Architect S. Charles Lee’s ornate and lasting imprint upon what would eventually age into as the historic core of Downtown Los Angeles is often overlooked from the contemporary postcard perspective of the city. Yet, amongst local Angelenos, natives and adopted transplants alike, the corridors constituting L.A.’s most historically significant remnants of its architectural past – including the Broadway Theater District – are beloved for the “if you know, you know” hidden beauty hidden behind the closed doors of their dilapidated facades. And now, thanks to Apple and their partnership with collaborators Fosters + Partners, a grande dame of the Renaissance Revival style reemerges as a flagship retail destination where technology is framed by the beauty of that gilded age as the Apple Tower Theatre.
Apple’s director of retail design Doo Ho Lee and senior executive partner at Foster + Partners, Stefan Behling spoke to us about the great efforts made not only to modernize the deteriorating Tower Theatre’s interior and exterior for Apple’s own requirements as a retail and interactive events space, but more so about the extent their combined efforts dedicated to preserving and revitalizing the enormous wealth of historic detailing that remained within the 1927-era theater.
“You have to approach the restoration as you would approach the restoration of an old master painting,” says Behling, “Carefully peeling back the brine”. The Foster + Partners partner also would go onto note the delicate balance required of a restoration project rather than a complete renovation – as was the case with the recent renovation of a historic cafe turned store in Rome – where the interior already gutted offered a blank canvas. The landmark Tower Theatre on the other hand, while worn and forgotten, retained many of the treasures of its era, including exquisite plasterwork and gold and bronze detailing embroidering an interior inspired by the majestic Paris Opera House.
No expense or detail was spared in the attempt in this “true labor of love”, as described by Lee during a slideshow documenting the extensive efforts made to strip away decades of neglect characterized by the caked-on “delicious brown” layer encasing every inch of the theater’s interior at the start of the project.
Details range from the major to the minute, including the addition of a replica clock tower cap crowning the exterior, an architectural detail removed after an earthquake in 1971. Inside, individual decorative crystals were given delicate care, restored to again embellish guests with a glittery shower of light hung overhead from the entryway chandeliers.
The team’s architectural forensic diligence in retaining rather than replacing the theater’s original characterizes the overarching narrative of this restoration project, but a few changes have been made within the gleaming pantheon, including a refreshed and simplified trompe l’oeil skylight mural, the addition of much more comfortable Italian leather seating, and some behind the curtain acoustic A/V alterations to allow Apple to host events within the space.
Now open to the public, the Apple Tower Theatre will operate not only as a retail space, but also as a hosting platform for Apple Creative Studios, including a global initiative for underrepresented young creatives as part of the ongoing Today at Apple programming offered in Apple Store locations worldwide. In collaboration with the nonprofit Music Forward Foundation, as well as Inner-City Arts and the Social Justice Learning Institute, Creative Studios LA will provide access to technology, creative resources and hands-on experience, along with a platform to elevate and amplify up-and-coming talents’ stories over nine weeks of free programming.
The converted cinema will also play host to public in-store sessions and virtual sessions hosted by Creative Studios teaching artists and mentors, including photographer and filmmaker Bethany Mollenkof, rapper and producer D Smoke, singer-songwriter Syd, and cellist and singer Kelsey Lu. Noah Humes and his mentor, Maurice Harris, two artists who worked on the mural outside Tower Theatre inspired by the spirit of Creative Studios LA, will also teach a virtual session. Register for these events at apple.com.