More pages about Grauman's Chinese: street views 1926 to 1954 | street views 1955 to present | forecourt | lobby areas | basement lounges | vintage auditorium views | recent auditorium views | upstairs boxes & offices | projection booth | stage | basement | attic | Chinese Twin | Chinese 6 |
Opened: May 18, 1927 by Sid Grauman (1879-1950) as his second Hollywood theatre -- the first was the Egyptian in 1922. The theatre has remained a major first run venue since its opening. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010
Over the decades the Chinese has hosted premiere engagements of major films as varied as "Hell's Angel's (1930), "Grand Hotel" (1932), "King Kong" (1933), "Wizard of Oz" (1939), "Shane" (1953), "Auntie Mame" (1958), "West Side Story (1961), "Goldfinger" (1964), "Hello, Dolly" (1969) and "Star Wars" (1977). The list goes on and on.
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Architects: It was a Meyer & Holler project with Raymond M. Kennedy as the principal architect. The firm had earlier done the Egyptian for Grauman and had previous experience with a Chinese-themed interior at the West Coast Theatre in Long Beach which had opened in 1925.
The 150' x 250' lot size for the Chinese allowed for one of the largest stages in town, all seating on one level and room left over for a forecourt designed for huge crowds of adoring fans during premieres. In promotional materials at the time the cost was given as $1.2 million, probably a seriously inflated figure.
A preliminary sketch for the theatre's asbestos curtain by Raymond M. Kennedy. It was part of a November 2012 Christie's Popular Culture auction.
A rendering of the facade by architect Raymond M. Kennedy appearing in a Christie's catalog. Many of the decorative aspects of the design were the responsibility of John Gabriel Beckman, who was also involved in a number of other Meyer & Holler projects.
A plan of the theatre's upper level with the last revision dated June 1926. Thanks to Martha Wade Steketee for the photo of the drawing, appearing as a post entitled "Blueprints and Celluloid Dreams" on her blog "Looking Outside." Originals are 30" x 44."
A facade drawing from the collection of Martha Wade Steketee that's dated February 4, 1926.
A section view of the theatre from inside the front cover of Terry Helgesen's 1969 special issue of Console magazine that was devoted to the Chinese.
An interesting souvenir is this bit of the batch of the structural steel used in the building. Thanks to Parker Kaufmann for this photo of the paperweight in his collection. Around the center it says "Punching from structural steel Grauman's Chinese Theatre - Los Angeles - McClintic Marshall Co."
Seating: 932 after the Imax renovations of 2013. It was 1,990 in 1927 -- all on one level. 2,058 and even higher numbers are frequently seen mentioned. Later the seating was down to 1,492. When the house was reseated in 2001 the capacity ended up at 1,151.
One of the areas adjacent to the booth had been used by Grauman as a private box with limited seating. That box and the area on the other side of the booth got added seating in the 50s. The booth area was also used as a private box when the booth was downstairs between 1958 and 2001.
This 1927 seating chart comes from Kurt Wahlner. He has it on his superb page "A Tour of Grauman's Chinese Theatre 1927" where he notes: "Theatre historians have long insisted that Grauman's Chinese originally had a seating capacity of over 2,000. Cinema Treasures has it at 2,200 seats. In his 1968 monograph on the Chinese, historian Terry Helgesen estimated the capacity at 'nearly 2,400.' Our analysis of all the historical photos indicates that the actual seating capacity was 1,990, not counting the upstairs boxes. This seating chart has been created by scrutinizing all of the available photos, and is corroborated by surviving ticket stubs. An interesting detail here is the fact that the seats in the sides of the theatre are wrapped neatly around the sidewall columns, since a patron was only looking at the narrower stage."
Hillsman Wright, of the L.A. Historic Theatre Foundation notes the floor of the seating area was originally maple, replaced by concrete in the 40s. The whole floor was demolished in 1958 (along with the pit and front of the stage) and a concrete floor with a new slope was installed.
With the 2001 renovation pushing the lobby into the rear of the seating area, it was necessary to go down steps to the new back row. The 2013 renovation design results in the last row again more or less at lobby level (as it was in 1927, but now farther forward) and the front rows substantially lower -- achieved by excavating the front of the auditorium. This allows for both stadium-style seating and a higher Imax format screen.
Pipe Organ: It was a 3/17 Wurlitzer. Instead of the normal chamber location, the organ at the Chinese (like the one at the Egyptian) spoke via a "tone chute" so that the sound emanated from the ceiling. The single chamber was directly in front of the proscenium wall, above ceiling level.
An ad for the Wurlitzer installation at the Chinese from the February 25, 1928 issue of Motion Picture News, available on Internet Archive. Fox West Coast gave the organ to the Catholic Diocese of Los Angeles in 1957 and much of it ended up installed at St. Finbar's Church in Burbank. The console, now minus its Chinese ornamentation, is installed at the Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto. There were actually two consoles, one at either end of the pit. One was a dummy, just there for symmetry. Some other parts of the organ are now in Lithuania.
Early History: The project was developed by C.E. Toberman (1880 - 1981) who had built the Egyptian Theatre for Grauman in 1922, in addition to many other Hollywood buildings. Others with a stake in the venture included West Coast Theatres (soon to become Fox West Coast) and part of the United Artists cabal: Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and Joe Schenck (head of United Artists).
The initial policy was two shows daily with reserved seats: a matinee and evening show both preceded by an elaborate prologue. The policy lasted (on and off) until 1934 when the prologues were abandoned and the Chinese went to a four shows a day policy. And lots of double features.
