By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It's a glamorous profession, I think to myself, and then prepare to leer again.
NIGHTLIFE: The Decadence of Decay
HIPSTERS WERE OVERFLOWING Memory Lane: 30-something girls in '40s dresses, shoes with ankle buckles, Louise Brooks bobs and wide-brimmed, feathered cartwheel hats; boys in saddle shoes and white dinner jackets with crisp poplin shirts. This was the Black & White fund-raiser, the coming-out party for the Downtown Theater Trust, a new nonprofit that is planning to restore the Palace Theater with virtually all volunteer help and no revitalization budget. Fag hags, hag fags, trannies, musicians, women with enormous breasts, haute-couture wanderers and perennial loafers streamed across a deserted, after-dark Broadway last Thursday night, deftly avoiding the sleeping bodies curled up like fetuses against the Palace. On nights like this, Broadway is probably the most depressing street in Los Angeles.
Spatial reinvention "without compromising history" seems to be the intent of developer Tom Gilmore, whose offices are housed in this 91-year-old building and who gave his blessing to colleague Dawn Garcia to try to rally the art and performance crowd to the dilapidated theaters of L.A.'s forgotten White Way. Almost as a selling point of what shape the "new Broadway" might take, there was the entertainment of the EZ Bake Coven -- a bizarre coterie of doll-obsessed sketches, songs and multimedia put-ons led by Silver Lake scenester/bluegrass enthusiast/comix writer Dame Darcy. Tours were conducted by a young L.A. Conservationist with L.A. Eyeworks specs who had an enthusiasm that was not so much infectious as quixotic. Like any good docent, he liked the reverie, got excited over minutiae, went up against the drunkenness of the party guests like a matador as the tours became death marches of exhausted souses in period detail schlepping up and down the marble steps of the venue, desiring another cig (or doob) to feed their concrete lungs. (When the guide explained that the more extensive restoration involved replacing the stage's hemp riggings, a couple of people lamented, "Awwwwwww.")
Faced with this, the guide could only gesture helplessly at the acid-trip melts of the theater's Florentine palazzo exterior: "If you look closely you can still see the O in Orpheum!" There were the old hand-cranked elevators run by black gentlemen with impossibly sonorous basso-profundo voices -- in a theater famous for its old, second-floor balcony earmarked "For Negroes Only." There were the obligatory ghost stories: We were told the legend of the Palace's quiet projectionist who collected the cremated John Does from the downtown L.A. morgue. After he died, workmen discovered their urns stored in a cabinet in the projection booth. The dressing rooms looked more like slaughterhouse pens, stripped of any opulence, including wall paint, besmirched with gangsta graffiti as intricate as the terra-cotta swags outside. Tiny tins of Veleno Poison were shoved into corners. There was the catacomb-like booth with the ancient Simplex XL film projectors that, we were told, could explode and kill a projectionist. Underneath the pen-like mezzanine area that used to house unaccompanied females (aahhh, the good ol' days), the guide was asked about the yellow graffiti on the front sidewalk, reading: "I've been in this town so long . . . I've been taken for lost and gone and unknown for a long long time." "Uh, I have no idea where that's from," he mumbled.
Strange, since his tour had morphed into a treatise on the fascination of decay -- the patina of neglect, like the layers and layers of paint that made the walls of Al's Bar like the punk Wailing Wall. After so many years, the effluvia of time collected -- the dust, the graffiti, the cracks, the rat shit, the places where stray animals gave birth, or people forgotten and unloved squatted or expired -- has grafted itself onto the history of these old palaces. One wonders if these stray inhabitants have as much right to be here as what was once here.
We can't see what the preservationists see: the thrill of discovery, of pulling back the old tarps and finding something that has been held in a frieze for so long that its function has shifted -- like a corpse so preserved that it has turned to soap. In this way, yes, Broadway on nights like this is thoroughly depressing.