Look out, Britney.

Downtown's Broadway Theater District is another faded star that may be ready to stage another comeback after several failed attempts.

The area represents the largest concentration of pre-World War II movie palaces in the United States, with about a dozen historic theatres in the six-block stretch on Broadway from 3rd to 9th streets.

Broadway's backers base the latest hope for a revival largely on the repopulation of downtown. If retail and dining components can be added to a crucial stretch of the district, then a few of the old vaudeville venues can show performances and a couple of the movie theaters can again show films.

But there are big hurdles to overcome: parking is scarce, the area is blighted, and consensus has to be reached by the various property owners, who also have to finance the work.
And the work can be expensive. The vaunted 2001 Orpheum Theatre overhaul cost $3.5 million, and is the lone renovation among the storied group. The others are used as churches, a swap meet or even for storage.

"It's going to be a challenge because the demographic and dynamic has changed dramatically since the theaters were used," said Eduardo Martinez, economist with the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp. "It's a thriving Hispanic area that focuses largely on retail for the Spanish-language immigrant community. Broadway is not the best location for art house theaters and for features.

"On the surface it doesn't look all too promising, especially without restaurants and other components theater crowds look for."

However, there has been some retail development in the area. And as many as 5,000 residents could move into new apartments along Broadway and on Spring and Main streets nearby, according to the Historic Downtown Business Improvement District.

What's more, a city parking study has recently been approved a step that could go a long way in convincing national chains to come into the area as business tenants.

Past present

The area is now home to a vibrant pedestrian and Latino-oriented retail district by day, but the sidewalks are largely desolate after dark, and have been for decades.

The corridor was once a thriving Depression-era entertainment district, home to movie mogul Sid Grauman's first Los Angeles movie palace, the Million Dollar Theater, opened on Broadway in 1918; others were already established. The Cameo and Arcade were both built in 1910; the Globe in 1913; the Rialto in 1917, and the Palace and Orpheum in 1926, for example.


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