The cover of the opening program, beginning May 18, 1927. On the screen was Cecil B. DeMille's "King of Kings" and on stage was a giant scripture-inspired prologue with a cast of over 100 accompanied by an orchestra of 65.
The program's dedication page. Thanks to Christopher Crouch for these program views appearing on a post on his blog Cinelog. This opening show ran for months on a twice-a-day reserved seat policy.
An ad appearing on opening day offering to sell bonds backed by a 50% mortgage on the theatre. It's from the collection of Cezar Del Valle.
An early Mott Studios view of the top of the Chinese from across the street at the Roosevelt Hotel Cinegrill. The photo was added to the Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page by Brian Michael McCray.
The cover of the Chinese Theatre program for "The Gaucho," a United Artists release with Douglas Fairbanks. This was the theatre's second attraction, opening November 4, 1927 for a twelve week run. With the film was the Grauman prologue "Argentine Nights."
The inside of the program for "The Gaucho."
The first talkie to play the Chinese was "White Shadows in the South Seas" (MGM) which opened August 3, 1928. Motion Picture News reviewed it in their August 11 issue and was not enthusiastic about either the film or the Grauman prologue. Another early talkie premiere was Warner's "Noah's Arc" on November 1, 1928. It got 5 pages of ads and photos in the November 3 issue of Motion Picture News.
An ad for the theatre (and Sid) in the 1928 Film Daily Yearbook.
One of the early sound films getting a longer run was "Broadway Melody" (MGM) which opened February 1, 1929 for a 19 week run. See the Chinese Theatre website by Kurt Wahlner for lots of year-by-year data on engagements at the Chinese.
United Artists soon bought the shares that West Coast Theatres had in the operation. A news account reported Grauman saying "it will not affect the operation or policies of the house" as he had a long term contract as managing director. At the time this left Grauman (reportedly) with a one-third interest and UA with two-thirds. Even though at the time UA was the majority owner, they had no interest in running the operation.
Grauman then sold his one-third interest to Fox in June 1929 and temporarily left the operation. The ads and signage started saying "Direction Fox West Coast Theatres" and Rusty White was transferred from Loew's State to the Chinese as manager. Eventually UA sold their two-thirds share to Fox as well.
A flyer for the run of "Hollywood Revue of 1929," an MGM release that had a 13 week run beginning with its world premiere June 20, 1929. Note that Harold B. Franklin of Fox West Coast put his name at the top. Thanks to Todd Franklin (no relation, we assume) for the flyer, appearing in his Movie Theater Stuff album on Flickr.
With Fox in charge, and Grauman flitting in and out, the elaborate prologues became a less frequent part of the programming. Fox tried a number of other things including structuring shows around a band onstage, offering special late night performances and supplementing the films with various acts produced by Fanchon & Marco. And sometimes they just ran movies. And there were occasional dark periods as well.
The Chinese in the 30s: Grauman had an ongoing role at the Chinese up until his death in 1950. There were other "managers" but he was always the "managing director." Sometimes (at least in the early 30s anyway) he produced prologues, sometimes he was just around for ceremonial events like footprint ceremonies. But he never again had an ownership stake. After mid-1929 he was working under contract to Fox West Coast.
In addition to working for Fox, Grauman tried a bit of film producing and presented a few legit shows at other theatres including the Hollywood Playhouse and the Mayan. Among Grauman's noteworthy early 30s successes at the Chinese was his work organizing the ballyhoo and directing the prologue for the Howard Hughes production "Hell's Angels."
A Roosevelt Hotel Cinegrill view taken by an unknown photographer during the May 27, 1930 premiere of "Hell's Angels." Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for dating the photo. It's on the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles from Brian Michael McCray.
In April 1930 the Chinese had run "Song o' My Heart," which was filmed in both 35mm as well as 70mm Grandeur but film historians such as Miles Kreuger believe that the 70mm version was never shown.
Grandeur was only one of many widescreen processes the studios experimented with in the late 20s and early 30s. They all became doomed as the depression deepened -- only to be resurrected again in the 50s. See the booth page for more about the projection booth and its equipment.
The ad for "The Big Trail" at the Chinese, "projected entirely in Grandeur." is from David Coles' article "Magnified Grandeur -- The Big Screen 1926-1931" on the terrific site In70mm.com.
Grandeur used a frame with four jumbo perforations, about 25% higher than a 35mm frame and twice as wide. The aspect ratio was about 2.13 to 1. The image area was almost the same as the 1955 TODD-AO image.
The sound was a wide mono optical track using a scaled up version of the Fox Movietone technology. Sound quality was evidently quite good due to the faster film speed and the wide track.
The Carthay Circle Theatre also got a 70mm Grandeur installation. For more information about early widescreen runs in Los Angeles see the great 70mm & Wide Gauge: The Early Years page on FromScriptToDVD.com.
More information about various other early widescreen processes is on the film and theatre technology resources page here on this site. Also see the projection booth page for photos and additional data about the booth at the Chinese.
A few frames of the 70mm Grandeur film from the now-vanished website Critical Flicker. It's part of an illustration from the December 1929 Photoplay magazine. Note the Western Electric variable density soundtrack at the left.
A view of one the hand built Simplex 70mm projectors for Fox Grandeur. The photo is from the In70mm.com article "Magnified Grandeur "
A photo of one of the specially built machines in the Carey Williams collection. It's on the In70mm.com page "Simplex Grandeur 70 Projector," where there's also an interior view. This dual gauge 35/70mm machine is quite different than the one pictured above -- perhaps it's a prototype for a Grandeur production run that never happened.
