In pre-covid times, I frequently travelled domestically and internationally for work and would invariably forget a key item — a wall plug adaptor, a USB-C microSD card reader, you name it. The easiest way to track down those items was usually the Apple store in whatever city I was in, so needless to say I’ve seen many of them, some more grandiose than others.
Apple’s most iconic location, to me, is the one in New York’s Grand Central Terminal. I used to work a few blocks away on Madison Avenue, and whenever I needed a device repaired, I’d end up sitting at the Genius Bar beneath the Beaux-Arts building’s starry ceiling mural. Apple’s newest store, located in Los Angeles, won’t have quite the same energy as the Grand Central location’s perch above the bustling Grand Concourse, but it’s somehow even more extra — and I’m not just saying that because I live in LA now.
The company is opening an Apple store in downtown LA this week, but this isn’t just any run-of-the-mill Apple store. Apple in 2018 announced its plans for the landmark Tower Theatre, which was built in 1927 but has been vacant since 1988, and turned it into the most stunningly ornate retail store I’ve ever seen. Part of me is sad that a beautiful movie theatre is now another site for slinging iPhones, but I’m also glad that this historic jewel is open for literally anyone to enjoy, no ticket required.
Click through to see photos of the store today — and what it looked like in its original glory.
Looks Like an Old-Timey Theatre, but It’s an Apple Store
Apple appended its logo to the front of Tower Theatre. The store, now known as Apple Tower Theatre, is located on 8th Street and Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Apple restored the building’s clock tower and recreated the marquee and Tower signage to mimic the original’s.
Non-Angelenos may be most familiar with the area due to its setting most recently in Netflix’s Crime Scene: Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel — the former Cecil is just a couple of blocks away. True crime docs aside, downtown LA has a lot going on. The Tower Theatre is not far from the Staples Centre, which makes it a draw for both tourists and locals, and there’s extremely good food nearby (Cole’s for French dips, Sonoratown for tacos).
OK, taking off my Los Angeles welcome wagon pin. Let’s move on to the new store’s interior.
Making an Incredibly Grand Entrance
If you, like me, prefer to feel like royalty when you plunk down $US150 ($192) for a pair of AirPods, Apple Tower Theatre’s lobby (yes, this is just the lobby) will definitely lend your purchase a more regal vibe.
The original lobby’s design was inspired by the Paris Opera house, and marble Corinthian columns abut the staircase. This is, needless to say, an extremely fancy way to begin a shopping experience.
I grew up Catholic, so I love an over-the-top stained glass/dramatic lighting situation, and Apple Tower Theatre has that in spades. Peer closely at the window and you can see its fleur-de-lis pattern has a celluloid film strip running throughout. According to Apple, the purple stripe you can see was found only on early sound film, which is fitting, because the Tower Theatre was the first movie theatre in Los Angeles wired for sound.
This Place Sells iPhones
At the heart of Apple Tower Theatre is, of course, the store part. This is where you can look at MacBooks, Apple Watches, AirPods, etc., etc., etc. in what used to be the theatre’s auditorium. It’s strange to think that almost 100 years ago, people who would never encounter an iPhone were watching the first films with sound in this exact spot.
Then and Now
It’s honestly wild that the entire character of this grandiose space has changed while so many details remain the same. The upper balcony is no longer theatre seating, but a place to wait for your Genius Bar appointment. The screen sadly no longer shows films, but instead plays Today At Apple sessions.
But given that the theatre has been unused for the last 30+ years, perhaps this is the better use of its space.
I’m No Designer, but…
One design decision I do not love is the choice of this seating for the upper balcony Genius Bar. I realise this is a high-traffic area, but it feels out of place with the ornate detailing of the rest of the theatre. (I’m sure the benches are comfortable, though.)
The Best Part
The dome above the store is not a skylight letting in the constantly perfect Los Angeles light. It’s actually a painting, and while it takes inspiration from the original dome’s art, that one featured cherubs (not really the vibe for 2021) and was also painted over in a previous restoration effort.
The cut-outs on the wall adjacent to the dome are an original detail. They were designed for better acoustics for those sitting in the balcony, and Apple decided to leave them intact rather than fill them in.
At the End of the Day, It’s Just an Apple Store
I don’t get excited about the opening of a store — any store — but I love classic films and Los Angeles history, and this opening is a tribute to both in its own way.
Apple isn’t new to restoring old buildings for retail purposes. The company recently opened a new store in Rome in the Palazzo Marignoli, built in 1873, which was also an impressive transformation. The company called its restoration of Central Public Library in Washington, DC, which opened in 2019 as Apple Carnegie Library, its most “extensive historic restoration project to date.” The company hasn’t said how much any of those renovations cost, but if I had to put a number on it, I would say: a frankly absurd amount.
Those buildings are also beautiful, of course, but to me, Apple Tower Theatre is the best of the bunch — and not just because it’s so close to home.