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Grauman's Chinese: the projection booth


A 1927 publicity shot of the usherettes in their Chinese costumes up in the booth playing with the arc lamps. It's a view that appeared in a special issue about the Chinese that Terry Helgesen wrote for Console magazine. The photo also appears as part of the Library of Congress collection and in the AMPAS Tom B'hend and Preston Kaufmann Collection.

1927 - opening - The booth was originally upstairs, flanked by the areas that later became two small private boxes.

1928 - talkies arrive - The theatre got a Western Electric sound installation in time for "White Shadows in the South Seas" in August 1928. And the Powers machines were, at some point, replaced by Simplexes.

1930 - Super Simplexes - We got a November 8, 1930 report from the Exhibitors Herald-World writer F. H. Richardson who visited the booth sometime in early 1930. He notes that the three Supers had the "new" Ashcraft Model 600 lamps. When Richardson was there he reported that the theatre was running sound on a separate dubber interlocked with the projector. For "Hell's Angels" the separate dubber provided an an additional sound track to feed amps added to the system powering nine added Vitaphone horns used for various Magnascope sequences of the film.

1930 - 70mm Grandeur
- It continued to be a busy year with specially built Grandeur process Simplex 70mm heads installed for "The Big Trail," an 8 week run beginning October 2, 1930. See the Chinese overview page for information on Grandeur, including photos of several of the projectors.

1953 - Cinemascope - The Chinese got Cinemascope, 4 channel magnetic sound, and a big new "Miracle Mirror" screen for the premiere of "The Robe." See the Chinese overview page for more about the Cinemascope process.

1958 - new downstairs booth - The upstairs booth was abandoned and a new one constructed downstairs for the run of "Windjammer" in the three-projector Cinemiracle system. It was much like Cinerama only with the three machines (and a separate sound dubber) in a single booth. The booth would remain downstairs until 2001.

1961 - 70mm (again) - Three Norelco AAII 35/70 projectors were installed in the downstairs booth. A 1961 reissue run of "The King and I" was the first 70mm feature at the Chinese since 1930. One machine got pulled out along the way to make room for some gear that didn't stick around. The two that remained (serial numbers 920 & 921) were used for decades and were relocated upstairs in 2001.

1977 - Dolby - The Chinese gets the first generation of Dolby equipment (a CP100 processor) for the engagement of "Star Wars."

1984 - THX - The theatre gets an upgraded sound system and THX certification prior to the run of "Return of the Jedi."  The theatre was later equipped for Dolby Digital and SDDS.

2001 - booth back upstairs
- As part of an overall restoration of the theatre, the booth was moved back upstairs. The lobby was expanded at this time and the concession area pushed forward into what had been the booth space and the last several rows of seats. JBL did an update on the speaker system including five custom three-way "ScreenArray" speakers behind the screen, 4642A subwoofers and 8340A surround speakers.

2003 - digital projection arrives - The first digital presentation at the Chinese was "The Last Samurai" in 2003 using a Christie CP2000 unit. Within a couple of years, most presentations at the theatre were digital with film use becoming a rarity only for special events or premieres when directors favored film.

The theatre has been through a variety of digital gear including a 2006 installation of a Starus NC2500S from NEC with a Doremi server in a package from Technicolor. In 2009 for the "blue carpet" premiere of "Avatar," some sort of gear from American Hi-Definition was installed. They had a pair overlapped to get the brightness up. A second pair ran as backup. A single 2K Christie unit was used in 2010 for the 3-D run of "Clash of the Titans."  The 2011 TCM Festival used a DP4K-32B 4K unit by Barco.

The film gear still in the booth when the theatre closed for the 2013 renovations was one of the 35/70mm Norelco AAII projectors with a Christie AW3 platter. It was used infrequently. In the #2 spot there was a 2K Christie digital projector.

2013 - IMAX renovations
- The upstairs booth was made into a two level space during the Imax renovations. The initial equipment package was two 2K Imax units on the lower level and two 4K Christie digital projectors above. At the time of reopening, no film equipment was installed -- it went into storage.  The new Imax silver screen is 46' x 94.'