There's also a photo and article about the Simplex 35/70 machine in the August 1, 1931 issue of Motion Picture Herald. By that time nothing was happening with wide film (except continued enthusiasm by a few partisans) and there had been a lot of talk about abandoning 70mm and going to 50mm instead. All of the wide film experiments were doomed as the depression deepened and boxoffice receipts continued to plummet.
More 30s history: There were occasional Grauman prologues in the early 30s. One that was well received was for MGM's "Hell Divers," opening Christmas Day 1931.
Grauman's theatres always had a reputation for smelling nice. The system he used at the Chinese was called Per-Fu, from the West Coast Perfume Corporation. An ad in the February 13, 1932 issue of Motion Picture Herald noted that it "Deodorizes - Refreshes - Pleases." The stuff came in solid pellets, inert until placed in their "electric disseminator" where you had a rheostat to control the "strength of aroma desired."
In addition to keeping an eye on the Chinese, in October 1932 Fox had Sid manage the reopening of both the Pantages and the United Artists with the ads noting that the theatres were now "under the Direction of Sid Grauman." But neither house got a Grauman prologue for the reopening -- the stage shows were by Fanchon and Marco.
An ad for the March 24, 1933 premiere of "King Kong" at the Chinese.
Another ad for the "Graumanesque Premiere" of "King Kong." Thanks to Richard Wojcik for posting these on Vintage Los Angeles. Grauman's prologue for the film had a cast of 100 including "Glorifying 50 Creole Belles - Jungle Settings - Weird Voodoo Dancers - Darktown Dudes" plus a "free menagerie, strange beasties and King Kong himself."
In 1934 the Chinese went to a double bill policy with continuous performances and the prologues were no more. There were stage shows after 1934 but not on a regular basis.
Need a light? Here's the cover for the matches available at the two Fox West Coast Theatres' "World Famous Show Places" the Carthay Circle ("Showplace of the Golden West") and the Chinese ("World's Most Unique Screen Palace"). It's on the Carthay Circle History Facebook page thanks to Mark London who spotted it on eBay.
A ticket from 1936 in the Kurt Wahlner collection on GraumansChinese.org. Playing that week on a double bill were "It Had To Happen" and "Exclusive Story."
A 1936 Burton Frasher photo of Grauman with Mary Pickford. It's on Calisphere from the Pomona Public Library collection.
Later, the Chinese occasionally featured stage shows "on the famous stage" such as the four week May 1939 run of "Revue Folies Bergeres" advertised as "Intact! Complete! From Paris."
A ticket for the August 15, 1939 premiere of "The Wizard of Oz" from the collection of Alison Martino on Vintage Los Angeles.
The Chinese in the 40s: The theatre hosted the Academy Award ceremonies in 1944, 1945 and 1946. Initially the events were banquets given in hotel ballrooms. When they grew too popular and a theatre was needed for more seating, the Chinese was chosen.
Grauman's Chinese during the March 8, 1946 Academy Awards. It's a view from the Los Angeles Public Library collection.
In 1949 Sid Grauman was given a special Oscar for showmanship, the only one ever given to a theatre operator. He was still the managing director at the time of his death in 1950.
Cinemascope at the Chinese - 1953: During the 50's the Chinese was the home for most of the major Fox Cinemascope pictures including the first Cinemascope feature "The Robe," opening in September 1953. The east wall of the theatre was painted with each new title and the legend above read "Hollywood's Home of Cinemascope."
A look at the Cinemascope signage installed in 1953 for the first film in the process, "The Robe." It stayed up until 1957. It's a photo by George Mann on Flickr. Thanks to Brad Smith for making Mr. Mann's great collection of theatre photos available in the Theatre Marquees album, also on Flickr.
The idea of Cinemascope, "The Miracle You Can See Without Glasses," had been kicking around for years. Inspired by the widescreen panoramas of the triple screen sequences of Abel Gance's "Napoleon" (1927 + variations thereafter), French inventor Henri Chretien designed an anamorphic lens to compress a picture by a factor of two during photography and spread it out again during projection.
A fanciful promotional piece from Fox to convey the glories of "The Robe" in Cinemascope. It was much like the ads for Cinerama. Thanks to Martin Hart for the image on the American Widescreen Museum site. It's from page two of his wonderful Cinemascope section.
Nobody was interested in anamorphic photography until Fox dusted off the idea when faced by the competition of TV, 3-D, and Cinerama. They borrowed the stereo sound idea from Disney's "Fantasia" and the more recent stereo success of Cinerama. Instead of Cinerama's 5 speakers behind the screen plus surrounds, Cinemascope went with 3 plus the surround track. Instead of a separate sound reproducer, they put magnetic stripes on the film. Instead of a deeply curved screen, Fox opted for a shallower curvature for better focus.
The enlarged view of a 35mm Cinemascope frame shown here has the original Fox 4 channel magnetic striping and reduced size (fox-hole) perforations to make room for 2 sound tracks inside the perforations. The original aspect ratio for the format was 2.55 to 1 and the prints were to have no optical sound track. Most later mag prints also had a 1/2 width optical track visible and were intended to be shown at 2.35 to 1, the currently used ratio.
Exhibitors had to do a new wider screen, buy new Cinemascope lenses and aperture plates, add adjustable masking, buy new speakers and amplifiers, change out their old projector sprockets and add a new attachment atop the projector to read the magnetic sound tracks. Most releases were soon available in mono optical versions for theatres opting for less costly conversions.
This photo is of the Simplex gear that probably was in the Chinese booth at the time. On the top it's a new 4 channel magnetic sound head, a Simplex XL projector in the middle (with a Bausch & Lomb anamorphic lens) and a Simplex SH-1000 optical soundhead underneath. Thanks again to Martin Hart. The illustration is from the brochure "Cinemascope - Information for the Theatre" on his American Widescreen Museum site. See the main Cinemascope section for lots of data and illustrations.
