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El Capitan Theatre: an overview

6838 Hollywood Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90028 | map |

The El Capitan pages: overview | street views 1925 to 1954 | street views 1955 to present | ticket lobby | lobbies and lounges | auditorium | backstage |

Looking down at the building from the Hollywood and Highland Center. The theatre opened in 1926 as a legit theatre built by developer Charles E. Toberman (1880-1981). He was also was involved in the Chinese and the Egyptian theatres as well as many other Hollywood buildings. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007

Phone: 818-845-3110    Website:

Visit the website's about page for a nice history of the theatre and Disney's restoration project. The site also has information on current and coming attractions, directions, parking information, and ticketing.

Filming Inquiries: Talk to Rebecca Reynoso at Cap Equity Locations, 323-375-4192. Check out their El Capitan page for over two hundred photos of the building.

The El Capitan at night. Photo: Bill Counter - 2010

Opened: May 3, 1926. The initial attraction was "The Charlot Revue" with Jack Buchanan, Gertrude Lawrence, and Beatrice Lillie.

A nice illustration of the new playhouse made the front page of the local weekly Saturday Night on April 17, 1926. Thanks to Ken McIntyre on the Facebook page Photos of Los Angeles for the find.

The roof sign, not looking quite like that pre-opening rendering for the newspaper, shines with the theatre's name again. The tower stayed up but the letters were taken off during the 1942 remodel that turned the theatre into the Paramount. The sign was rebuilt during the 1991 Disney/Pacific Theatres restoration. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007

Architects: Morgan, Walls & Clements did the exterior, the ticket lobby, and the department store portion of the building. G. Albert Lansburgh did the theatre. The El Capitan was featured in a ten page article in the February 1927 issue of Architect and Engineer.

Lansburgh, based in San Francisco, had earlier done the Orpheum (now the Palace) in 1911 and the RKO Hillstreet in 1922. 1926 was a busy year for his office as in addition to the El Capitan the firm also designed the present Orpheum downtown and the Shrine Auditorium.

Morgan, Walls & Clements did lots of other local theatre projects including the Belasco (1926) and the Mayan (1927). They would again team up with Lansburgh on the Wiltern Theatre.

An example of the exterior work by Morgan, Walls & Clements is this doorway into the elevator lobby. What was once department store space for Barker Bros. is now offices upstairs and a Ghirardelli Cafe/Disney Store on the main floor. See the ticket lobby page for some of the architects' work in a more extravagant mode. Thanks to Cap Equity Locations for their 2010 photo.

Seating: 1,550 originally. It was listed as 1,520 after the 1942 remodel and 1,498 at the time of the 1964 refurbishment. The capacity after the Disney/Pacific Theatres restoration ended up at 998. The rear of the main floor has lost a few rows due to the new projection booth and walling off the back corners of the seating area.

History as a legit house: Booking and managing the playhouse was more than Toberman or his original lessee, Edward D. Smith, bargained for. After several productions the operation was turned over to Henry Duffy (1891-1961), who ran a string of west coast legit playhouses. Duffy's circuit, at its height, included nine theatres. Find A Grave has a page on Duffy, who was also a well known actor. His obituary is reproduced by Noirish Los Angeles contributor Godzilla in the Noirish  post #22917.

The program for the 1934 Duffy production of Eugene O'Neill's "Ah, Wilderness" starring Will Rogers. Thanks to Lane Wallace for sharing it from his collection.  You can, of course, click on it for a larger view.

The back of the "Ah, Wilderness" program. 

An ad for "Ah, Wilderness" at the El Capitan. Also note "The Drunkard" at the Theatre Mart, still in its first year. It would run 35 more. Thanks to diligent theatre researcher Ken McIntyre for finding the ad.

Duffy gave up in 1937 and the theatre went dark except for occasional rentals to various promoters.

