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A tourist hops off the bus on Hollywood Boulevard with the goal of seeing just one place.
Meandering through a crowd of hot dog vendors and street characters, the imposing theater comes into view. Staggering before them is the TCL Chinese Theatre, with its intricate Asian-influenced details and megawatt forecourt. Even for the locals, this spot is what makes Hollywood, Hollywood.
The impresario behind the building was Sid Grauman, an Indiana native and theater chain mogul who initially operated vaudeville theaters with his brother, David. They shifted into movie palaces, opening venues in San Francisco and San Jose. Their first effort in Los Angeles was downtown’s Million Dollar Theatre, which remains in operation today for special events and screenings.
Located at 307 S. Broadway, the Million Dollar Theatre launched in 1917 with the premiere of the silent western “The Silent Man,” starring and directed by William S. Hart. The exterior features Spanish Colonial Revival touches, and the interior remains immaculate with detailed moldings. While the structure has not undergone the extensive renovations and repairs that other Grauman structures have over the years, even through the wear-and-tear, the theater remains a unique location to see a classic film. It is often used as a site for the summer film series Last Remaining Seats.
The brothers Grauman next turned to Hollywood to open a movie palace – which would be dubbed the Egyptian Theatre, located at 6712 Hollywood Blvd. It took a year and a half to complete the Egyptian Revival building, which incorporated not only touches of Eygptian flare but also Spanish-style roofing. Initial plans for the building showed it to be completely influenced by Mexican style, but it was converted to an Egyptian theme during its long construction. David Grauman died before the building’s completion, and Sid carried on the company on his own.
It opened on October 18, 1922, with the first-ever Hollywood-based premiere – “Robin Hood” starring Douglas Fairbanks. Classic Hollywood has remained an intrinsic part of the Egyptian’s identity. For many years it was owned by the American Cinematheque, a nonprofit that preserves film history. The American Cinematheque took over the building in the late-1990s and conducted extensive renovation that brought the structure up to date while retaining its unique vintage charm.
The Egyptian is currently undergoing a massive renovation and restoration following its purchase by Netflix in 2020. It is expected to open in November and will bring the theater close to its original appearance. The American Cinematheque will continue to run programming at the venue, as well.
The success of the Egyptian led to the even larger scale Chinese Theatre, located at 6925 Hollywood Blvd., which includes a dragon, red pagoda and two Ming Dynasty-era guard lions. During its construction, the idea came to cement Hollywood stars in the forecourt, with blocks containing their handprints and footprints. The exact origin is uncertain, but the common thread is that someone, perhaps Grauman or silent star Norma Talmadge, accidentally walked in wet cement, which sparked the idea.
Talmadge was the first official star to be cemented in the forecourt, and close to 200 ceremonies have been conducted in the near-100 years since. From Joan Crawford to Judy Garland, John Wayne to Jack Lemmon, Meryl Streep to Dwayne Johnson, only the most elite of Hollywood luminaries are invited to join the roster.
The theater has changed hands a few times over the years, with the Mann Theatre chain owning the structure for several decades. It was bought by TCL in 2013, who upgraded the screen and seating to accommodate the IMAX format. Unlike the Million Dollar Theatre and the Egyptian, the Chinese Theatre continues to show new releases and hosts industry events.
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