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Unexpected Downtown lofts: Living above the Orpheum Theatre

By Emily Chu
Published: Monday, August 06, 2012, at 01:54PM
Orpheum lofts Emily Chu

The entrance to Orpheum lofts is a few doors down from The Orpheum theater. The lofts and theater are connected by their respective lobbies and what property manager Jessica Needleman laughingly refers to as a "secret passageway" on the second floor.

Renee Hambley stood next to the wall of windows in her airy Downtown loft and looked out over Broadway. She motioned across the street to a view of the LA skyline and, more notably, the vivid turquoise Eastern Columbia building.

"Now I can enjoy seeing the Eastern, instead of living in it," she said, "It's nice to have that as a background."

Hambley and her husband, John Bidstrup, moved from the iconic Eastern building to an apartment across the street above the Orpheum theater three weeks ago.

It might be surprising to hear that somebody — not to mention dozens of other tenants occupying the 37 units in the building — actually lives at the venue that has hosted performances from the Marx Brothers, Alanis Morissette and Little Richard, and been featured in films ranging from "Alvin and the Chipmunks" to "The Artist."

Anjac Fashion Buildings, owned by the Needleman family, purchased the theater in 1964. In 2001, they began renovation on the theater and the rest of the building. The offices, which were previously rented out to sewing contractors and fashion designers, had walls put up and kitchens installed. Residential tenants began moving in November 2003.

Jessica Needleman, whose grandfather purchased the Orpheum, is both the property manager and a resident in the lofts. She lives in the space right above the stage.

"Everyone who comes to look at the building is interested in the theater," she said, "Over the years, as Downtown has become more popular and gentrified, that's our big amenity: it's the theater."

Like many of these people, the history and cultural significance of The Orpheum are part of what attracted Hambley and her husband to the lofts.

Still, Hambley and Bidstrup aren't your usual tenants.

"We like to move," she said, "We've moved probably 15 times in 25 years."

As a couple, they have a fast-paced lifestyle and personal philosophy. They met when Hambley was in front of the camera as a co-host of a morning television show in New York and Bidstrup was behind the scenes as the technical director of that same show.

One day, their eyes met across the studio and they started talking. They went on their first date in August and were married by November, 26 years ago.

"We don't want to be old, sitting in the nursing home and wondering, 'What if? What if we had gone to LA?' We don't want to regret that we didn't do something," Hambley said.

So they keep moving. For each new house or apartment or loft, Hambley creates a new color scheme and redecorates.

In a process Hambley affectionately refers to as "sloughing," she gets rid of furniture and other items that won't fit in with her new theme. One motif is constant across all of their homes, however: knickknacks from the Arts and Crafts period at the turn of the century and family heirlooms that Hambley hand-carries from move to move.

"Everything has a story. I like that," Hambley said.

For now, Hambley and Bidstrup are happy where they are. Still, the urge to keep moving persists.

"I think probably in five years we'll get another itch. It's a feeling," Hambley said.

But for now, "I love telling people, 'We live at The Orpheum,'" she said.


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