An ad for a WPA Federal Theatre Project production in 1939 of "The Mikado - in Swing." The production ran for seven weeks and was then back for a return engagement. The Palos Verdes Peninsula News gave it a writeup in their October 13 issue. Ken McIntyre found the ad for his Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. The Federal Theatre project also used other theatres for their productions including the Beaux Arts Theatre near MacArthur Park and the Mayan and Belasco downtown. In Hollywood they did many shows at the Hollywood Playhouse on Vine St.

The cover of the program for "Springtime for Henry" with Edward Everett Horton and Marjorie Lord, perhaps from early 1941. It appeared on the now-defunct site TheaterPrint.

After an impressive career as a playhouse with over 120 productions staged since 1926, the El Capitan became a first-run film venue. The last show prior to the El Capitan's "moderne" remodel was a film booking, the world premiere engagement of "Citizen Kane," opening May 8, 1941.

An ad for "Citizen Kane" at the El Capitan. Again thanks to Ken McIntyre on Photos of Los Angeles for finding it. After its run at the El Capitan and the Hillstreet, the film had a moveover engagement at the Hawaii Theatre.

The new life as a film house:  After a major renovation the theatre reopened as the Paramount on March 18, 1942 under the direction of Fanchon and Marco. The architects for the 1942 remodel were William L. and Hal Pereira. The auditorium's plasterwork was covered with wavy corrugated panels. There was rattan furniture, fake palm trees, ivy, and a coconut milk bar in the balcony lobby.  Sketches for the project appeared in the January 3, 1942 issue of boxoffice in an article titled "Just Off the Boards." The project rated a full page article in the April 25, 1942 issue of Boxoffice titled "Completed..." The author noted:

"Just in time for the auspicious opening of Paramount's "Reap the Wild Wind," that company's first-run 'showcase' in Hollywood was launched on March 19th. Formerly the El Capitan, a legitimate house, the new Hollywood Paramount was remodeled at a cost of $178,000 and it now seats 1,520 persons.

"...the redesign of the front of the theatre is completely spectacular through the application of neon grill fluted fins above a graceful marquee. Unusual attraction boards were provided and the entrance lobby is surrounded by glass cases employing a new method of display. The boxoffice and marble lobby are festooned with growing plants."

As the Paramount, the theatre frequently played day and date with the Paramount downtown (the former Metropolitan), also operated by the brother and sister team of Fanchon Simon and Marco Wolff. The company also operated a string of theatres on L.A.'s south side that included the Baldwin. For more about F & M see the family's Fanchon and Marco website curated by Steve Simon.

VistaVision at the Paramount: In 1955 the theatre got a rare installation of the specially designed Century horizontal VistaVision projectors for the run of "To Catch a Thief." Michael Coate in his article "...Remembering Hitchcock's 'To Catch a Thief'" on the site The Digital Bits notes that the Paramount was one of six theatres nationally to get a horizontal print. The eight week run opened August 3, 1955. Other theatres getting the 8 perforation prints were the New York Paramount, the Omaha Orpheum, the Capitol in Washington D.C., the Saenger in New Orleans and the Imperial in Toronto.

Scroll down on the Warner Beverly Hills page for more about the process. The Warner and the Paramount downtown (the former Metropolitan) got the machines for "White Christmas" in 1954. There are also some links for information about the process on the Film and Theatre Technology Resources page.

Roadshows at the Paramount:
  The Paramount got the roadshow run of "Gigi" (MGM) which opened July 10, 1958 in 35mm with 4 channel mag sound. The theatre was equipped for 70mm presentations in 1964 and got to play a few roadshows in 70 including "The Fall of the Roman Empire" (opening June, 1964), "In Harm's Way" (April 1965), "Dr. Zhivago" (opening December 1965) and "Dr. Doolittle" (opening December 1967).

