The Apple Tower Theatre is worth a visit — yes, even if you’re team Android
It’s warm — like a spring day accidentally lost its way on the calendar and wedged itself in the wrong time of year. Days like this make you feel particularly smug about living in this part of the country. Outside, the sky is blue, calm and serene. And when I step inside the French renaissance building nestled in Downtown Los Angeles’ Broadway Theater District and look up at its domed ceiling, there it is again. A little cooler, a little more cerulean — a perfect sky.
You might think I’m standing in a museum or visiting some sort of a grand palace in France. No — this is an Apple store. It’s a place you can slip into to replace a broken charger, buy a new device or, if you’re a historic architecture buff, “just look around.” When I arrived, I was told that due to the recent Covid spike, we wouldn’t be allowed to wander through the space unsupervised. But then, Nick, an Apple employee clad in a uniform of a red t-shirt and black pants, came to our rescue and offered to show us around.
We follow Nick to the main ballroom, or the product zone, as he gives us brief historical context. When the Tower Theatre — designed by architect S. Charles Lee, who modeled it loosely after the Paris Opera house — opened back in 1927, it was the first theater to host “talkies.” In other words, films that played in sync with recorded dialogue. It was also one of the first buildings in the city to offer its visitors the glory of air-conditioning. (In fact, theaters are often credited with introducing artificial cooling to the public, a solution the industry came up with to the dropping attendance rates during the hot summer months. Hence, summer blockbusters.)
Nick shows us this important feature — round air-conditioning vents that run horizontally along the length of the walls, like the tone holes of a flute, hidden in plain sight within the gold decorative panels. There are a lot of original details like this that restoration experts worked to retain when breathing life back into the space that stood empty and derelict for close to three decades. Nick walks us down a staircase and through a hallway that showcases the before and after with factual communication on the restoration project.
Here, we read about how the team worked their magic, how they took molds of decorative elements, repaired and replaced the damaged pieces. We see a cast of a painted floret, learn how these casts were laser-scanned and studied for their “color, glazing, and gold tipping techniques” and replicated throughout the space. And in perusing this, it becomes easy to recognize just how much work went into all of this. Historic preservationists, a phalanx of artists and craftspeople, along with Apple’s design team, spent three years on the endeavor, bringing the historic building’s old splendors back again on display. (This also included a seismic retrofit).
In old photographs, the now-dazzling hall appeared tired and dark. The paint looked as though it was peeling into flakes. The palatial proscenium arch and its gorgeous cartouche — which hovers overhead, watching over visitors — was revived from its drab, burnt-wood color that cloaked all detail. As a whole, the space was brightened and reinvigorated, rendered in a color scheme that appeals to the tech giant’s aesthetic while still paying homage to the past.
We take the elevator to the upper-level balcony seating area, which boasts a breathtaking view of the whole space, with balustraded promenades overlooking the product zone. There are modern, plush leather seats on this floor, where visitors can sit during the store’s programs, classes and events. And when I gaze down to the main ballroom, I notice that the theater’s movie screen has been replaced by one of the sleekest, most gorgeous video walls I’ve ever seen.
I’m swept away by the beauty of it all, the jarring juxtaposition of Apple’s contemporary, almost futuristic ethos with the exuberant, old-world design and overall over-the-topness of this cultural landmark. It holds the imagination — in a way no other Apple store does, in my humble opinion. After all, this is a giant departure from the company’s all-glass façades, with its sterile, minimalist setups and polished steel accents.
I whip out my own device to capture everything. But standing here, with my hand outstretched, I feel self-conscious of my phone. Yes, I am an “Android person.” I’ve been an Android person ever since my aunt passed down her beat-up, brick of a Nokia phone to me in high school. What can I say? I grew up in a part of the world that tends to look at Android as the superior operating system. And while my mom fell for the forbidden fruit after moving to the United States, I stood my ground. And I’ve been OK with my decision so far. Proud, even. Until now.
No sooner have I entered this gilded monastery than thoughts of conversion begin to seep into my mind. I could get behind worship in a place like this. Even the iPhones, glimmering under the infinite light, spaced out and thoughtful in their display, seem art-like. And maybe I’m curious. In short, I’m totally smitten by this store and the incredible work that Apple has managed to accomplish here. The space is perhaps one of most beautiful stores I’ve ever visited — and an astonishing example of adaptive reuse. Is it going to change my mind about my mobile operating system of choice? Well, only time (and a few more visits to this store) will tell.