El Capitan Theatre.


Seeing Stars: Hollywood Movie Palaces..

6838 Hollywood Boulevard,
Hollywood, CA. / (323) 467-7674 or (323) 467-9545

For a while there, it looked like glamour is dead on Hollywood Boulevard.  But no more. The El Capitan Theatre (just east of Grauman's Chinese Theatre) has recently been restored to its former glory by the Walt Disney company.

Actually, "restoration" doesn't do justice to what the company has accomplished. The El Capitan has been transformed once more into a classic movie palace of exquisite beauty, complete with a grand, glittering marquee out front, and a plush, classic interior that will knock your socks off. The theatre may not be as large as some others, but no local theatre has looked this grand since the glory days of Hollywood.

The El Capitan began as a live theatre in 1926. It boasted a 120-foot stage, and featured plays on stage with stars that included
Clark Gable, Buster Keaton, Will Rogers, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Henry Fonda, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Jason Robards. It was a "legitimate" theatre until 1942, when it became the Paramount movie theatre. It was the site of the world premiere of "Citizen Kane." In 1952, future President Richard Nixon delivered his famous televised "Checkers" speech from the El Capitan.

Today, Pacific's El Capitan shows new, first-run movies from the Walt Disney / Touchstone studios. In fact, almost all of Disney's recent major films have had their world premieres at this the El Capitan. If you want to watch the stars arrive on the red carpet for these premieres, just check my Calendar of Events page for the dates and times.

On non-premiere days, for the price of a movie ticket, you can experience the romance of Old Hollywood, from the live organist who fills the air with song before the show, right down to the shiny gold braids on the shoulders of the brightly-costumed ushers (who look as if they had stepped right out of a 1940's movie). They just don't make theatres like this anymore.

Before you go in, stop first and take a look at the outside box office area, which is dazzling in its own right, with its ornate, gold woodwork overhead, and costumed ticket-taker. Inside, the seats are plush, the decor is drop-dead gorgeous (lavished with gold, rococo ceilings and opera boxes), and the showmanship is unequaled. Three layers of glittering satin curtains rise dramatically before each presentation, artfully lit by colored spotlights. Naturally, the place is immaculate, and the sound system first-rate.

Often, special Disney movie presentations are preceded by a live stage show, replete with singing ushers and a prancing, costumed chorus line on stage - something virtually unheard of for a movie theatre in this day and age. Almost every Christmas season, each movie screening is preceded by a live Disney stage show, featuring costumed Disney characters, favorite music from Disney films, singing, dancing, and even Santa! Now that's entertainment!

For special events such as the release of a new major Disney animated film, the theater's basement hosts special animation exhibits, where ticket-buyers can see how the movie was made, with displays of hand-drawn cels, behind-the-scenes videos, and actual clay models used by the animators.

They pulled out all the stops for the 1996 premiere showing of "Hunchback of Notre Dame." The theatre sold tickets two months in advance, and included a 20-minute live musical stage show with the price of admission. (The ticket price also soared - to $15. That increased to $25 for reserved VIP seats.) For the openings of "Hercules" and "Toy Story," they built a multi-room funhouse for kids next to the theatre, themed to the animated films. For 1998's "A Bug's Life," they transformed it into a "Bug House'' (where guests saw everything from a bug's perspective) with lots for kids to do, including a playland, live shows, games of chance, photo shoots, and a gift shop. And they've repeated that pattern for most of their subsequent major releases, such as the recent "Dinosaur."

Is it any wonder that the El Capitan has become the highest-grossing single-screen movie theatre in America?  On most days, the lines of ticket-buyers stretch for blocks down Hollywood Boulevard.

The theatre seats 1,040. For my money, the best seats in the house are in the upstairs balcony, in the front row of the second tier. Make it a point to visit the theatre when they have live entertainment on stage (these shows are especially popular at Christmas time). Phone first to be sure that a live stage show is planned. You might also consider buying your tickets in advance, over the phone, to avoid the long lines. Advance tickets can be purchased by phone from (323) 757-4PAC, or at the box office (which opens at noon.)

The El Capitan is not inexpensive. But the first two shows are usually "bargain" matinees. VIP Admission, which includes reserved balcony seats and free popcorn, costs more. The box office accepts Visa & Mastercard, as well as Interlink ATM cards. Tickets can also be bought and printed out online.

The El Capitan is one of the best things to happen to Hollywood in the last fifty years. It is one the few sparkling gems on the Boulevard.  Don't miss it.

Update: The El Capitan (or more specifically, the former Masonic Hall right next to it) is now also the home to ABC's night time "The Jimmy Kimmel Show". You can see Jimmy walking in the front doors in the show's opening credits. (Speaking of TV shows, Ryan Seacrest now does his show directly across the street, at Hollywood & Highland, so there are now two shows broadcasting every weekday from Hollywood Blvd.)

Update: In 2005, they opened something new right next door to the El Capitan: Disney's Soda Fountain & Studio Store, an old fashioned ice cream parlor experience with a counter, full-service tables, and a take out window, all offering ice cream Cones, sundaes, shakes and malts, freezes, floats, and old-time phosphates. In addition to the ice cream, they'll also serve hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches, and Mickey Mouse-shaped peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. The Studio Store features a wide assortment of Disney DVD titles, as well as a one-of-a-kind interactive kiosk that allows access to Disney's entire DVD catalog.

Parking: The giant Hollywood & Highland parking garage is located almost directly across the street (north) from the El Capitan, the theatre will partially validate parking there. There are also paid parking lots directly behind (south of) the theatre, just east of Orange Drive. There is also a parking structure just west of Grauman's Chinese Theatre, and another just around the corner on the east side of Orange Drive, and there is underground parking farther west beneath the Galaxy center (where the Hollywood Entertainment Museum is located.)

 Getting there: The El Capitan is located on the south side of Hollywood Boulevard, just west of Highland Avenue (between Highland and Orange Drive). It's across the street from (just a short walk to the east of) Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

[You can buy tickets to the El Capitan online, and print them out on your computer, by going to: http://www.elcapitantickets.com.]

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