Need a light? This book of matches in the Kurt Wahlner collection marks the end of an era at the Chinese. He dates this as 1957, the year the big Cinemascope signage came down and new readerboards with dragons atop got installed on either side of the forecourt entrance. See his page on Marquees and Signage at the Chinese for a fine history.
Cinemiracle at the Chinese - 1958: The Chinese was equipped for 3-strip Cinemiracle projection in 1958 for the only film in the process, "Windjammer." For the Cinemiracle remodel the stage was gutted and much of the proscenium removed. The screen size was 40' x 100' with an actual image size of 38' x 92.'
A new booth was built on the main floor. Boxoffice magazine ran an article on "Windjammer" on April 14, 1958 which included ads for the Hurley screen and the Century projectors employed. The same issue had another article on the Cinemiracle process and the renovations necessary. "Too Exciting To Describe" was the heading on one ad running with the story.
A ticket to the premiere of "Windjammer" at the Chinese. It's from the Chinese Theatre page of the In Cinerama website curated by Roland Lataille. It's packed with Cinerama and Cinemiracle photos and memorabilia.
The Chinese in 1958 during the run of "Windjammer." Thanks to Richard Wojcik for the photo, a post on Vintage Los Angeles. "Windjammer" ran at the Chinese Theatre for 37 weeks, then moved over to the Music Box (then called the Fox) for an additional 15 week run -- but not in the 3 projector format.
70mm at the Chinese: The theatre was later equipped for 70mm. The first feature was a May 1961 re-release of "The King and I" in "Grandeur 70." It was filmed in Cinemascope 55 but had played its original 1956 release in 35mm.
A full size frame from a 70mm print of "Star Wars." It's from "The Original First Week Engagements of Star Wars," an article by Michael Coate on the great site In70mm.com. The six channel stereo sound on 70mm prints was, like Cinemascope, via magnetic tracks. Two were outside the sprocket holes and one inside on both sides of the image. The aspect ratio is 2.21 to 1.
The Chinese has enjoyed many of long runs of major films in 70mm, including "West Side Story" (December, 1961 - 57 weeks), "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (1968), "Hello, Dolly!" (1969), "Star Wars" (1977), "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" (1984), "Return of the Jedi" (1987) and "Titanic" (1997). For a great compilation of information about 70mm runs at the Chinese (and other theatres), see the 70mm in Los Angeles page on FromScriptToDVD.com.
Originally the 70mm installation at the Chinese included three Norelco DP70 35/70mm projectors, installed in the downstairs booth built in 1958 for Cinemiracle. One got pulled out along the way to make room for some gear that didn't stick around. The two that remained were used for decades and were relocated upstairs in 2001.
The theatre was equipped for all sound formats conceivable including Dolby Digital, SDDS, and conventional 6 track mag. The house was THX certified in 1987 prior to the run of "Return of the Jedi." You'll find links to more information about Cinemascope, Cinemiracle, 70mm and other different projection processes on the film and theatre technology resources page. See the booth page for more on projection at the Chinese.
The Chinese under National General Corporation:
A souvenir book cover c.1970, when the theatre was operated by National General Corp., the successor firm to Fox West Coast. Thanks to Christopher Crouch for the image -- he had it on a 2009 Cinelog post about the Chinese. At the time of his post the theatre was changing hands again.
The Chinese under Ted Mann: In 1973 National General sold their theatre division to Ted Mann for $67.5 million. The theatre was renamed Mann's Chinese. It's only since 2001 that the Grauman's name has been restored to the building. The circuit took extraordinary care of the building including doing a substantial interior restoration in 2001.
In 1979 Mann built the Chinese Twin (also known as the Chinese II and III) on property that had been a parking lot just east of the main theatre. That building was demolished in 1999 for construction of the Hollywood and Highland mall.
The Mann circuit got seriously over extended in the 80s and 90s and, after a reorganization, was acquired by WF Cinema Holdings, a joint venture of Warner Bros. and Paramount/Viacom. After the initial enthusiasm of the new partners subsided, the circuit, later called Cinemerica, gradually began disposing of properties as buyers emerged or leases expired. For the public, the theatres were still branded with the Mann name.
The 2001 Restoration: Behr Browers Architects spearheaded a serious restoration of the building's interior for along with forecourt renovation and the addition of the Chinese 6 upstairs in the mall. The firm designed seismic retrofit work including a shear wall at the rear of the stagehouse. The concession area got a renovation and the booth got moved back upstairs. The new bar was pushed into the auditorium area where booth and seating had been.
Some of the balcony soffit area that had been covered up above the booth ceiling was restored and now graces the area in front of the new bar. Also included in the work was restoration of many interior and exterior decorative surfaces. New carpeting and wider seats were also installed. PCL Construction was the contractor and their website has a page detailing the seismic work and other aspects of the project.
Decorative finishes wonder worker Amy Higgins re-lacquers the lobby ceiling during the 2001 restoration. Thanks to Amy for this photo from her website AmyHiggins.com.
Amy Higgins restoring finishes in the forecourt. Her work also included lots of plaster repair.
Some of the cast stonework on the facade before restoration.
The same piece after restoration work. See scenic artist/restoration artist/plaster wizard Amy Higgins' Grauman's Chinese page for many photos detailing her work on the project. AmyHiggins.com also has information on other projects she's been involved with. Thanks for the photos, Amy!