2014 - film is back - 70MM Imax film projection equipment was installed on the booth's lower level for the run of "Interstellar" in November 2014. The 15/70 machine was an Imax SR (small rotor) unit, a model introduced in the 90s, using a 7Kw air-cooled xenon lamp.

2015 - new and improved - Imax installed its new laser projection system at the Chinese in March 2015 with the initial film being the April run of "Furious 7." Along with that was an "immersive" sound upgrade, to a 12 channel system. The Imax film gear was removed. See some photos of the laser installation by Escott O. Norton of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation here on this page or view the full 39 photo set on the LAHTF Facebook page.



The booth of the Chinese in 1927 or 1928. It's a photo that appeared in the Motion Picture News issue of  February 4, 1928. We're looking at a Brenograph effects projector on the left, a Brenkert followspot (bracketed to the front wall) and three Powers projectors with Ashcraft arclamps on Powers bases.

Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for finding the photo. It appears with a discussion of the original booth layout in part one of his impeccably researched history of projection and sound systems at the Chinese on his site graumanschinese.org.  Check it out: Part 1: from the silents to the golden age | Part 2: widescreen & 70mm | Part 3: sensurround, dolby and digital sound | Part 4: digital projection and Imax |



The Chinese booth c.1928. Nearest us along the booth back wall are two Simplex Standards on Western Electric Universal Bases hooked up as sound dummies. They were synched with Selsyn motors to the projectors running the picture. If your Vitaphone record skipped, you'd have a backup machine running in sync to switch over to.

Thanks to John Conning of Moviemice.com, a site devoted to early Western Electric sound equipment, for the photo from his collection. And thanks also to David Ayers for posting it on the Facebook page All Movie Projectors.



The Chinese booth c.1928 after the operators went home. Photo: John Conning - Moviemice.com



The booth backwall c.1928. We're looking at the Western Electric amp racks on the left plus two Standard Simplexes set up as sound dummies for either sound on film or sound on disc. Photo: John Conning - Moviemice.com

"Hell's Angels" evidently used a more elaborate sync setup in 1930 (with film, not disc) to run an effects track in sync with the main track -- and feed an extra complement of speakers installed especially for that engagement.



The front wall of the downstairs booth in 1985.  Thanks to Mark Gulbrandsen for his photo, appearing on the Facebook page All Movie Projectors.



The back of the downstairs booth in 1985. Photo: Mark Gulbrandsen - All Movie Projectors on Facebook



A closer look at the amp racks in 1985. We're looking at BGW power amps and, in the far rack, Dolby magnetic preamps and a CP200 processor. Thanks to Mark Gulbrandsen for his photo.



The booth went back upstairs during the 2001 renovation. This is a view before it got rebuilt for the 2013 Imax project. That's a Christie digital projector nearest us and a Norelco AAII 35/70 with a platter beyond. A second Norelco had been removed to make way for the digital installation.  Thanks to Wendell Benedetti for his 2012 photo on the LAHTF Facebook page.



The Christie digital projector. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012 



Another look over to the left side of the booth at the Norelco and the Christie platter.  Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



The logo on the door of the Norelco. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - LAHTF Facebook page - 2012



The platter -- and the Norelco beyond. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - LAHTF Facebook page - 2012. Thanks, Wendell!



Thomas Larsen, head projectionist at the Chinese, in the booth chatting with visitors during an LAHTF "all-about" tour. Thanks to Stephen Russo for his 2013 photo, originally appearing on the LAHTF Facebook page.



The front of the two level booth after the Imax renovations. Imax gets the lower level (with ports barely visible at this angle) with a couple of Christie units above. Photo: Stephen Russo - September 2013



The upper level upon reopening after the Imax renovations. Photo: Stephen Russo - September 2013



The lower level of the booth after the 2013 Imax renovations. Photo: Stephen Russo - September 2013



The control station for the IMAX digital projectors. Photo: Stephen Russo - September 2013. Thanks, Stephen! His  photos originally appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page.



