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El Capitan Theatre: the auditorium


The proscenium of the El Capitan Theatre in 1926. The Mott Studios photo appeared in the February 1927 issue of Architect and Engineer, available on Internet Archive. "The El Capitan Theatre and Department Store Building, Hollywood," a ten page article by the architect, G. Albert Lansburgh, also featured many additional photos. The Los Angeles Public Library also has a version of this photo.

In his article Lansburgh notes: "In designing this theatre the problem was to have a dramatic house that would have a rather exotic character, since the the theatre is in Hollywood where the majority of the residents demand the extraordinary. It was for this reason that I selected the East Indian type which had not heretofore been used in Southern California. The results have been most gratifying..."



A house left proscenium box view. It's a Mott Studios Photo from the February 1927 issue of Architect and Engineer. The proscenium columns were a casualty of the 1941 Paramount renovations. They were not rebuilt for the Disney restoration. See a recent photo by Andreas Praefcke for a comparison.



Another house left proscenium box photo from 1926. It's in the Los Angeles Public Library collection and also appears in the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection.

There are more 1926 proscenium photos in the Bruce Torrence Collection including: proscenium and house right box | proscenium and fire curtainfire curtain detail | house left box and fire curtain |



A 1926 view back toward the rear of the house. Note the open standee area at the rear of the main floor, later walled off to form a separate lobby space. It's a Los Angeles Public Library photo.



The back of the main floor with its open standee area. It's a 1926 Mott Studios photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. And it's also on the website of the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection.



A closer look at the rear of the main floor, the standee area, and the east stairs to the balcony. It's a 1926 photo in the Los Angeles Public Library collection. A slightly cropped version of the photo also appears in the February 1927 issue of Architect and Engineer.  The photo also appears in the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection.



The main floor standee area in 1926. Once open, it's now walled off as an enclosed lobby. Check out those great column capitals, now gone. The photo is in the Los Angeles Public Library collection where they credit it the to the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection.



The vista into the house from the stage in 1926. Thanks to the superb Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection for the photo. The Los Angeles Public Library has a cropped version of it in their collection. Note the view of one of the two chandeliers -- they were not replaced in the Disney restoration.



A view across the balcony in 1926. Again thanks to the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection for the photo.

Take a look through the Hollywood Photographs site for several hundred more rare Hollywood theatre photos. Mr. Torrence is the author of "Hollywood: The First 100 Years," reissued by Zoetrope in 1982, and "The Hollywood Canteen," published in 2012.

The theatre closed in 1941 after the run of "Citizen Kane," a rare film booking for what had since 1926 been a legit house. The interior decor was modernized and the auditorium walls and ceiling covered with new corrugated surfaces. The architects for the remodel that turned the theatre into the Paramount were William L. and Hal Pereira. When the theatre reopened it was under the direction of Fanchon & Marco.



The main floor of the post-renovation auditorium.  It appears in "Theatres and Auditoriums," the 1949 book by Harold Burris-Meyer and Edward C. Cole. The photo can be viewed on Internet Archive. There's also a postcard version of the photo depicting "Hollywood's newest Paramount Theatre" on Calisphere from the California State Library collection.



The proscenium as seen from the balcony. It's a photo from the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection.

The Bruce Torrence Collection has numerous photos of the El Capitan to browse including the best collection of photos available of the theatre after the Paramount remodel of 1942. For the whole array, start in the theatre photos section and scroll down to "El Capitan" for the 20s views. Note that you'll also see photos of the other El Capitan on Vine St., the former Hollywood Playhouse. And then scroll down more to see those photos indexed under "Paramount" for the 1940's photos of the theatre.
 


Thanks to Royce Mathew for this colorized image of the auditorium in its Paramount days.



The Paramount's contour curtain. It's a 1942 Boxoffice magazine photo that appeared with a full page article about the remodeling in the April 25, 1942 issue titled "Completed..." The caption read: "Fading to the screen is the Architects Pereiras' idea of what the modern theatre auditorium should imply. The Paramount's massive contour curtain makes this mandatory."

The article noted: "Adequately expressing the Architects Pereiras' idea that 'the play's the thing' even in movie presentation, the Paramount's auditorium fades into its focal point, the screen. The massive proscenium drapery, said to be the only 50-footer in existence, is of the contour type in rich satin operated on curved tracks. In this room practically the only applied decoration is a series of flower boxes running across the stage front and around the sides of the auditorium parallel to the outside aisle seats."



This famous Life magazine photo by J.R. Eyerman of the audience watching "Bwana Devil" in 3-D taken in 1952 at the Paramount. It's in Life's "Images of the Century" series appearing on the website of Santa Fe's Monroe Gallery. More Life images available to view (and purchase) are on their Life Photographers page.



