Grauman's Chinese Theatre opened over 70 years ago, with the 1927 debut of the original silent version of "King of Kings," produced by Cecil B. DeMille. Since then, the Chinese Theatre has been the site of more gala Hollywood movie premieres than any other theatre. (In 1939, for instance, over 10,000 spectators showed up for the world premiere of "The Wizard of Oz.)
And those big premieres are still being held at the Chinese on a regular basis. If you would like to watch the stars arrive in person on the red carpet at these premieres, just see my Calendar of Events page for the dates and times of upcoming premieres. Then show up early and wait (hint: wear comfortable shoes.)
Back in the 1940's, Grauman's Chinese Theatre also hosted the annual Academy Award ceremonies. And the theatre has appeared in quite a few movies itself, including the opening scene of 1952's beloved musical "Singing in the Rain," and at the climax of the recent action-adventure "Speed." More recently, it played a major role in the remake of the "Mighty Joe Young," in a scene where the giant gorilla climbs up the side of the theatre and perches atop its ornate roof.
It's been featured on TV sitcoms as well - remember the episode of "I Love Lucy" where Lucy stole the cement block bearing John Wayne's footprints? Or how about the episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies" where Jed and Jethro thought that the forecourt had been vandalized by the stars, and were caught trying to pave over the "evidence " with wet cement!
The Chinese Theatre was built by legendary showman Sid Grauman, the man who also built the nearby Egyptian Theatre and the Million Dollar Theatre on Broadway. Sid had a flair for the dramatic, and he was the one who came up with the idea of putting the stars' footprints in wet cement. Sid Grauman owned a one-third interest in the theatre, along with partners Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks.
For a while, the theatre was renamed "Mann's Chinese Theatre" after it was purchased by Ted Mann in 1973, the owner of the Mann's Theatre chain (and husband of actress Rhonda Fleming). But fortunately, the landmark later regained its original name.
The ornate exterior of the theatre is almost as enticing as its celebrated forecourt. Resembling a giant, red Chinese pagoda, the theatre's architecture features a huge dragon snaking its way across the front, two stone lion-dogs guarding the main entrance, and the silhouettes of tiny dragons racing up and down the sides of the theatre's ornate, copper roof.
Outside, near the forecourt, you'll find that the fist business is thriving, with several booths set up hawking various guided bus tours of Hollywood, the movie stars' homes, and greater L.A. Two theatre gift shops offer the usual selection of touristy Tinseltown souvenirs, at outrageous prices. And it isn't unusual to see street performers (such as a Charlie Chaplin look-alike) milling with the crowd of tourists on the fabled forecourt.
And of course, for the price of a movie ticket, you can go inside and see the theatre's well-preserved interior as well.
You might suspect that after seven decades, the theatre's interior would be dilapidated, like many of the other older theatres in L.A. But in fact, the Chinese Theatre remains in surprisingly good condition. Its interior decor is a dazzling blur of exotic Asian motifs.
The lobby boasts elaborate wall murals depicting life in the Orient, bold red and gold columns, and a colossal, intricate Chinese chandelier. In the lobby's west wing is a glass case containing three wax figures (from the Hollywood Wax Museum) wearing authentic Chinese costumes from Cathay. The three female figures surround a now-empty chair that once held the wax likeness of actress Rhonda Fleming, wife of owner Ted Mann. Movie-makers used to consider it good luck to come to the theatre and touch these wax figures before embarking on a new film project.
Inside the vast auditorium, the 2,200 bright red seats and red carpeting are kept clean and in excellent condition. Overhead, a spectacular chandelier illuminates the center of a mammoth, ornate starburst, surrounded by a ring of dragons - which is, in turn, encircled by a ring of icons portraying scenes from Chinese drama. Smaller Oriental lamps glow at the sides of the auditorium, hanging between intricately-carved stone columns; black & white murals of trees and pagodas fill the spaces in between.
Turn around and look behind you in the theatre, and you'll discover that what would usually have been the balcony section was divided into four private opera boxes for visiting celebrities. Also, note the large number of assorted Asian statues, gongs, vases, shields, and friezes employed to add to the theatre's overall exotic ambiance. (My only complaint is that the interior lighting is kept so dim that it is difficult to appreciate all of the theatre's lavish detail.)
The Chinese Theatre may not be the best-preserved theatre in Hollywood - that honor would go to Disney's recently-restored El Capitan, across the street - but it is certainly in fine condition for a 70-year-old movie palace. And they've kept up with the times when it comes to movie technology, too: the theatre offers 70mm projection and a state-of-the-art THX sound system (which can actually be a little too loud at times).
But whether you plan to see a movie here or not, if you're going to make the pilgrimage to Hollywood, the Chinese Theatre is a must-see.
But the biggest news is that
& Highland project opened right next door to Grauman's
Chinese. In fact, the spectacular development takes up the entire block,
from Orange to Highland, and essentially surrounds the historic theatre.
The $600 million project includes the permanent home for the Academy Awards
show (the Dolby Theatre), a grand ballroom for post-Oscar parties, restaurants,
nightclubs, retail shops, a luxury hotel and parking for 3,000 cars. Six
smaller, modern cinemas have been built next door (to the east of the existing
theatre), and the main Chinese theatre has undergone a major renovation,
removing the box office and some of the more recent signs, to return the
theatre to the way it looked when it first opened.
Update: In 2013, they
sold the naming rights of the theatre, and as a result, the official
name is now "TCL Chinese Theatre", named after the Chinese electronics
company that paid $5 million for the right to slap their name on the
marquee. Of course, it will always be called Grauman's Chinese by
the public. Trying to rename something as well-known and historic
as Grauman's Chinese is like trying to rename the Eiffel Tower.
You might convince the media to play along, but the public knows better.
On the bright side, the
current owners (producer Donald Kushner & Elie Samaha) used some of that money to turn the interior of Grauman's into the
largest IMAX theatre in the world (in terms of seating capacity) with
986 tiered seats and a 94-foot wide screen. They promised to leave
the historic elements of the theatre interior intact, but they hope
that the new IMAX screen will allow the theatre to host even more movie
premieres than usual (as well as providing a more comfortable, modern
viewing experience for the audience). The theatre was be closed
briefly, from May until September 2013, but is now open again with its new IMAX screen.
Parking: Parking can be a real problem on Hollywood Blvd. There is some limited free street parking on the residential streets just south of the boulevard, such as Hawthorne. There is a one-hour limit on these streets, but not if you visit on Sunday. Parking is now available in the garage under the new Hollywood & Highland project (be sure to get your parking ticket validated, for a reduced fee) - enter on Orange Ave. There are also paid lots south of Hollywood Blvd (and east of Orange), and there is a paid parking lot on the west side of Highland, just south of Hollywood Boulevard.
(The outdoor courtyard is open
24 hours a day, but use common sense and come at a sensible hour.)
Getting there: The Chinese Theatre is located at the northeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Orange Drive, just west of Highland Avenue, and just eleven blocks west of the corner of Hollywood & Vine. The new Hollywood & Highland project is immediately to the east of the Chinese. / From the Hollywood (101) Freeway, take the Hollywood Boulevard exit, then go west on Hollywood Boulevard a mile and a half, to just past Highland Avenue (and just before Orange Drive). The theatre will be on your right (north) side. You can't miss it.
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