70mm non-roadshow runs:  There was lots of 70mm product in later non-roadshow engagements including "The Dirty Dozen" (1967), "Where Eagles Dare" (1969), "MacKenna's Gold" (1969) and "Close Encounters" (moveover from the Dome, 1977). Some of this information on 70mm runs comes from the site From Script to DVD which has a nice page on the theatre as well as a year-by-year chronicle of 70mm engagements in Los Angeles.

Other names, other operators:  A number of other circuits ran the house after Fanchon & Marco left and before Pacific Theatres acquired it. "ElectroVision in Aquisition," a July 1959 L.A. Times article, noted that the company (headed by Edwin F. Zabel) had purchased theatres in the area operated by Robert Lippert. At the bottom it was mentioned that they had earlier picked up the F&M holdings as well.

A 1959 Times ad located by Ken McIntyre showing the Paramount as being operated by EVC, the ElectroVision Corp.

Fred Stein's Statewide Theatres had it in the mid-60s (still calling it the Paramount). They did a major refurbishment in 1964. The January 18, 1965 issue of Boxoffice magazine had a big story with photos about what they did to upgrade the circuit's then flagship house. | article page 1 | page 2 | page 3 |

Loew's took over (calling it Loew's) starting in mid-1967 and put up a vertical sign, a first for the theatre. Well, except for the vary curious original ones. General Cinema bought most of the southern California Loew's houses in 1972 and this one was then advertised as the Cinema on Hollywood Boulevard, the Hollywood Cinema or, in true General Cinema fashion, just Cinema.

Century Theatres took over in mid-1974 and returned the Paramount name to the theatre -- and re-did the vertical sign to say Paramount. In the fall of 1976 the theatre was taken over by Seattle-based Sterling Recreation Organization who gave it another refurbishing. SRO continued using the Paramount name.

The Toberman estate owned the building until 1984 when they sold it to Tom Harnsberger and Nick Olaets, who embarked on a renovation of the retail and office areas. Pacific Theatres took over operation of the theatre in 1985 when SRO pulled out of the L.A. market. They closed the theatre in 1989.

The 1989-1991 restoration:  Disney and Pacific Theatres did a lush restoration guided by theatre designer Joe Musil and reopened the house, as the El Capitan, on June 19, 1991. The first film to play was "The Rocketeer."

The Pomona-based firm Restoration Studio did all sorts of reconstruction work during the 1989-1991 restoration. Here Juan Sequeira is creating molds for reconstruction of missing exterior cast-stone details. The photo appeared on the firm's Facebook page.

Sequeira and his staff working on restoring the decorative details on the ticket lobby ceiling. The photo initially appeared on the Restoration Studio Facebook page.

A photo of the outer lobby ceiling restoration underway from the Facebook page of Restoration Studio. Juan Sequeira and J. Ronald Reed got a National Trust award for their work.

An east side view of the building showing Disney's major investment in new HVAC systems, among other upgrades. Photo: Bill Counter - 2007

Current status:  The theatre now plays first run Disney product -- frequently with added stage shows and exhibits related to the film. There have been several 70mm runs since reopening including "Sleeping Beauty" (reissue, 2002) and "Tron" (reissue, 2004). The building is currently owned by CUNA Mutual Group, an insurance company.

The other El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood:  This building should not be confused what is now called the Avalon on Vine St. That theatre, originally known as the Hollywood Playhouse, had a run as the El Capitan in the 40's and 50's when this Hollywood Blvd. venue was called the Paramount.

The Paramount/El Capitan in the Movies: Historian Mary Mallory notes that in "Hollywood Boulevard" (Paramount, 1936) we get shots of both the Chinese and the El Capitan. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for a promotional photo for the film taken across the street from the Chinese.

Toward the end of Richard Fleischer's counterfeiting tale "Trapped" (Eagle-Lion, 1949) we get a couple quick shots of the marquee of the Paramount. One of the gang has an office in a building just east of it. There's also a nice U-turn in front of the Chinese and a quick look at the Holly Theatre (then called the Hollywood Music Hall). The film stars Lloyd Bridges, Barbara Payton and John Holt. A real treat is a finale (including an electrocution) at the Los Angeles Railway's streetcar barns at 7th and Central.

