Standing in the middle of the historic Orpheum Theatre, Steve Needleman is surrounded by d & #233;cor so lavish it almost hurts your eyes. There are ornate chandeliers, each laden with 240 lights that shine like candles. There is the original shiny gold leaf that sparkles from the towering ceiling that looms over the theater opened in 1926. The lavishness clearly reflects the roaring era that immediately preceded the Great Depression.

Workmen bustle as they put the finishing touches on refurbishing the heavy birch wood doors near the entranceway and the yellowing marble walls in the foyer.

When Needleman and his crew finish renovating the 75-year-old theater, located in the historic core of Broadway in downtown L.A., the 2,040-seat facility will be a prime venue for concerts, film festivals, movie shoots and an array of theatrical productions.

It might also be a catalyst for fulfilling the long-held goal of converting a tawdry six-block section of Broadway, now filled with bargain-basement clothing stores and jewelry shops, into a busy night spot filled with dance clubs, bars, coffeehouses, restaurants and theaters. It is the hope of Needleman and others that the Orpheum will attract the growing number of residents moving into the area's new trendy apartment buildings and airy lofts.

"I see the Orpheum being the first of many theaters and spots open at night on Broadway," said Needleman, whose father, successful local garment entrepreneur Jack Needleman, bought the beaux-arts theater at 842 S. Broadway in 1964. It is one of dozens of historic commercial buildings that the family acquired in downtown L.A.

The 46-year-old Steve Needleman, a man given to practical shoes and monogrammed white shirts, is one of dozens of investors, entrepreneurs and designers throwing their energy into developing a host of restaurants, nightclubs and entertainment venues in downtown Los Angeles.

Needleman is spending millions of dollars to fix up the Orpheum, whose roof-top sign with hundreds of blazing light bulbs hasn't been lit since World War II. Now that a $30,000 renovation of it has been completed, the sign will soon once again illuminate the downtown scene.

Pride of ownership

Needleman clearly takes pride in showing off the opulent old movie palace to visitors.

"My biggest pleasure is when I bring in the preservationists who have seen these theaters on Broadway," Needleman said. "This is the first (theater on Broadway) to actually be renovated and brought into first-class condition for stage production."


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