September 13, 2022

Photo Essay: Inside the Apple Takeover of the Tower Theatre on Broadway in DTLA

Back in 2012, I had what I thought at the time was a "last chance" to get inside the Tower Theatre on Broadway in Downtown LA before it got renovated for some other purpose.

circa 2018

But it actually took much longer than expected. 
And instead of immediately becoming a nightclub or being revitalized as a theatre, it continued to stay open until 2017, hosting occasional film shoots and concerts.  
When it finally closed in 2018, it was for a multi-year renovation to transform it into an Apple Store (Apple's 26th in the LA area). 
It opened in June 2021 to much fanfare. Apple tends to get a lot of attention for its new store openings. 
But this one attracted some people who were more interested in iOS than in S. Charles Lee (the theatre's architect).

It was nice to see the run-down theatre get some love and attention—and some desperately-needed work done, including cleaning up its terracotta cladding (and replacing the top of the clock tower, which had been removed after damage from the 1971 Sylmar earthquake).

But it was sad to see it lose some of its ornamentation, especially on the West 8th Street façade, which used to bear ghost advertisements for old newsreels.

And while the vertical sign has been spiffed up, its incandescent bulbs illuminating the letters TOWER brightly, it's now branded with an Apple logo.
In many ways, the exterior renovations feel like a major improvement, no longer boarded up or crusty and peeling. The marquee was even returned to its circa 1927 look.

And certain features were kept—like the TOWER THEATRE medallion at the entrance. 

In the lobby (whose design was inspired by Palais Garnier - Opéra national de Paris), the moviemaking-themed stained glass window got to stay... did the original chandelier (though it's not original restored by K.C. Restoration). 
Some of the plaster details remain as well, though nearly everything has been painted off-white with metallic accents.

That includes ceiling florets, which are now tipped with gold paint. (The standee rail, however, did not survive.)
The atmospheric dome in the center of the auditorium ceiling has been redone, too—which now, perhaps unironically, represents "the cloud."

Restoration work on the proscenium included a repainted cartouche with detailed scroll patterns...

...flanked on each side by former singers' boxes and the balcony wings.

Looking back at the balcony from the main retail floor (the former auditorium floor, which had been leveled off back in 1988)... can examine the rehabilitated soffit fixtures... 

...and if you exit back out into the lobby, you can climb the grand staircase (with its bronzed railings)...

...pass through the marble Corinthian columns of the unfortunately named vomitory...

...under the coffered ceiling of the gallery level...

...and get a good view of the stained glass window and chandelier from the house right gallery. 
Upstairs, the balcony level is now home to the "Genius Bar," which hopefully you'll never have to visit (like I did when my previous laptop died in August 2021). There's no longer public access to the "cry room" or the projection booth. 
Don't miss out on yet another level of the former theatre to explore: the former basement lounge. 

There, you can see a marble drinking fountain at the landing...

...and a historical exhibit of artifacts and photos from the Apple restoration (reportedly in the area that once housed the theatre's air conditioning unit). 

The displays include bronze and wooden handrails in various stages of restoration, including fully refinished metals (with the attempt to retain some kind of patina on the bronze).

The Tower Theatre was my favorite of the LA Broadway theatres, maybe for its weirdness or its Frenchness or its neglect. Maybe it just needed more love than the other historic theatres along Broadway. 

But now it's a little heartbreaking to see it come back to life in this way, as something totally different, something that has taken the character out of it and made it so comparatively bland

I know it's better to save the theatre in this way, to reactivate it in any way, and allow public access to and enjoyment of it. But even though it had become somewhat derelict, I preferred it the other way. (See Related Posts below for circa 2012 views.)


  1. At 85, and a lover of the old theatres and their history, it is sad to see them transformed into such establishments but perhaps their auras will still emanate and touch a soul or two working there. Brava for helping us to remember and celebrate the 'golden days'!

  2. The chandelier in the lobby is the original, my company restored it!

    1. It's an amazing fixture with over 170 bulbs and so many crystals! We had to have a guy come out from the headquarters of UL to inspect it!