Work on the exterior and forecourt during the 2001 project included removal of the island boxoffice and construction of a new one east of the historic building. The dragon marquees that had been up since 1957 came down and were replaced with smaller format signage. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007
Looking along the stagehouse and west side of the auditorium toward Hollywood Blvd. before new construction hemmed in this side as well. There's now a building on this site housing Madame Tussaud's and other exciting tourist-themed businesses. When the theatre opened in 1927 there was a house here with a vegetable garden in front. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007
The theatre once stood alone. Here we see it surrounded by new construction. The mall dates from 2001, the brown building this side of the theatre came along later. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012
The backstage wall of the Chinese. That's the dressing room wing in the center and newer mall construction on the left. Photo: Bill Counter - 2013
Projection goes digital: The first digital presentation at the Chinese was "The Last Samurai" in 2003. 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 film gear in the booth when the theatre closed for the 2013 renovations was a 35/70mm Norelco AAII projector with a Christie platter. Used infrequently. In the #2 spot there was a 2K Christie digital projector. See the booth page for photos.
New owners: In May 2011 the Chinese Theatre and the lease for the Chinese 6 in the adjacent Hollywood and Highland complex were sold by Mann Theatres. The sale involved the business and the Grauman's Chinese building. The land under the theatre has always been leased. The land had been sold to CIM, the Hollywood and Highland complex owners, in a separate transaction a few years earlier. The current 99 year ground lease expires in 2023.
The Chinese is now operated by nightclub operators/producers Elie Samaha and Don Kushner as Chinese Theatres, LLC. Others with ownership shares in the operation include Peter Locke, Steve Markoff, Enrique Steiger and Film Finances, Inc. Alwyn Hight Kushner is the chief operating officer for the complex. The Chinese 6's lobby space in the mall has been upgraded for event use and is being promoted as Grauman's Ballroom. Steven Lieberman designed a new all-white exterior lighting scheme to replace the colored lamps that had been used for several decades.
The Grauman's exterior and interior are both protected by the landmark status it received in 1968. See Alex Ben Block's January 2012 Hollywood Reporter story for a discussion of what the new group's plans were at the time for the Chinese as both a theatre and as a brand.
In 2013 the operators entered into a "naming rights" partnership with the Chinese electronics firm TCL ("The Creative Life") thus the current name TCL Chinese. A story about the partnership appeared in Beyond the Marquee. The story noted that the Chinese "is the most visited attraction in Hollywood, drawing over four million annual visitors, more than the Sistine Chapel at The Vatican." The story was also covered by the L.A. Times.
The 2013 Imax renovations: The theatre closed May 1, 2013 to upgrade projection and sound equipment, rebuild the booth, and re-slope the floor. The architects for the renovation were Blair Ballard Architects (BBA) in Laguna Beach. Adrian Glick Kudler had an April 30 story about the pre-renovation closing on Curbed L.A. accompanied by over 30 fine photos by Elizabeth Daniels.
An April 13, 2013 L.A. Times story by Richard Varrier included mention of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation's support of the project and its assurances that the essential historic fabric of the auditorium would be protected. Deadline Hollywood and L.A. Times both had April 2013 articles about the then-pending project.
With an early April 2013 story on Curbed L.A. by Adrian Glick Kudler there were photos from BBA showing the look before and the simulated difference after the renovations. The story noted: "'[W]e're not changing anything that's historical about the building,' President and COO Alwyn Hight Kushner tells us. 'All of the beautiful character-defining features will stay as is.' The floor (changed many times over the years) will be put on a steeper slope and the enormous new screen will descend partway into what is now the basement, according to Hillsman Wright of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation, who's been working with the Chinese. The projection booth will also be moved forward and lowered a bit (over the theater's fake balcony)."
The floor's new slope resulted in raising the back row of seats to lobby level and lowering the front into the basement to allow the installation of a modified stadium seating plan and the taller screen. Seating capacity is now 932, down from the 1,151 that was the number after the 2001 remodel. Don't miss Andy Oleck's amazing 2 & 1/2 minute time lapse video of the whole 2013 Imax renovation process on YouTube.
The auditorium after the old floor was dug out and the new floor poured. Thanks to Wendell Benedetti for his July 2013 photo, originally appearing on the LAHTF Facebook page. The Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation documented the renovation process and consulted with the owners and architects. More on the organization: www.lahtf.org
A July 2013 Curbed L.A. story on the makeover had a construction update and also included photos of the new floor configuration. The L.A. Times ran an August 6 story discussing the reopening. Variety ran a September 2013 article discussing the changes wrought by the renovation. Curbed L.A. had a September 19 article and photos about the reopening.
At the time of the reopening the rebuilt two-level booth had two 2K Imax digital projectors on a lower level and two 4K Christie digital units for non-Imax films above on the new second level. There was no film equipment installed. Space space is available on the upper level for a 35/70 machine and platter if an installation is warranted in the future. The sound system was a new Imax brand installation.
There are more construction photos to see on the recent auditorium views page. The theatre reopened in September 2013 with the Imax digital 3-D version of "The Wizard of Oz."
The Return of Film - 70mm Imax: The lower level of the booth got 70mm Imax film equipment installed for the November 2014 run of Christopher Nolan's "Interstellar." 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.
Imax Laser projection: Imax installed its new laser projection system at the Chinese in March 2015 with the first film on the new gear being the April run of that great epic "Furious 7." Along with that was an "immersive" sound upgrade. See the projection booth page for photos and more about the booth and its equipment.
Screen size: The Imax silver screen size is 46' high and 94' wide. The floor was sloped down into former basement areas to accommodate the increased height. The first several Imax films in scope format used 87' of that width. With the installation of the Imax laser projectors in 2015 the picture width for Imax presentations was increased to 92'.
