Apple converts 1920s downtown LA theatre into show-stopping store

Apple Tower Theater in downtown Los Angeles brings the roaring 20s into the 2020s

La Balcony View Screen in Apple Tower Theater in Los Angeles, California
(Image credit: press)

Apple has raised the curtain on its new Los Angeles flagship, Apple Tower Theater. Open from Thursday (24 June 2021), the historic art deco theatre has been painstakingly renovated into a creative hub for the 21st century, that echoes Apple's global commitment to historical renovation.

A short history of Tower Theater

Opened in 1927, beloved local landmark Tower Theater has quite a history. Designed by renowned theatre architect S. Charles Lee, in what was his very first project of its kind, the first film showed was comedy The Gingham Girl. After entertaining LA for over half a century, Tower Theater finally closed its doors in 1988, becoming a protected piece of architecture the following year.

In its glorious heyday, the historic Broadway theatre district in downtown LA would have been ‘the place to go; full of life', says Stefan Behling, senior executive partner at Foster + Partners, longtime Apple design collaborator. He continues, ‘The area has since retained its edge, and relation to the arts.'

Archival photograph of Tower Theater in LA compared to a modern day Apple one

Archive photography showcases how the theater looked traditionally, compared to how it looks today

(Image credit: press)

Apple: The Sequel

Working with a team of preservationists, the Apple design team, alongside a taskforce of local artisans and craftspeople, used innovative techniques like 3D laser scans and forensic paint studies to understand and replicate the original colours and textures found in the old theatre. More traditional techniques were used too, including ‘tipping', a stippling method used to prevent brush marks. ‘This project has been a true labour of love,' says Doo Ho Lee, director of retail design at Apple.

‘Everything was covered in this delicious brown,' says Behling, of the long-shuttered space, pre-renovation. Though the nicotine sheen gave a certain charm to the art deco crystal chandelier, it certainly dazzles now, since being lovingly cleaned in a process that took months of work and dedication. ‘You have to approach the restoration as you would approach the restoration of an old master painting, carefully peeling back the brine'.

Detailed bronze elements were discovered throughout, nowhere more impressively than the lobby staircase, the glamorous bronze handrail of which steals focus. Glance up, and a once cherub-filled ceiling mural has been toned down with a more minimalist blue-sky-and-cloud painting, created to mirror the California sky beyond. Elsewhere, plush leather seating is similar to that of the theatre in Apple Park, while also nodding to the cinema-style seating that archival photographs reveal once occupied the space.

Italian leather seating at Apple Tower Theater in LA

The theater’s original balcony seating has been modernised and reformed in Italian leather

(Image credit: press)

Design collaboration

Despite designing during a pandemic, which forced many of the conversations online, the 12-year-long creative relationship between Foster + Partners and Apple continues to showcase results. ‘Apple will go all the way with the design details of a space; they treat their store design with the same love and care as they do a product,' says Behling.

As well as a collaboration between Apple and Fosters + Partners, there's a sense that this is also a form of partnership with original architect S. Charles Lee, whom Behling refers to as ‘my esteemed colleague'. ‘We always ask, "What would the original architect think?"' As with all contemporary Apple retail architecture which is housed in historic buildings (see Washington DC, Rome, and Paris examples) preserving the charm of the original space is of great importance.

Introducing Today at Apple Creative Studios LA

Using the new downtown Los Angeles flagship as its first base (before rolling out in Apple stores in locations globally), a new community-centric initiative developed by the Today at Apple programme is also launching. The project will provide hands-on experience and mentorship to young creatives.

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. Noah Humes and his mentor, Maurice Harris – two artists who worked on a mural that spans one exterior wall of Tower Theater – will teach a virtual session.

Outside Tower Theater in Los Angeles, a view from the street

The facade was carefully restored and replaced, using local LA artisans

(Image credit: press)

Apple Tower Theater La Chandelier Screen

The restored stained-glass window features a unique fleur-de-lis pattern with a coiled celluloid film strip and the purple stripe found only on early sound film

(Image credit: press)

The dome screen in Tower Theater LA

(Image credit: press)

The bronze staircase

The bronze staircase in the lobby

(Image credit: press)

A image of theatre

(Image credit: press)

La Oculus Screen in Tower Theater in LA

A ceiling mural mirrors a skylight

(Image credit: press)

Apple Tower Theater La Restoration Screen

Artisans restored, repaired, painted, and polished each surface by hand

(Image credit: press)


Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.