Another 1952 photo taken at the Paramount is this Los Angeles Public Library view of Charles Coburn, Hugh Marlow and K.T. Stevens. The Library also has a photo of the magic glasses sign that was in the lobby. Several of our participants evidently didn't read the instructions.



A 1964 balcony photo from the Boxoffice issue of February 18, 1965. The article "Dramatic Effects in Remodeled Theatre" detailed the remodel done by Statewide Theatres.

The caption read: "Full auditorium view of the remodeled and refurbished Hollywood-Paramount Theatre, Los Angeles. The entire stage area was rebuilt, enlarged and carpeted. Dramatic lighting accents the light moss green waterfall curtain interwoven with metallic gold thread. Title curtain is deep moss green velour and side walls are draped. Ten motors are used for theatrical effects of drapes. The auditorium seats 1,498."

The original decor was revealed again (and mostly restored) during the Disney remodel of 1991 done under the direction of Joe Musil. 



The house right side of the proscenium of the El Capitan. Photo: Andreas Praefcke - Wikipedia Commons - 2008



A wide angle vista by Gary Callahan taken during the January 2012 LAHTF tour. It appeared on the LAHTF Facebook page.  Also see a Stephen Russo photo taken during the event of Ed Vodicka at the organ.



A colorful photo of the front of the auditorium that once put in an appearance on the El Capitan Facebook page.



Looking across the main floor.  Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



A closer shot of the organ console. In this case it was prior to a screening of "The Avengers." There isn't a full pit for the console to drop into anymore but there is a "box" at the center they've built out at stage height. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



The organ console up in front of the "Fred and Ginger" curtain. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010

Thanks to Rebecca Reynoso at Cap Equity Locations for the many photos from the firm that appear here. They broker deals between property owners and companies looking for locations for filming or special events. See their page on the El Capitan Theatre for over two hundred great photos exploring all areas of the building.



The view across the stage toward the house right proscenium box. The platform up in the middle is the organ lift -- without the console on it. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010



The house right proscenium box. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010



A 2006 house right box photo from Jon W. on Flickr. Also see his balcony shot.



Another view of the front of the main floor. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010



Thanks to Brad Miller for this 2005 look to the rear of the auditorium appearing on the The El Capitan Theatre page of Cinema Tour.  The site has great selection of photos of the El Capitan after the Disney restoration (including projection booth views) from Mr. Miller, Adam Martin, and other contributors.
 


The rear of the auditorium viewed from the front of the main floor.  Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



Toward house left across the rear of the main floor. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010



The view toward the rear of the house from under the house right box. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010



Toward the rear of the house from onstage. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010



Across the front of the main floor booth. All projection is now done from the downstairs booth. The main floor of the auditorium is exceptionally shallow not only due to the new booth but also boxed in areas in the corners and at the head of the aisles on either side of the booth. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010



Back in a corner of the main floor. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



The vista onto the open stage from the rear of the main floor. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010



Part of the elaborate multi-image, multi-curtain light show before a film at the El Capitan. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



More of the curtain and light show before the feature at the El Capitan. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



Another segment of the fanciful curtain and lights extravaganza before the feature at the El Capitan. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



Yet another moment in the El Capitan preshow. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012


 
This photo with the Jim Hill Media blog's article The El Capitan Theatre: An Appreciation shows the El Capitan stage as dressed for "Chronicles of Narnia" in 2005. The article by Dale Ward has a nice history of the theatre.
 


A wonderful wide angle look from the top of the balcony onto the empty stage. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010



Another look down onto the stage. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010



The house from the left side of the balcony. Thanks to Wendell Benedetti for the 2012 photo, originally appearing on the LAHTF Facebook page. There's a high resolution version on Flickr. Also see Wendel's photos of the organ console and front of the main floor on the LAHTF Facebook page.   



Another balcony view with the organ in use before a film screening. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012
 


The house left proscenium box from the balcony. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



The rear of the balcony. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



A sidewall view from under the original projection booth. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010



Another look across the balcony. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010



Upper balcony side aisle stairs. Photo: Cap Equity Locations - 2010. See the El Capitan Theatre page on their website for many more backstage views. Thanks, Rebecca!



A detail of the ceiling plasterwork. Photo: Bill Counter - 2012



Thanks to Bill Huelbig for this c.2010 balcony view.



A proscenium shot that once appeared on the Facebook page Waking Sleeping Beauty.



A post-Dolby Atmos view. Note the speaker trusses above for the JBL Pro speakers. Thanks to Stephen Russo for his 2013 photo, originally appearing on the LAHTF Facebook page.



Thanks to Franck Bohbot for this 2014 photo. It's part of his terrific Cinema Portfolio that includes over thirty photos of movie palaces, many of them in California.  Current screen size is 20' x 42'.

Pages about the El Capitan: El Capitan overview | street views 1925 to 1954 | street views 1955 to present | ticket lobby | lobbies and lounges | back to top - auditorium | backstage |

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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