A smaller picture size is used for non-Imax presentations. The top and side masking is movable. To raise the height of the bottom of the image for non-Imax shows, a 9' high sectional berm is maneuvered into place at the bottom of the screen. Scroll down to the bottom of the page about the stage for data on various screen sizes previously used at the theatre.
The Chinese in the Movies: Grauman's Chinese has had leading or supporting roles in a great number of movies.
In "Free and Easy" (MGM, 1930) Buster Keaton arrives in Hollywood and goes to a premiere at Grauman's Chinese. The film is something called "The Love Call" starring an actor he met on the train. The footage is actually from the December 5, 1929 premiere of "Condemned" with Ronald Colman. Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for identifying the shot. See the listing for "Condemned" on his site. On the Theatres In Movies post there's another shot of the premiere where you can see a banner saying "Colman."
There's lots of fine exterior Grauman's premiere footage in George Cukor's "What Price Hollywood?" (RKO Pathe, 1932) with Constance Bennett and Neil Hamilton.
Historian Mary Mallory notes that "Hollywood Boulevard" (Paramount, 1936) features Herbert Rawlinson as the manager of the Chinese. Near the beginning of the film we get a hand/footprint ceremony in the forecourt. See the Theatres In Movies post for a promotional photo for the film taken across the street from the Chinese.
In 1937 Janet Gaynor comes to Hollywood and her first stop is the Chinese Theatre forecourt in William Wellman's "A Star is Born" (Selznick International). See the post on Theatres in Movies for two more views from the film.
In Norman Taurog's "Mad About Music" Universal, 1938) both Sid Grauman and the Chinese Theatre make an appearance. The film stars Deanna Durbin and Herbert Marshall. Deanna plays a girl at a school in Switzerland who makes up stories about herself and an imaginary explorer father.
In "Star Dust" (Fox, 1940) Linda Darnell comes to Hollywood to be a star and, of course, visits the Chinese.
There's a scene in Norman Taurog's "Words and Music" (MGM, 1948) when Lorenz Hart (Mickey Rooney) has come to Hollywood and a real estate agent points out Grauman's Chinese while giving a tour of the area. The film about the songwriting team of Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart also stars Tom Drake and June Allyson. Thanks to Marlaine Wilson Hysell for spotting the theatre in the movie.
The Chinese sort of bookends Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly's "Singin' In The Rain" (MGM, 1952) with nice scenes at the beginning and end of the film. We get lovely facade views (both times enhanced by matte painting work for the signage) plus a forecourt scene at the beginning of the film -- but it's an MGM set. The interior views (the one above is from near the beginning of the film) are also not shot in the Chinese itself. We see the interior set again at the end with Debbie Reynolds running up the aisle. A few more shots from "Singin' In The Rain" are on the Theatres In Movies post.
Although we're headed to the Shrine Auditorium, George Cukor tries to pretend it's in Hollywood at the beginning of "A Star is Born" (Warner Bros., 1954). This shot was taken across from the Chinese during the 1953 premiere of "The Robe." See the post on the Theatres in Movies site for several more Hollywood Blvd. shots as well as many at the Shrine Auditorium.
Lucy digs up the forecourt in a 1955 episode of "I Love Lucy." Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for the screenshot. See the Theatres In Movies post for additional photos from the episode.
In Frank Tashlin's "Hollywood or Bust" (Paramount, 1956) we have this nice forecourt view as part of a process shot during the opening credits. The Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis film comes back to the Chinese for a premiere later, but they use studio sets. See the Theatres In Movies post for several more shots from the film.
We get this nice view east on Hollywood Blvd. in the Jerry Lewis film "The Errand Boy" (Paramount, 1961) but the rest of the Chinese that we see for a preview is done on studio sets. See the Theatres in Movies post about the film for the faux-Chinese set, a look at the Fox Westwood Village and several fine aerial views of Hollywood that begin the film.
We get a look at the facade in "What A Way To Go!" (Fox, 1964) as one of Shirley MacLaine's husbands, Pinky (Gene Kelly), has his film premiered there. He later gets trampled by the mob. Note that this is old footage with the show's title matted in. Look at the age of the vehicles. Also, in '64 there was no signage across the arch.
Kim Novak pays a visit to the Chinese early in Robert Aldrich's "The Legend of Lylah Clare" (MGM, 1968). The film, a sordid satire of Hollywood, stars Kim Novak as no-good star Lylah as well as the actress Elisa who stars in a biopic about her years later. Thanks to Kurt Wahlner of GraumansChinese.org for the screenshot. Of course we come back later for a big outside premiere scene -- and a look inside the theatre. Several more shots from the film showing the Chinese, plus a peek at the El Capitan, are on the Theatres in Movies post.
We get a view of the Chinese and the Hollywood Hotel beyond in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather" (Paramount, 1972). The shot is from 1944. Note the signage still employed in the parking lot east of the theatre. Kurt Wahlner on his Chinese Theatre site notes that "Climax" and "San Diego I Love You" are playing. Thanks to Patrick Sweeney for the screenshot, a post of his on the Los Angeles Theatres Facebook page. It's now also on the Theatres In Movies post about the film.
Where do you visit if you want to become a star? The Chinese, of course. Philomena Nowlin does that in the opening sequence of "Miss Melody Jones" (American Films Ltd., 1972). See the Theatres In Movies post for three more fuzzy shots of the Chinese from the film.
The Chinese appears in Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles" (Warner Bros., 1974). Cinematography was by Joseph Biroc who six years earlier had shot the Chinese in "The Legend of Lylah Clare." See the Theatres In Movies post for an exterior view as well. Note the cows in this lobby shot. Harvey Korman is buying a box of Raisinets.
