For DTLA Boosters, a Majestic New Apple Store Is More Than a Place to Buy iPhones

After a rough pandemic year that crippled the neighborhood, the unveiling of the tech giant’s new outpost on Broadway feels like a sign of things to come

Downtown’s two-decade-long revitalization has been highlighted by a series of landmark openings. The community’s first new mainstream supermarket in half a century, a Ralphs, debuted in 2007. The Ace Hotel that arrived in 2013 was seen as not just a place to stay, but a vote of business confidence in the neighborhood. Same with the Alamo Drafthouse that opened in 2019, shortly before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

This morning, another of the white whales will be reeled in: An Apple store will open at 10 a.m. in the historic Tower Theatre at Eighth and Broadway.

Apple talk in downtown goes back nearly 15 years. In 2007 there were discussions about locating a store on Grand Avenue. During the 2010s real estate brokers often whispered about the company kicking the tires on various retail spots. In August 2018 the Cupertino, California-based conglomerate finally announced that it had inked a deal for the theater at 802 S. Broadway owned by the Delijani family.

Nearly three years later, a flagship spot that both modernizes the 94-year-old edifice and preserves its historic components is opening. And downtowners are rejoicing.

apple store downtown
The Tower Theater, then and now

Photo courtesy Apple

“Steve Jobs himself said, ‘If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.’ That is certainly true of our beloved Apple Store, but it was well worth the wait,” said Blair Besten, executive director of the Historic Core Business Improvement District. “We have experienced such a tough year; this is a welcomed celebration and proof that we are going to continue to see downtown grow.”

Bill Cooper, a Realtor who has been selling condominiums in the area for 20 years, echoed the sentiment.

“This will be one of Apple’s best and brightest locations in the world,” enthused Cooper. “We’ll have international attention on a strip of Broadway that already features higher-end retail stores and flagship stores like Vans and Foot Locker.”

The Apple Tower Theatre, as it is formally called, marks the next chapter for a building that opened in 1927, and where the first film shown was the comedy The Gingham Girl. The Tower was the first theater to be designed by architect S. Charles Lee. Although Broadway at the time was home to multiple movie palaces, according to Apple representatives the Tower, with its bronze handrails and marble Corinthian columns, was the first one to be wired for sound, as well as the first to have air conditioning.

The theater would show films for the next six decades, but as downtown faded and moviegoers looked elsewhere for their entertainment, it suffered. The Tower closed in 1988, and except for occasional special events it has remained shuttered ever since.

apple store downtown
The view from the balcony

The new store is the 26th Apple outlet in the region, though the development process was far different than at retail spots everywhere, from the Grove to Old Town Pasadena to Sherman Oaks. During a Tuesday morning virtual preview, Doo Ho Lee, Apple’s director of store design for the Americas, described a painstaking renovation that started with assembling a “historic task force” that included preservationists and city representatives (the building is designated as Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument No. 450). The design team used archived images and 3D laser scans to create a model of the building. Decades-old details were restored, painted and polished by hand.

“Every surface was thoughtfully considered and the building has undergone a full seismic upgrade,” Lee said. “We conducted forensic paint studies and literally peeled back the history to reveal the original details, the colors, and the true beauty of Tower Theatre.”

That includes both interior and exterior work. The 1927 marquee was re-created, and the blade sign was renovated (with an Apple icon added). The entry lobby, with a red-carpeted staircase, has reclaimed the grandeur of the space, which was originally inspired by the Paris Opera house. Lee detailed how a stained-glass window was taken down piece by piece, cleaned and polished. A dome depicting a blue sky and billowy clouds was repainted (historic photos were consulted), though Lee admits, “We have left out the cherubs for this go-round.”

The building, naturally, is a mix of historic elements and modern tech touches. The spot under the proscenium arch that once held a movie screen today boasts a large video wall. Visitors can sit in the balcony, but now it is a place for Genius Bar appointments. In the opening weeks there will be free in-person and virtual sessions on topics including beat making and visual storytelling (on Apple devices, of course).

Company representatives said the store has nearly 100 employees, all of whom came from other Apple stores, and staffers speak Spanish, Armenian, Cantonese, and other languages. The price of the renovation was not revealed.

The launch includes a program called Today at Apple Creative Studios. Over nine weeks this summer Apple, teaming with the Music Forward Foundation and Skid Row-based youth education nonprofit Inner-City Arts, will offer free classes and other programs from music and entertainment figures. The company’s Ashley Middleton described the program as offering “career-building mentorship, professional industry skills training, access to technology and creative resources to under-represented communities around the world.” It will start in Los Angeles and Beijing before expanding to other markets.

The copious educational sessions, not to mention the sale of laptops, phones, tablets, and accessories, will draw downtown workers, residents, and others to the store. But for Cooper, it is also something else: a sign of things to come.

“Coming out of the last couple years, with COVID and the protests and all that stuff, it seems that this is the cornerstone for going forward,” he said.

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