You may not know who Thaddeus Hunter Smith is, but you definitely have seen his work. Smith is the owner of a little concert venue in Los Angeles called The Music Box. Have you heard of it? Of course you have because it’s one of the coolest concert venues in the city. Aside from being the man behind The Music Box, he is also the brain behind one of the space’s most remarkable features: the marquee.
The Music Box marquee is a Los Angeles institution, a product of the city’s being a commuter city. Sitting on Hollywood Boulevard, thousands of people walk and drive past the building. When there isn’t a concert or event being promoted, an inspiring quote is posted on the marquee. If you haven’t seen these quotes, they aren’t dainty, Hallmark inspirational quotes: they are brash, bold rockstar quotes that inspire you by kicking you in the pants.
“I don’t always put up nice stuff: I’ll put up things like, ‘You want what I got? Get up off your ass,” he says laughing, “I’ll get calls from the neighbors saying, ‘You put up “ass” on the marquee.'” Thaddeus–or Thad for short–has been putting up quotes on The Music Box for nine years, starting only two months after he took over the venue. The marquee was something Thad wanted to handle since day one: “The first thing I was thinking after taking over the space was that ten thousand people a day go past that marquee. If I don’t have a band or anything going on, I am going to start putting up sayings that will either make you think or say, ‘Oh my god: I should do that!’ or make you laugh or anything I can to put you in that moment.”
Thad wasn’t always at The Music Box. Before taking over ownership, he was an event planner who did all of the premieres for Columbia Tristar, he wrote for a food magazine, and even opened a restaurant on La Cienega (which has since moved to inside of the concert venue). It wasn’t until Thad was in The Music Box catering an event that he had the idea to take it over. Thad explained, “I was looking around and thought this place was all rundown and gross and thought it’d be really cool if I combined the three things in my profession: the event planning, music business (I wrote music for five years), and club nights, concerts, and charities.” Thus began The Music Box and Thad’s relationship.
Thad didn’t just walk up and buy the building: he had a dream, made a plan, and made it a reality–and he did it fast. “When I started, I had about $2000 dollars in my checking account. I had an idea and I made up a business plan and I raised $300,000 in ten days. And, I’ve been here ever since,” he said. Thad owns the venue with three other partners. They aren’t rich people or entitled people, they are just very savvy business people who wanted to make the space into a better place. That spirit paved the way for two complete renovations of the building (one of which was done very recently) and has placed more than just cool concerts in the space: Thad makes sure that the space is a center for all entertainment, which is why there are sometimes boxing matches, burlesque shows, after hours parties, and–what Thad cares about the most–charity events.
With all the success the space has gotten and brought him, the marquee is Thad’s baby, what he lives for. “I use it as a reason to enlighten people on a regular work day,” he says, “I get anywhere from fifty to a hundred e-mails a day from people going, ‘Oh my God: I needed to hear that!'” Thad also uses it for personal use, to solve problems he sees around him. He mentioned a story about how his Porsche had gotten a flat and they tried to make him buy an entire new set at an inflated price. After purchasing the tire he needed, he quickly posted “PORSCHE SUCKS” on the marquee and sent Porsche a message with the image attached. It wasn’t that long after when Porsche gave him a whole set of tires for free as an apology. “I believe that you have to be the answer to the solution because sometimes they don’t know the answer,” he says of situations like this, where he provides the answer as a positive affirmation.
The day we spoke with Thad, the marquee stated “BANK OF AMERICA SUCKS” and, even though the bank had recently announced fees on debit cards, the posting was in response to the big business wronging his little business. Thad explained that he wrote that on the marquee to prove a point: he took a photo of the marquee and brought it to the bank, telling them he could very well send it out to all forty thousand people on The Music Box’s newsletter if they don’t fix the problem. The bank fixed the problem immediately. “As a small business, we have to find ways to solve problems ourselves,” he says, which is one way the marquee speaks out.
But, as everyone has seen, the marquee is for inspiring. Thad is a man that lives to help others and entertain: the marquee is for the benefit of everyone. He mentioned that one month he didn’t post anything and was greeted with a deluge of calls and e-mails from people who live for his quotes because they inspire them and make their day. He even told us that a local AA group has carved his marquee affirmations into their program by having members visit the location every day to write down the quotes in a journal.
Thad pulls the quotes from all parts of life. Sometimes he makes them up, while other times they are a snippet from a movie or book taken out of context. He even said that very recently he went to see the movie The Warrior and, while in the theatre, took out his phone to e-mail himself something Tom Hardy said in the film. Thad is always thinking of his next quote, on top of all the other wonderful things he does for the city (which is a lot: he’s the president of the Hollywood Entertainment District, is on the Advisory Board for the Los Angeles Art Association, and is on the Board of Directors for Hollywood PAL, an organization that helps keep young people away from crime). Thad was actually rewarded very recently for all his hard work, where he was honored by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce as a 2011 Hero Of Hollywood.
Thad is one of the nicest, most creative persons in the city who exemplifies the city’s being born from creatives seeking to entertain and make people happy. And, of course, we had to ask what his favorite marquee posts were. The answer he gave was spread across three posts: “HOW MUCH OF YOURSELF WILL YOU GIVE UP FOR THEM!”; “FOLLOW UR DREAM NOW, THIS IS NOT A DRESS REHEARSAL!”; and “YOU MUST BECOME THE CHANGE YOU WISH TO SEE,” which was pulled from a speech given by Gandhi.
Last four photos via Thaddeus Hunter Smith.