The facade shows up during a premiere turned riot in "The Day of the Locust" (Paramount, 1975) but the shooting was actually done on a set rather than at the theatre. Thanks to the site Films in Films for the screenshot. The film actually does go inside a real theatre when they visit the Fox Ritz on Wilshire Blvd. when they're supposedly going to the movies in Glendale. See the Theatres in Movies post for shots from that scene.
We oogle the Grauman's forecourt at the beginning of Michael Winner's "Won Ton Ton: The Dog Who Saved Hollywood" (Paramount, 1976). Later in the film, we return to the theatre for a premiere of one of the canine star's films. The Theatres in Movies post also has several shots from a visit to the Mayan Theatre for another premiere.
We get a look at the Chinese while we're cruising the town in Martha Coolidge's "Valley Girl" (Atlantic Releasing, 1983) with Nicholas Cage and Deborah Foreman. Thanks to Chas Demster for the screenshot on his Filming Locations of Chicago and Los Angeles blog. See the Theatres In Movies post about the film for several shots of the Sherman Theatre.
We get lots of shots on the boulevard including this view along the Chinese facade in David Winters' "Thrashin'" (Fries Entertainment, 1986). It's about two skateboard gangs battling for supremacy. The film features Josh Brolin, Robert Rusler and Pamela Gidley. Thanks to Eitan Alexander for the screenshot. See the Theatres In Movies post for shots of the Chinese Twin, the El Capitan and the Hollywood Theatre.
Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves end up in front of the Chinese in an overturned Red Line car in the last scene of Jan de Bont's "Speed" (20th Century Fox, 1994). The Theatres in Movies post also has another shot that's looking east.
The Chinese makes an appearance in "Forrest Gump" (1994).
We get this look down on the theatre in the Harold Ramis film "Stuart Saves His Family" (Paramount, 1995). They've got "Alfie," a 1966 film, on the marquee. Thanks to Chas Demster for the screenshot on his blog Filming Locations of Chicago and Los Angeles.
The Chinese is seen in "Twins" (1998), "Rush Hour" (1998), "The Majestic" (2001), "Italian Job" (2003), and "Hollywood Homicide" (2003).
In "The Aviator" (Warner Bros., 2004) Martin Scorsese's lovely swoop up Hollywood Blvd. uses some colorized versions of Howard Hughes' original promotional footage of the 1930 premiere of "Hell's Angels" but the final shot with planes flying overhead was done with a 40' long miniature set and lots of digital magic. The street views 1926 to 1955 page has photos of the actual premiere.
Most of the forecourt shots for "The Aviator" were done using a set. We do get the real theatre for some scenes passing through the lobby and at the entrance doors. In this auditorium shot note that the production designer has added a strange single-projector booth at the head of the center aisle. In 1930, the booth was upstairs. The film also visits the Pantages. See the Theatres In Movies post for more shots from the film.
John Travolta and Uma Thurman have a moment in front of the Chinese in F. Gary Gray's "Be Cool" (MGM, 2005). It's based on an Elmore Leonard novel. The film also pays a visit to the Shrine Auditorium and the Mayan Theatre. See the Theatres In Movies post about the film for shots at those theatres.
The opening of "Footprints" (Our Gal Pictures, 2009) gives us a pan across the murals on the west side of the building. The parking lot there at the time has been replaced by a building and the murals are mostly gone.
In "Footprints," we start with our amnesiac leading lady, Sybil Temtchine, waking up in the forecourt. The film by Steven Peros features H.M. Wynant and Pippa Scott. Various passersby try to help our heroine. Playing at the Chinese the week of the filming was "The Brave One" (2007). Later we go to a show at the Egyptian. The Theatres in Movies post has more shots.
A look at a scene being shot for "Gangster Squad" (Warner Bros., 2013) in front of the Chinese in December 2011. Thanks to Martin Pal for putting it on Noirish Los Angeles. A bit more of the "Gangster Squad" shoot that evening appears on YouTube.
Scenes were filmed at the Chinese for "Gangster Squad" involving gunmen behind the screen spraying the audience with machine gun fire. The scene appeared in an early trailer but was cut and did not appear in the film as released -- we got a new finale shot in Chinatown instead. One more trailer shot of the Chinese is on the Theatres In Movies post.
Jon Favreau has a tough time in the forecourt in "Iron Man 3" (Marvel/Disney, 2013) with spontaneously combusting humans whose DNA has been messed with. He ends up in the hospital and the Chinese Theatre gets destroyed.
The 1964 premiere of "Mary Poppins" gets recreated in "Saving Mr. Banks" (Disney, 2013), a film about the battle by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) to get the rights to film the book by P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). The shot here is a nice combination of old footage around the edges (top of the building, flashing dragon marquees, etc.) and new stuff in the middle. Note the absence of the forecourt boxoffice and long canopy to the entrance that would have been there at the time. Scroll down to 1964 on the street views 1955 to present page for a look at the actual premiere.
In "I Saw the Light" (Sony Pictures Classics, 2015), a biopic of the singer Hank Williams, we get some 1952 stock footage of the Chinese when Hank comes to Hollywood to talk about a film deal. The film, directed by Marc Abraham, stars Tom Hiddleston and Elizabeth Olsen.
In Woody Allen's "Café Society" (Lionsgate, 2016) we get a nice pan down the pagoda to find Jesse Eisenberg admiring the hand and foot prints of Gloria Swanson. The time is the 30s -- posters are out for "Swing Time." Later we see the facade of the Vista Theatre when Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart go to see Barbara Stanwyck in "The Woman In Red."
