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Grauman's Chinese: the stage


We're offstage right looking along the dimmer board. It's a resistance board with 5 scene pre-select capability. Out of the frame to the right are the basement stairs and the exit passageway along the west side of the building leading to Hollywood Blvd.

The master wheel and levers for each of the 3 color banks are at the left edge of the photo. We're not seeing the full board -- the stage section is out of view to the left. What we see are just dimmers for the house lights. In the basement directly below the board would have been the clapper panel with relays for each dimmer controlled by switches on the board.

Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for the photo from his collection. Visit his extraordinary Grauman's Chinese site for a delightful trip through the theatre's history: www.graumanschinese.org | every film to play the theatre | signage history | Academy Awards at the Chinese | quick view timeline | projection and sound |



The set for the prologue to "King of Kings," the opening attraction at the Chinese in May 1927. Photo: Tom B'hend and Preston Kaufmann Collection, AMPAS Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections.


Original proscenium width: 64' -- widened in 1958. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for details about the proscenium and various screen sizes used.

Original proscenium height: 30' Opened up vertically in 1958.  And again in 2013 for Imax.

Original stage depth: 40' -- from the asbestos curtain smoke pocket to the face of the back wall columns.

Original apron: 12" -- the asbestos curtain came down almost to the front of the stage.

Stagehouse wall to wall: 138'. In addition, there's a little wing for a loading area and dressing rooms extending farther off upstage left. Centerline to stage left wall is 68', Centerline to lockrail (pre-1958) stage right is 67', Centerline to stage right wall is 70'.

Loading: The main loading door was upstage left. In addition, there's a narrow passage along the west side of the building that leads backstage.

Backstage crossover: Through the basement -- there are stairs both DSL and DSR.

Dressing rooms: Originally in the basement and several levels offstage left.

Dimmer board: It was removed in 1958 -- it was originally stage right. The beast was about 24' long.

Rigging: The counterweight system was a Peter Clark installation. The lockrail was at stage level stage right. There was a flyfloor stage left. And there was a catwalk at flyfloor height along the back wall, perhaps used as a paint bridge.
 
After renovations pushed the screen permanently back onto the stage, a T-bar ceiling was installed at catwalk height to seal off the upper stagehouse area both in front of and behind the screen. The lockrail and T-wall have been removed.

Height to SL flyfloor: 34' 

Height to grid: 67' 

Stage floor to roof: 76'

Basement trap room level below stage: 14'

Lifts: None. No stage lifts. No orchestra pit lift, no organ lift. The stage could, of course, be trapped as necessary in 4' x 8' sections.

Orchestra pit width at center: 16'. The pit floor level was 6' 4" below stage and 3' below the level of the first row of seats. The pit rail was removed and the pit covered over with steps by the early 50s.

Proscenium to the last row of seats: 125'
 
Pipe organ: Wurlitzer, 3 manual 17 rank. It was donated to St. Finbar's Catholic Church in Burbank in 1958. It has since been sold for parts.The organ pipes were in a single chamber on the roof in front of the proscenium wall and spoke through a tone chute so that the sound emanated from the auditorium ceiling. There was a console at either end of the pit -- one a dummy, for a symmetrical look.

 

The speaker array onstage for "Hell's Angels" in 1930. The photo appeared in the December 1930 issue of the Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers where the presentation at the Chinese was discussed. Thanks to Dan Sherlock at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences for making it available.

Three of the Vitaphone horns at the center were in regular use at the theatre. The two side towers and three additional ones in the speaker box at center were brought in just for this engagement and powered by additional amplifiers. They were used only for certain Magnascope sequences where the masking opened and the picture got bigger... and louder. The normal speaker installation (at center) traveled offstage on a trolley when the stage was being used for prologues.
 
See Kurt Wahlner's Projection and Sound Systems at the Chinese for a discussion of both Magnascope and the augmented sound system for "Hell's Angels." Bob Furmanek's 3-D Archive Widescreen Documentation page also has Magnascope information.



Part of the fun of the world premiere of Raoul Walsh's "The Big Trail" on October 2, 1930 was that the "Curtain of Stars a la Cugat" was unveiled before the film. Yes, it's the bandleader Xavier Cugat who did the design work. It was featured in the center of the program for the film. Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for this scan of the program in his collection. See the listing for "The Big Trail" and many other wonders on his GraumansChinese.org site.

No photos of the drop itself have surfaced and it's unknown what became of it. "The Big Trail" got an eight week run in the 70mm Grandeur process using specially made Simplex projectors. You'll find more about Grandeur here on the Grauman's Chinese: overview page and also in Kurt's "The Dream Machines," an epic history of projection and sound equipment at the Chinese.



