The El Capitan pages: overview | street views 1925 to 1954 | street views 1955 to present | ticket lobby | lobbies and lounges | auditorium | backstage |
Phone: 818-845-3110 Website: elcapitantheatre.com | about the theatre | rentals and tech info
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. Or call the theatre's rental staff at 323-572-5062 or email them at email@example.com.
Opened: May 3, 1926.
The initial attraction was "Charlot's Revue" with Jack Buchanan, Gertrude Lawrence, and Beatrice Lillie. Thanks to Ken McIntyre for locating this ad for the show for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page.
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
"Dazzling Opening for Hollywood's First Home of Spoken Drama" was the heading over this drawing by Charles Owens that appeared in the L.A. Times on May 2, 1926, the day before the opening. It was accompanied by "El Capitan is Dream Realized," a gushing article describing the new theatre written by Edwin Schallert, the paper's film and stage critic. The link will get you a PDF of the article.
Thanks to Mike Hume for finding these for the El Capitan page on his Historic Theatre Photography site. Also in PDF format via Mike's page are "El Capitan Will Open May 3 Next," an April 11 article and "El Capitan Draws Throng," a Times article appearing May 5 that reported on the grand opening.
Architects: Morgan, Walls & Clements did the exterior, the ticket lobby, and the department store portion of the building. G. Albert Lansburgh did the theatre. Much of the decorative work was by John B. Smeraldi, who was the decorator for the Biltmore Theatre and Biltmore Hotel. 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 many other local theatre projects including the Belasco (1926), the Mayan (1927) and the Leimert (1932). They would again team up with Lansburgh on the Wiltern Theatre.
A main floor plan. Note the trappable area of the stage. The theatre entrance from Hollywood Blvd. is in the upper right. The rest of the street frontage was department store space.
A balcony plan. Backstage we're at fly floor level in the lower left with a paint bridge across the back wall leading to the "Art Room" off left. Note the two organ chambers. Since it opened as a legit house it had no need of an organ. It didn't get one until the Disney installation decades later.
A section through the building. In the lower center note the wood-paneled basement lounge. On the far right above "Longitudinal Section" note the contour of the ticket lobby ceiling.
The plans appear in Volume 1 of "American Theatres of Today" by R.W. Sexton and B. F. Betts. It was published in two volumes in 1927 and 1930 by the Architectural Book Publishing Co., New York. It was reprinted in one volume in 1977 and 1985 by the Vestal Press, New York. Theatre Historical Society also did a reprint in 2009. It's available on Amazon. Thank to Mike Hume for spotting these.
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, plus ADA wheelchair areas on the main floor. The main floor seats 471, the balcony seats 527. 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.
Duffy gave up in 1937 and the theatre went dark except for occasional rentals to various promoters.
A 1939 ad for "The Mikado - in Swing" directed by Alexander Leftwich. It played for seven weeks beginning July 30 and was then back for a return run. The Palos Verdes Peninsula News gave it rave writeup in their October 13 issue. The concept had originated as a 1938 Chicago WPA Federal Theatre Project show
called "Swing Mikado" directed by Harry Minturn that went on to New York. Mike Todd later did
own version on Broadway in 1939 called "Hot Mikado." The Library of Congress has a poster for this production's June 28 - July 1 tryout at the Savoy Theatre in San Diego where it was presented by the "Los Angeles Federal Theatre Division - W.P.A."
The "All New" Folies was back in 1940 with a new version of the show, "Folies Bergere of 1941." Thanks to Scott Pitzer for locating this October Examiner ad for a post on the Photos of Los Angeles Facebook page. The show had opened October 21. After closing at the El Capitan, Fischer then
booked a tab version of the show into the Paramount downtown for a week
beginning December 3, where it played with the film "Dancing on a
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.
An item that appeared in the March 15, 1942 L.A. Times as the remodel neared completion. Thanks to Mike Hume for locating it. The project rated a full page article in the April 25, 1942 issue of Boxoffice titled "Completed..." The author noted:
A March 1942 ad for the Paramount's initial film. Thanks to Comfortably Cool for locating this for a post on Cinema Treasures.
The film that kicked off the 3-D craze played "Both Paramounts," opening November 26, 1952. Thanks to Comfortably Cool for locating the ad for a post on Cinema Treasures.
VistaVision at the Paramount: In 1955 the theatre got a rare installation of the specially designed Century horizontal VistaVision projectors for the runs of "The Seven Little Foys" (opening June 23, 1955) and "To Catch a Thief" (an eight week run beginning August 3, 1955). 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. 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.
A faded frame from a horizontal VistaVision print of "To Catch a Thief." Thanks to Michael Coate for the image. Paramount didn't believe in mag stereo for their releases. Here we see an optical track encoded with low frequency control tones (30, 35 and 40Hz) for the Perspecta Sound process. The system's "Integrator" used the tones to direct the signal to left, center or right stage channels.
Scroll down on the Warner Beverly Hills page for more about the process. The Warner got two of the first six prototype Century machines for "White Christmas" in October 1954. The downtown Paramount (the former Metropolitan) evidently also got the horizontal machines for the run of "White Christmas." 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).
The February 20, 1974 ad for "Panorama Blue." Thanks to Michael Coate for posting it on the Friends of 70mm Facebook page.
