by Zohra KhanJun 01, 2021
After approximately 33 years of abandonment, Los Angeles’ Tower Theatre has been sensitively revived as an Apple store by London-based Foster + Partners. Located at the intersection of South Broadway and West Eight Street in Downtown LA’s Broadway Theatre District, the project unveils the adaptive reuse of the iconic 900-seat movie palace constructed in 1927 by prolific motion picture theatre architect, S Charles Lee. The building is the first movie theatre in Los Angeles to be wired to show motion pictures, but was lying vacant since 1988. Originally featuring a striking Baroque Revival style populated by Italian, French, Spanish and Moorish elements, its new avatar "restores the distinctive clock tower and exterior terracotta facades, enhances historic interiors and improves the marquees and the Broadway Street elevation".
The project is the result of a close collaboration between Foster + Partners and Apple – a partnership that has produced a series of retail outlets for the multinational tech company. This includes transformation of a 17th century palazzo in Rome, a porous earthquake proof outpost in Beijing and a floating domed shell on Singapore’s Marina Bay.
On walking in through the glazed doorway of the theatre, visitors arrive at the grand lobby that leads to a majestic arched staircase with bronze railings. The heavy influence of Charles Garnier's Paris Opera House in the theatre’s architectural vocabulary is reactivated in the display of massive marble Corinthian columns flanked on the either side of the stairs.
Further into the building, the main theatre hall on the ground floor encircled by the theatre’s original balconies has been transformed into the store’s main display area and the forum. Keeping the architectural splendour intact, a distinctive video wall is positioned beneath the fully restored proscenium arch that once housed the cinema screen while low-height seating is provided in front of it for workshops and seminars. Additional seating is designed on the balcony level to provide visitors the best views of the forum space. Injecting vibrance to the overall space is the central dome of the theatre’s ceiling that has been reimagined with a fresco of the "calming golden sunshine of the southern Californian sky".
Foster + Partners retained most of the original elements of the theatre, but the ones with no hope of restoration have been altered with the help of casts of the original pieces. The components that were beyond repair and had to be taken out, are displayed in the basement. From the chandelier in the lobby to the casted railings on the staircase, every component is made to be the exact replica of the original, even going as far as to source them from the original location. The theatre tower also features a refurbished stained-glass window above the entrance, that has a one-of-a-kind fleur-de-lis motif, with a twisted celluloid film strip. It also has a purple streak which is found only on early sound film.
Stefan Behling, Head of Studio, Foster + Partners, states in an official release, “The design brings back the romance and excitement of the birth of cinema, recreating the idea of the 'place to be'. The exquisite detailing of the interior has been painstakingly restored. From today, Apple Tower Theatre will once again be alive with activity and celebrations that will return the vitality of urban life to Downtown LA." In addition to the efforts by Foster + Partners, various preservation groups including the Los Angeles Conservancy have also been a significant part of the project - Apple’s 26th location in greater Los Angeles. The store opened to the public on June 24, 2021.
(Text by Supreena Dash, intern at stirworld.com)