to an underground tunnel that leads to one of the neighboring buildings...



...as well as recessed, underground river-adjacent, water-logged areas that require regular pumping.



The basement area has been modified several times over the years for various uses...



...including, once, a restaurant, though it's hard to spot the traces of it now.



You can, however, find lights, furniture...



...a pile of the original seats...



...and plenty of workshop-variety perils to bump against, trip over...



...or accidentally wander under.



The one thing about The Million Dollar was, it didn't feel abandoned. It still felt very much in use...



...as though the set pieces were merely on deck, waiting in the wings for their next performance.

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