The Etude Ethiopian Chorus on stage at the Chinese in 1931, part of the prologue for the feature "Trader Horn." Photo: Los Angeles Public Library
 


Oscar Baum at center conducting the Chinese orchestra c.1932 in a Harry Wenger photo. Photo: Tom B'hend and Preston Kaufmann Collection, AMPAS Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collections.



Backstage at the Chinese in 1934. The occasion was the getting the footprints in cement of Jeanette MacDonald and Maurice Chevalier (at right). The panels would then, when dry, be placed in the forecourt. That's Sid Grauman left of center. It's unknown who the gentleman at the left is. Photo: Kurt Wahlner collection

 

Another view of Jeanette Macdonald getting footprinted. Here we're onstage -- note the footlights at the lower left. Photo: Kurt Wahlner collection



Backstage for a February 1941 Greek War Relief broadcast. The "America Calling" program was broadcast over CBS and NBC with Jack Benny and Bob Hope as MCs. Kurt Wahlner has more details about the fundraiser on his Grauman's Chinese page for the week of February 5, 1941. Wikipedia also has an article about that fundraising event. Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for the photo from his collection. Visit his graumanschinese.org website for a great history of the building.
 


The Academy Awards onstage at the Chinese March 2, 1944. The Awards were held at the theatre in 1944, 1945 and 1946. Thanks to Christopher Crouch on Cinelog for the photo, one appearing on his 2014 post "Two Views of the Oscars..."



Heading into the stage door. The crowd here is the part of the tour group for a Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation tour. We're in a passageway to the west of the theatre, an area that used to be wide open. There's now new construction on the left. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012

Note: All these backstage photos were taken before the Imax renovations of 2013.



Offstage right looking up at the proscenium wall. At the left there's the sound absorbent material behind the screen and speakers. At the far right is a ladder to the grid. The dimmerboard is no more -- a victim of the proscenium widening remodel in 1958 for Cinemiracle. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



The stairs downstage right to the basement. See the basement page for views of the trap room. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



Standing stage right and looking across the stage. To the right we see the sound absorbent material on the rear of the THX style screen wall. The screen and speakers almost completely fill what was once a huge stage used for the Grauman prologues. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



Looking toward stage left with the screen on the right. Thanks to Christopher Crouch for his photo on the 2012 Cinelog post "Underbelly of Grauman's Chinese" where he has additional backstage views.



Another stage right view. Note the catwalk up on the back wall. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - LAHTF Facebook page - 2013



The vista up toward the stage left flyfloor. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



Stage left looking back behind the screen, recessed deeply onto the stage. The backstage wall is at the right. The catwalk you see at the top of the photo sticking out from the back wall appears to be something that was originally used as a paint bridge. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - LAHTF Facebook page - 2012



David Saffer and Hillsman Wright of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation exploring the dressing room area up a couple of levels stage left. On this level note that we're even with the top of the curtain track, the stage left end of which we see in the foreground. Photo: Wendell Benedetti - LAHTF Facebook page - 2012



Downstage left: the view toward the proscenium wall. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



Stage left: looking down to the auditorium floor and the offstage edge of the curtain from backstage. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



Downstage left: some steel installed for the Cinemiracle installation. We're looking up toward the original stage level from auditorium level. The front of the stage got seriously lowered during the 1958 modifications to install the huge curved screen. While the Cinemiracle screens were generally as large as those in Cinerama installations, they weren't as deeply curved. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



Offstage left -- the stairs down to the trap room.  See the page on the basement for some photos down there. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012

1958 proscenium renovations: For the 1958 Cinemiracle renovations, the steps and the whole front of the stage were removed. The proscenium and fake proscenium boxes were removed with new side panels built farther out to frame the wider screen area.

A new concrete flat floor was poured at a height about 7' below stage level from the new screen position out to approximately the middle of the orchestra pit. Then, a new floor was poured throughout the remainder of the auditorium, as a rising plane toward the rear. It was not contoured. A concrete block wall was constructed in the gap between the new bottom of the screen and the stage floor. The hole remaining was 97' wide by 40' tall.
 
2013 Imax renovations: For the 2013 Imax renovations, all remnants of the pit area were demolished as the seating area was extended downward into what had been the basement. The width of the opening is unchanged from the 1958 version but there's now an additional 7' of height.

Projection throw: 90' - that's with a screen onstage in the original position. Now, with the big Imax screen pushed back toward the back wall, the throw to the center of the picture is about 106 feet. With the booth on the main floor, the throw to the center of the Cinemiracle screen for "Windjammer" was 133'. Both Imax and Cinemiracle use a curved screen but it's fairly shallow compared to the original Cinerama or TODD-AO installations.