We get a drive-by of the Chinese running "The King and I" in Grandeur 70 in 1961 near the beginning of Warren Beatty's "Rules Don't Apply" (20th Century Fox, 2016). The movie features Alden Ehrenreich, Lily Collins and Annette Bening. In some other nice archival footage we get to look at the Vogue and the Egyptian as well. See the Theatres In Movies post for those views.
IMDb has a page on the Chinese Theatre with a list of many more films using it as a location. And, of course, you can always check out the Theatres in Movies site.
The Chinese on Video: You shouldn't miss Andy Oleck's terrific 2 & 1/2 minute time lapse video of the whole 2013 Imax renovation process on YouTube. Visit the theatre in a 3 minute 2012 "Grauman's Chinese Behind The Scenes" LA Observed tour featuring LAHTF's Hillsman Wright. Also see the 12 minute "Grauman's Chinese Theater: The Tour" by Ms. Random Notes from 2012.
This photo of one of the dragons is from "A piece of L.A. history awaits a return to its neon glamour," a September 2013 L.A. Times story by Nita Lelyveld about the project. Check out additional photos of the dragons on Kurt Wahlner's page about signage at the Chinese. Sandi Hemmerlein also has some nice dragon views in her 2013 Avoiding Regret article "The Neon of LA and Its One Darkened Dragon."
The forecourt furor: There have been souvenir stands, various kiosks, displays, and other merchandising going on in the forecourt for decades. In the fall of 2016 an ugly discussion erupted about various carts obscuring certain footprints. See the posts on the Vintage Los Angeles and LAHTF Facebook pages for lots of unhappy comments and name-calling.
Curbed L.A. also covered the fracas with their "Famous handprints... covered up by souvenir stalls" story on October 2. More comments on Vintage L.A. followed an October 2 post about the story on Curbed. And, of course, there was a petition. VLA declared victory in an October 3 post. There were followup stories in the Hollywood Reporter ("Vendor carts removed...") and on Curbed ("...famous handprints no longer blocked...").
Book of Secrets: There was supposedly once a tunnel under Hollywood Blvd. from the Chinese to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. The stars could make a public entrance on the red carpet for a premiere then escape the fans undetected later.
A look into the famous forecourt. Photo: Bill Counter 2007
Grauman's Chinese at night. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010
GraumansChinese.org, the impeccably researched website by Chinese Theatre historian Kurt Wahlner. Sections include: every film to play the Chinese | signage | Academy Awards at the Chinese | quick view timeline | projection and sound |
Mary Mallory's "Grauman's Chinese Theatre Turns 90" is a fine article on the Daily Mirror blog about the construction and opening.
See the extensive page on Grauman's Chinese on Cinema Treasures and don't miss the photo section. There are a few more interior shots for you to peruse on the Cinema Tour page. Chinese CEO Alwyn Hight Kushner got a nice write up about her job in a January 2015 L.A. Times story.
The orange border is from the original Chinese Theatre stationery. Thanks to actor Stephen Stanton for including it on his website stephenstanton.com. He was a manager at the theatre in the early 80s -- check out his Chinese Theatre page for many photos.
Photo sets of interest include the 2012 LAHTF tour sets by Albert Domasin, Hot Patootie and Michelle Gerdes. And check out Sandi Hemmerlein's Avoiding Regret blog post about the tour. See the Curt Teich Postcard Archive for more Chinese Theatre postcards.
Floyd Bariscale's 2007 Big Orange Landmarks article on Grauman's Chinese is highly recommended. From Script to DVD's Chinese Theatre page by Michael Coate and William Kallay has lots of great photos.
For a run-down on the declining fortunes of the Fox West Coast / National General / Mann Theatres empire see the 2009 posts on Cinelog by Christopher Crouch: "End Credits," "Rise and Fall" and "National General's Chinese."
See Martin Turnbull's blog "The Garden of Allah Novels" and especially his post about the Chinese forecourt: "The Most Famous Slab of Concrete in the World" for a history of Sid Grauman and the Chinese.
Wikipedia's article on the Chinese Theatre has, among other things, a full rundown of the dates of the stars' imprints in the forecourt concrete. There are, of course, many photos of the Chinese on Yelp.
For a lavishly illustrated history of the Chinese (and some Egyptian stuff as well) see the March 2015 GlamAmor article by Kimberly Truhler "Out & About--Hollywood's Historic TCL Chinese Theatre Still Takes Center Stage." The article, with over 70 photos, features many historic views grabbed without specific credits from a variety of sources as well as some nice views of the interior taken recently by Ms. Truhler.
More about Sid Grauman: The definitive book on the career of Sid Grauman has yet to be written. The best we have so far is Charles Beardsley's "Sid Grauman: Hollywood's Master Showman" (Cornwall Books, 1983). It's available on Amazon. See "Diary of a Celluloid Girl" for a nice 2011 blog post about Sid Grauman. Wikipedia also has an article on Sid Grauman.
His first Los Angeles theatre was the Million Dollar in 1918 at 3rd and Broadway. He took over the Rialto on Broadway in 1919, opened the Egyptian in 1922, and the Metropolitan at 6th & Hill (later called the Paramount) in 1923. His downtown interests were sold to Paramount in 1924 -- they had been a partner from the beginning. Soon after the Chinese opened he turned over the Egyptian to Fox West Coast.
Grauman partnered with Charles Toberman again in 1942 by taking over the Hollywood Playhouse following a bank foreclosure. They renamed it the El Capitan and had a long success beginning with a seven year run of Ken Murray's "Blackouts."
A c.2012 aerial view of the Hollywood and Highland area that appeared on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles as a post by Ken McIntyre.
The Grauman's Chinese pages:
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