August 09, 2018

Photo Essay: Catedral de la Fe Flips Back To The State Theatre (Updated for 2021)

[Update 6/12/21 1:55 PM PT—The latest development is that the former church congregation that left in 2018 is now back in the State Theatre]

I'm all for congregations taking over historic theaters and running church services out of them.

circa 2012

It's a common practice—from the United Palace in Washington Heights, Manhattan (perhaps my first foray into an ecclesiastical redo of a movie palace) to the Academy Cathedral in Inglewood and the United Artists/University Cathedral Church (now the Theatre at The Ace) just down Broadway in Downtown LA.

Many times, those religious communities are a saving grace of historic and potentially otherwise threatened properties.

In the case of The State Theatre at Broadway and 7th in Downtown's Historic Broadway Theatre District...

...the "Cathedral of Faith" operated out of the former Loew's State (one of dozens in the country to operate under that name) until early 2018...

...after 20 years of conducting services there and keeping the riffraff out (including forbidding photography inside).

Now, a restoration effort has launched to return the 1921 movie place to its glory days, sell tickets out of its box office again, and welcome moviegoers back under the circa 1949 neon marquee. [Ed: That may not happen now that the church is back.]

I recently got the chance to return to the State, as its transformation back into a theatre had just begun, and snap some "before" photos—though, in actuality, the theater is in kind of a purgatory between its original life as a cinema, its divine purpose as a house of worship, and its born-again identity as an entertainment venue.

Some ornate touches had been added to the original Spanish Renaissance design by San Francisco-bed firm Weeks and Day...

...and those are are now being stripped away.

But the original tile work (both glazed terra cotta and mosaic) is easily recognizable...

...and many of the architectural and design features are returnable to their original appearance.

From the outer lobby, you can climb the main stairs (past where the snack bar used to be in the 1940s) up to the north walkway...

...admire the coffered ceiling of the upper lobby...

...ignore the baptismal tub as you examine the former tiled fountain...

...and get a closer look at the terra cotta detailing...

..and the grotesque gargoyles perched atop the pilasters right outside the balcony entrance, just one of the many evocations of a Spanish castle interior.

From the top, you can get a good look at the Spanish Rococo ceiling (and non-original chandelier)...

...and the ecclesiastical stained glass windows that the church obviously added to the proscenium boxes, below the former organ grilles, after moving in.

I actually really liked the religious imagery of the stained glass.

I kind of hope they keep them.

As it returns to public use, The State has incredible potential, being the largest theatre on Broadway in terms of number of seats (also housed in LA's largest brick-clad building).

In addition to its projection facilities, it's also got a stage that's nearly 28 feet deep...

...thanks to having been used both as a vaudeville venue and a movie palace in the 1920s.

In 1932, though, its programming switched to exclusively films.

Among the throwbacks from that era that can still be found at The State (never removed by the cathedral) include an Armstrong-Powers asbestos fire curtain (with a reportedly crazy design)...

...and original counterweight rigging with lockrail, as the church actually did use some backdrops and other set pieces in their ceremonies.

Like many of the historic Downtown LA movie theaters, The State ran Spanish language programming in the 1960s and was used as a filming location in the 1990s.

One of the more intriguing developments in the re-secularization of The State is the opportunity to revitalize its basement...

...which opened in 1922 as the Leighton Co-operative Cafeteria.

At the time, it provided an affordable meal in a comfortable setting...

...with the dining room sufficiently separated from the service area for minimum clatter and chaos.

Although the space is pretty raw right now, its original Moorish details (including wall murals, tiles, plasterwork arches, and ) are largely still visible...

...though some have been painted over in white, and the white-clothed dining tables are gone.

The electrical gear appears to be intact, but I didn't dare test it.

A lot of the construction that the church ordered down there (including walling off areas into individual offices and rooms and adding a wooden staircase) has been demolished in the short time since the sacred tenant vacated the premises—but there's still a lot of work to be done.

It's nice to see some movement happening, though. In the immortal words of Oscar Wilde (and appropriated by Wily Wonka), the suspense is terrible.

I hope it'll last.

Related Posts:
Looking Up from the Streets of Downtown LA (Updated for 2017)
Photo Essay: The Ace Hotel & Its Rehabilitation of the Historic United Artists Theatre

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