The lower booth level after installation of the IMAX 70mm film projector. The machine was installed in September 2014 for the run of Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar," opening November 4th.

Thanks to Hunter Kerhart for his October 2014 photo. Keep up with his explorations: hunterkerhart.com | Hunter on Facebook | on Flickr |



A comparison between 35mm, 5 perf regular 70mm and the horizontal 15 perf 70mm IMAX formats. The two digital projectors and the film unit were on tracks so it was an easy changeover to slide the equipment for the desired format into position at the center port. Feeding the Imax film projector was an Imax QTRU ("Quick Turn Reel Unit") platter system with 5 levels, each platter capable of holding about 170 minutes of the 70mm Imax format film.

Early Imax platters fed film from the outside of the reel and the film was rewound after a showing. This unit, like the standard 35/70mm platters in conventional theatres, has the film feeding out of the center and is ready to go again after a screening with no rewinding.



A rear view of the IMAX 70mm SR projector. The two digital units are shoved off to the left -- they're on tracks. Photo: Hunter Kerhart - October 2014



A tight squeeze to get in for threading. Photo: Hunter Kerhart - October 2014



A loop of 70mm film threaded for testing. Photo: Hunter Kerhart - October 2014

 

The lens on the 70mm machine. The black shroud at left lifts up to thread. Photo: Hunter Kerhart - October 2014. The film equipment was removed in March 2015 to make room for the new laser projectors.
 


The booth's upper level with two 4K Christie projectors. Photo: Hunter Kerhart - October 2014. Thanks, Hunter!
 


The emptied out lower level of the booth ready for the installation of the Imax laser projectors. Photo: Escott O. Norton - Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation - March 2015



The base of one of the Imax laser machines in the forecourt. It was a middle-of-the-night installation to avoid probing eyes. The gear was lifted by crane to the door leading to the booth level hallway. Photo: Escott O. Norton - Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation - March 2015. See the full photo set on the LAHTF Facebook page.
 


One of the laser projectors in the forecourt. Photo: Escott O. Norton - Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation - March 2015
 


A base getting maneuvered through the upstairs corridor. It was necessary to cut a hole on one of the walls to steer around the corner. Photo: Escott O. Norton - Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation - March 2015



 A laser projector coming in from the landing outside the 2nd floor door. Side panels of the machine were removed prior to hoisting it up to minimize the width of the unit. The installation uses two machines running simultaneously to improve the brightness of the 96' wide picture. Photo: Escott O. Norton - Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation - March 2015
 


A look into the two level booth. Note the hoist installed especially for this installation. Photo: Escott O. Norton - Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation - March 2015



 One of the bases ready to be lowered to the lower booth level. Photo: Escott O. Norton - Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation - March 2015. Thanks, Escott! See the full 39 photo set on the LAHTF Facebook page.

Screen sizes: Head down to the bottom of the page about the stage for a rundown of the different screen sizes used at various times.

The booth on video: See the 10 minute Celebrity Tech 2012 tour of the booth discussing both film and digital equipment in place before the IMAX renovations. Check out Peter Genovese's 2013 short video tour of the upper level of the remodeled booth for interesting ceiling views. He also gives us a glimpse of the lower level booth with the 2 IMAX digital projectors.

More on film formats: See the Grauman's Chinese overview page for more about Grandeur, Cinemascope and Cinemiracle at the Chinese. The Film and Theatre Technology Resources page has links to many sources about the history of specific film formats. Also check out the projection pages of Kurt Wahlner's Grauman's Chinese site.

Pages on Grauman's Chinese: 
| Chinese overview | street views 1926 to 1954 | street views 1955 to present | forecourt | lobby | lounges | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | upstairs boxes and offices | back to top - booth | stage | basement | attic | Chinese Twin | Chinese 6 |

Hollywood Theatres: overview and alphabetical lists | Hollywood Theatres: list by address | L.A. Theatres: main alphabetical listL.A. Theatres: list by address | theatre history resources | film and theatre tech resourceswelcome and site navigation guide |

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