We get a quick look at the Paramount marquee at the beginning of Robert Aldrich's "The Legend of Lylah Clare" (MGM, 1968). He, of course, includes this shot as a plug for his earlier film "The Dirty Dozen," released in June, 1967 and still playing when "Lylah" was shot. The main interest is Grauman's Chinese, where they come back for a big premiere. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for shots from many of those scenes. Thanks to Kurt Wahlner for the photo. His main interest is also the Chinese as you can see by visiting his Grauman's Chinese website.

The vertical for the El Capitan as Loew's makes a brief appearance in Paul Mazursky's "Alex in Wonderland" (MGM, 1970). Here film director Donald Sutherland is up on a crane in the middle of a dream sequence involving all sorts of carnage on Hollywood Blvd. On the left there's a bit of the Hollywood Theatre vertical. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for twenty more shots from the film including views of the Vogue Theatre, New-View/Ritz and the Los Angeles Theatre. 

We get the bottom half of the vertical of Loew's in this hazy night view as Jack Lemmon heads east on Hollywood Blvd. in John Avildson and Steve Shagan's "Save The Tiger" (Paramount, 1973). In "Save The Tiger" we spend a lot of time at the Mayan Theatre. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post about the film for shots from those scenes.

We see a lot of Hollywood Blvd. in Robert Vincent O'Neill's "Angel" (New World, 1984) including this view east with part of the Paramount vertical and the Hollywood Theatre signage. Fifteen year old Molly is a high school student by day, a hooker by night. The film stars Donna Wilkes, Cliff Gorman, Dick Shawn and Rory Calhoun. John Diehl is the killer preying on teenage hookers. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a dozen shots from the film.  

We get lots of low altitude shots on the boulevard including this view looking toward the Paramount in its disco-ball marquee days 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 Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for shots of Grauman's Chinese, the Chinese Twin, and the Hollywood Theatre.  

We get a view looking out from behind the boxoffice of the El Capitan in Barry Levinson's "Jimmy Hollywood" (Paramount, 1994). Joe Pesci and Christian Slater are exploring the stars on the sidewalk. The film finishes up with lots of time inside the abandoned Egyptian Theatre. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for shots from those scenes.

The exterior gets many shots as the Muppet Theatre in "The Muppets" (Disney, 2011). Initially we get this run-down and abandoned version. Thanks to Linda Hammonds for the screenshot on the SoCal Historic Architecture Facebook page. At the end there's a big scene filling Hollywood Blvd. and the marquee is lit up with "Muppet Theatre" instead of "El Capitan" atop the readerboard. The auditorium shots used a studio set. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a shot of the Roxie terrazzo during a musical number and a view of Kermit in the Los Angeles Theatre lobby.

The El Capitan on Video:

Matt Spero did a fine 1991 tour of the theatre with the late Joe Musil, the designer of the Disney / Pacific Theatres restoration project. It's on YouTube: Part 1 (12 minutes) and Part Two (11 minutes). At the time of the filming it was just ten days before the theatre's reopening. Thanks, Matt!

More information:  See the Cinema Treasures page for lots of discussion about the theatre plus over a hundred photos. Many photos of the exterior, interior and the booth taken after the Disney restoration are on Cinema Tour.

The Cinema Sightlines page on the El Capitan has a history of the renovation and many great photos by T J Edwards. Also see Garan Grey's 2009 review of the theatre on the site. Wikipedia also has lots more photos of the El Capitan.

A fine article about the Disney/Pacific Theatres renovation appears on the website. It's in the August 1991 International 70mm Association Newsletter. The site Film-Tech has a fine page on the El Capitan with many interesting booth views and other treats from 2005 and 2006 taken by Brad Miller.

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

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