Peek Inside A Historic Chinatown Theatre That's Now A Cool Hotel & Creative Hangout

It was previously home to Willard Ford (yup, Harrison's son).

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Chinatown's Kim Sing Theatre has had quite a few acts in its 92 years. Situated at the low-key intersection of North Figueroa and Alpine Streets just off the 110 freeway, the historic landmark opened in 1926 as a vaudeville house, then became the Spanish-language Carmen Theatre (which was rumored to have sparked the zoot suit riots), before screening kung fu double features as a Chinese theatre between the late '60s to '80s.

In 2000, Willard Ford — yup, son of Harrison — bought the property for a cool $300K and transformed the building into a live/work space that housed a fashion showroom, a gym (complete with a competition boxing ring), and event venue. Ford told HGTV that the space had been "abandoned for about 15 or 16 years" before he spent five years renovating it, keeping original architectural elements like the neon marquee and bow truss ceilings.

He sold the building two years ago for $3 million to Silver Lake-based real estate company Indra & Co, which has opened the Kim Sing Theatre to the public as a boutique micro-hotel and cool hangout spot. While the fitness studio has since relocated not far to Spring Street, the development firm kept most of the 10,000-square-foot-space intact, including the kitchen, communal areas, outdoor courtyard, and the two-story residential loft (where three bedrooms serve as hotel rooms).

"Since the beginning, we knew we wanted to give guests the opportunity to stay the night or host an event in this historic, old building that was once a vaudeville theatre," Indra & Co. founder Ash Pathi tells us. "We played around with different ideas for the tenant spaces along the front of the property, and ultimately decided a coffee shop was a must. From there, we built out the rest of our plans."

Cool Brazilian coffee shop S P L A brings its South American Photo: S P L A

In addition to housing a chic three-room hotel (Katy Perry superfans may recognize it from her Witness tour pop-up last year), the former movie theatre is now home to S P L A (São Paulo to Los Angeles), which brought Brazil's community-focused coffee culture to LA in September. Founded by coffee industry vets Alex Kipling (who helped open Portland-based Nossa Familia Coffee's first LA location) and Vincent Choi, the specialty java shop serves up Batida (pronounced bah-cheetah), an iced coffee with coconut cream, passionfruit, and condensed milk; pão de quejio (pow dee kay-ju), or Brazilian cheese bread; and the Big One, a citrusy espresso drink finished with ginger spice, to name a few menu items.

There's also Good Idea!, a 725-square-foot creative space that's available for co-working, intimate gatherings, and more events. For a minimum of three hours ($70 per hour), you can rent out the stylish hub, which boasts plenty of seating, two bars, and a "very pink ADA bathroom."

The latest to open its doors is Gentlemen in Real Life (G.I.R.L.), the streetwear label founded by Jason Aalon Butler, the frontman of Grammy-nominated punk band The Fever 333. He and wife, New Zealand-bred singer Gin Wigmore, took over the space around the corner from Good Idea! and S P L A for the unisex brand's first-ever store, which stocks tees, pullovers, and hats alongside men's grooming essentials.

For KST hotel guests, there's plenty more to see, eat, and shop nearby. Over on Broadway, there's the iconic Chinatown Central Plaza, home to vegan-friendly food stop Burgerlords, cult-cool fashion and zine boutique Ooga Booga, and home decor store Realm, to name a few. Across the street, LA accessory label Building Block's flagship stocks minimalist chic leather carryalls, like bright red barrel bags, black box bags with acrylic handles, and its signature disc bucket cross-bodies. And further south on Broadway, hungry foodies can fill up at the food hall at Far East Plaza, where options include Nashville hot chicken eatery Howlin' Ray's, NY-bred Baohaus, LA-bred chef Roy Choi's Chego, Filipino resto Lasa, and ice cream shop Scoops, among many others.

But back to KST: To learn more about the theatre's revival, we recently had a chat with Pathi to find out what attracted him to the historic building and the incredible stories he heard from longtime community members — read on below, and scroll through the gallery above to take a peek inside the former vaudeville haunt-turned-hotel (including its very 'grammable courtyard and rooms).

What drew you to invest in the Kim Sing Theatre?

Kim Sing Theatre's historic background and significance is what initially attracted us to
the space. The building is a blank canvas that allows us to do a lot with it — both commercially and residentially. My team's and my background is in commercial real estate, hospitality, and events so we have been able to take this unique concept and apply our knowledge.

We loved that [Willard] retained a lot of the original materials and design elements, while still incorporating modern amenities. His vision of putting a 2,000-square-foot courtyard within a home resulted in an oasis right in the middle of the city. From the outside, you would never expect the interior to look the way it does.

We have added to KST by giving it new life as an event space and hotel, while adding to
the community by bringing them culinary and retail options.

What was your first impression of the space, and did you discover anything interesting?

The marque was the first thing that grabbed us when we saw the property. When you see
photos of the inside, it is hard not to question if it's actually the same space you see from the outside. The exterior does not match the interior, so when I was physically walking the building for the first time, I was really surprised to see how open it really is.

One of the most unique experiences has been meeting people who came here when it was a theater. Hearing their nostalgic stories about the sticky floors, cigarette smoke blocking the screen, and the smell of popcorn have been fascinating. Walking under the original marquee is also an extraordinary experience.

What do you love about the neighborhood?

I love the neighborhood for the fact that its sense of community is so strong. We are right within apartments and homes with residents who have lived here for decades and to be a part of a unique community with a vibrant culture is something we do not take for granted. Since the beginning, our goal has been to make sure the businesses we bring in and the events we host have a positive impact.

What other types of tenants do you hope to add next?

All the spaces are fully occupied at this time, but you never know what the future will hold!

Kim Sing Theatre, 718 North Figueroa St., Los Angeles, 90012; (310) 570-2380. S P L A is open from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily; Gentlemen In Real Life is open Wednesday through Sunday from 12 to 6 p.m. and closed Monday and Tuesday.

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