Screen sizes:
1927: 18' x 24' ? -- perhaps smaller. The booth was upstairs. As it is again.

1930: A 24' x 37' screen was installed for "Hell's Angels" so certain sequences could be shown bigger in a Magnascope format.

1930: A wide screen was installed for the 70mm Fox Grandeur process with a picture size perhaps 23' x 50'.

1953: A 25' x 41' picture size for "Shane," the first widescreen film at the Chinese since 1930. The format was 1.66 to 1.

1953: "The Robe," the first Cinemascope film, played in a 2.55 to 1 format on a "Miracle Mirror" screen about 24' x 62'.

1958: The proscenium was bashed out to install a big curved screen for Cinemiracle. The stage was substantially gutted with the front half of the stage lowered 7 feet making for some unusual contours both at stage level and in the basement.

The frame size was 40' x 100' (measured along the arc) with the picture size for "Windjammer," the only film to play in the 3 projector process, being 38' x 92.'  The screen had a shallow curve and was a single sheet,  not vertical louvers like the more deeply curved Cinerama screens.

A new booth was built on the main floor. Later, 70mm equipment was installed. The main floor booth was used until the 2001 renovations.

The screen remained in place and was masked down for post-"Windjammer" presentations. Typically there was a 36' x 81' image for 70mm. A 31' x 75' size was once used for 35mm scope format, but a smaller picture size was usually the case.  It ranged from a hilariously small 19' x 45' for "Auntie Mame" in 1958 to about 24' x 57'  during the 70s.

2001: A new screen frame was installed featuring a shallow curve about like the 1958 installation. And the booth went back upstairs to its original location. An 85' wide picture was possible but 35mm image sizes used were about the same as before the remodel. When digital equipment went in, the scope format picture was reported as being in the 72' to 75' range.  Maximum image height was 33'.

2013: The monster 46' x 94' Imax screen goes in. A deep incursion was made into the stage basement areas (and the area under the main floor slab was excavated) to accommodate the much higher Imax screen and the new stadium seating rake of the auditorium.  The screen is curved but it's fairly shallow.

The existing curtain's height was extended so it could be reused. The full picture size in digital Imax format was 46' x 87' with 37' of that height used for scope format images. The first film to play after the reopening, the Imax 3-D version of "Wizard of Oz" in 1.37 ratio, had a 46' x 61' picture.

The 35/70 film gear went into storage during the 2013 renovations. The side masking moves and is motorized. The top masking may be lowered down to mask non-Imax films. The bottom masking is a huge curved berm brought in for non-Imax presentations that rests on the floor in front of the bottom of the screen. It's about 80' wide and 9' tall.

Non-Imax image sizes are approximately 26' x 62' for scope, 26' x 48' for 1.85 and 26' x 35' for 1.33. The 'scope format picture during the 2013 TCM fest was 70' wide.

2014: An Imax 70mm film projector and platter system were installed for the 2014 run of "Interstellar."

2015: With the installation of Imax laser projectors the picture width was increased to 92'. The 70mm film gear installed for "Interstellar" was removed.

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 | booth | back to top - stage | basement | attic | Chinese Twin | Chinese 6 |

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3 comments:

  1. I enjoyed most the detailed discussion of the various screen sizes thru the 'century'. It seems like a lot more could have been done to save original prosceniums, orchestral pits, dimmer boards and floors, however. And just how much would some of us technical film buffs like to get our hands on those retired (and discarded?) 35 and 70mm film reproducers and synced audio equipment. I have restored many "Altec Horns" for use in skating rinks where the budget was small, but the hearts and ambitions were huge. A lot of sanding in the magnet slots and replacing brittle diaphragms with more durable, modern aluminum-wire wound parts. I see Bill Counter is still a prominent wealth of information (all the way from Sacramento!).

    BTW: Of all the wide-screened, pounding-audio selections, I enjoyed "WINDJAMMER" the most: Those youthful Norwegian Lads were my heart's content--don't forget the one mate's Grieg Piano Concerto performance with beautiful fjord shots from back home! Saw EACH of the specials--"Auntie Mame", too, and Shane, where I related mostly to the boy.

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  2. Thanks, Larry! "Windjammer," of course, was the only film shot in the Cinerama clone called Cinemiracle. And thus, the only 3 projector film to run at the Chinese. Would have been hard to get their 100' screen frame within a 64' proscenium. As far as the orchestra pit, what was left below auditorium level was demolished when they lowered the floor for Imax in 2013.

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  3. I saw it 3 times!..But Auntie Mame,4. Didn't I say you know everything?
    Must have an arc projector in your basement: CHEERS ��

    ReplyDelete