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 took over the Electrovision houses in 1961. It was mentioned in passing in a September 11, 1961 Boxoffice article about new theatre construction. They kept the Paramount name and did a major refurbishment in 1964. The January 18, 1965 issue of Boxoffice 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 April 11, 1968 and put up a vertical sign, a first for the theatre. Well, except for the very curious original ones. General Cinema bought most of the southern California Loew's houses in 1972 and beginning July 12 this one was then advertised as the Cinema on Hollywood Boulevard, the Hollywood Cinema or, in true General Cinema fashion, just Cinema. Century Cinema Circuit took over on December 19, 1973, returned the Paramount name to the theatre, and re-did the vertical sign to say Paramount. Thanks to Mike Rivest for the research.
Century was a firm started in 1973 by Fred Stein (formerly of Statewide) and his son Robert. Fred and his wife Miriam had 2/3 of the stock while Robert and his wife Carol had 1/3. They were in bankruptcy in fall 1976. Seattle-based
Sterling Recreation Organization bought some of Century's assets and assumed the debt that the Steins owed General Cinema. SRO took over in late 1976 or early 1977 and gave the theatre another refurbishing and
continued to use 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.
Closing as the Paramount: The last day of operation was September 17, 1989 with "The Package" as the last film to play. Thanks to Mike Hume for the research.
"Watch For Our New Look" was the copy in Pacific's ads beginning September 18.
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 bit of painting after the re-creation of the proscenium boxes. They had been chopped off during the 1942 renovations. The 1991 photo by Gary Krueger appeared in the souvenir program for the 1991 reopening. A copy of the program is in the Ronald W. Mahan Collection. Thanks to Ron for sharing this image.
Disney and Pacific Theatres did a lush restoration job guided by Joe Musil, seen here discussing drapes and tassels. Ten days before the reopening, Matt Spero shot a fine twenty one minute tour of the theatre featuring Musil, who died in 2010. It's on YouTube: Part One and Part Two. Thanks, Matt!
A 1991 Christmas week ad for the 70mm run of "Sleeping Beauty" (1959) plus a stage show at "Pacific's El Capitan Theatre." The ad was reproduced in the January 1992 issue of the Tom B'hend / Preston Kaufmann publication Greater Metro L.A. Newsreel. They noted that the ad was designed by Joe Musil, who had also been the designer for the restoration project. The Newsreel issue is in the Ronald W. Mahan Collection. Thanks to Ron for scanning the ad.
"Sleeping Beauty" was back for another 70mm run in 2002. "Tron" had a 70mm run in 2004. Usually the projection is digital. The theatre now has a Dolby Atmos sound system installed. The building had been owned by CUNA Mutual Group, an insurance company. Disney presumably purchased it sometime around 2015.
General manager James Wood in the theatre between showings of "Black Widow" in July 2021. It's a photo taken for the Times by Jay L. Clendening that appeared with Josh Rottenberg's July 14 article "With movie theaters reopened, dedicated employees predict a major Hollywood comeback." Rottenberg discussed reopening issues with employees at the Alamo Drafthouse, the Laemmle Glendale, the Landmark and the Nuart. Wood commented about his time at the El Capitan:
"I’ve worked here for 20 years, and I'd dreamed of being the general manager, running this grand movie palace on Hollywood Boulevard. I became the general manager at the end of February 2020. In my wildest dreams I never thought I’d have to shut the theater down three weeks into my new job.
The Paramount/El Capitan in the Movies:
The El Capitan is on the right in this look up the street from Robert Florey's "Hollywood Boulevard" (Paramount, 1936). It's all about the fleeting nature of fame in the town and what happens when a largely forgotten star's salacious memoirs appear in a scandal magazine. John Halliday, Marsha Hunt and Robert Cummings are featured. See the Historic L.A. Theatres In Movies post for a couple shots of the Chinese from the film.
Lloyd Bridges goes into an office building just west of the Paramount in Richard Fleischer's counterfeiting tale "Trapped" (Eagle-Lion, 1949). Down the block is a murky view of the marquee. The film also stars Barbara Payton and John Holt. A real treat is the electrifying finale at the Los Angeles Railway's streetcar barns at 7th and Central. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for a couple shots of a nice U-turn in front of the Chinese and a quick look at the Holly Theatre, then called the Hollywood Music Hall.
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.
Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong drive by the Paramount in a truck made of marijuana in Lou Adler's "Up In Smoke" (Paramount, 1978). Also featured are Wally Ann Wharton, Zane Buzby, Stacy Keach, Strother Martin and Edie Adams. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more shots from the film as well as a promo shot done in the Chinese forecourt.
Tommy Chong gets a ride on Hollywood Blvd. with the Paramount vertical behind him in "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie" (Universal, 1980). He also directed. The biker really wanted a date but he gets turned down. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for shots of the Ivar, Pussycat and Egyptian theatres from the film.
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.
We get this great aerial view when Justin Timberlake flies into town with his not-quite-girlfriend Mila Kunis in Will Gluck's film "Friends With Benefits" (Sony/Screen Gems, 2011). The El Capitan is in the lower left with the Chinese just above it. The Dolby (here still called the Kodak) is to the left of the Loew's hotel, at this time still called the Renaissance. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for another aerial view showing the Chinese forecourt as well as three Pantages shots from a breakup scene at the beginning of the film.
We see lots of the outside of the El Capitan in Fred Durst's "The
Fanatic" (Quiver Distribution, 2019). John Travolta plays a fan with behavioral issues who gets
carried away when his favorite star won't give him an autograph. Also
starring are Ana Golja as a friend who tries to help and Devon Sawa as
star who gets into big trouble by not being a good celebrity. Conrad Hall was the cinematographer. See the Historic L.A. Theatres in Movies post for several more Hollywood Blvd. shots.
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 In70mm.com 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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