AKA: Grauman's Chinese Theater, Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA; Mann's Chinese Theatre, Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA

Structure Type: built works - performing arts structures - theatres

Designers: Behr Browers Architects, Incorporated (firm); Meyer and Holler, Architects, Engineers and Builders (firm); Francisco A. Behr (architect); Michael Browers (architect); Philip W. Holler (architect); Raymond McCormick Kennedy Sr. (architect); Mendel S. Meyer (building contractor); Donald Reuben Wilkinson (architect)

Dates: constructed 1926-1927

6925 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, Los Angeles, CA 90028-6103

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Grauman's Chinese Theater

Overview

Grauman's Chinese Theatre became a central fixture in the manufactured grandeur of Hollywoood, both as a late and exotic movie palace venue to watch glamorous and highly choreographed film premieres, but also as the initial place where stars immortalized hand and footprints into the cement sidewalks. It also hosted the Academy Awards ceremonies held between 1944 and 1946. Its over-the-top exoticism set it apart from most movie palaces, and became impresario Sid Grauman's last great entertainment monument.

Building History

Planning for this grand theatre began in mid-March 1923, with a meeting in the offices of West Coast Theaters, Incorporated, a leading West Coast exhibitor chain, attended by Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Joseph M. Schenck, Sid Grauman, and West Coast Theaters executives Sol Lesser, Adolph Ramish and L.A. Gore and Mike Gore. The group discussed building a $1 million venue that "...would be devoted to the spoken drama exclusively. Only on rare occasions will a film be presented." (See "Doug, Mary in Theater Plan," Los Angeles Times, 03/14/1923, part II, p. 10.) Construction was supposed to begin immediately, but groundbreaking did not occur until three years later. Clearly, the popularity and profitability of motion pictures during the 1920s altered these plans for what would become Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Ground-breaking for the second movie palace in Hollywood managed by Sid Grauman (1879-1950), (the first being his Egyptian Theatre of 1922), occurred on 01/05/1926. It opened more than 17 months later on 05/18/1927, exhibiting Cecil B. DeMille's film, "King of Kings." This theatre opening was considered particularly memorable in Hollywood history for the number of luminaries that attended. The Los Angeles Times society reporter, Myra Nye, wrote shortly before the opening: "The society affair of the year in Cinemaland marks this week as a highlight on the social calendar. Not only are the cinemalites interested but the entire colony in California, more especially that of Los Angeles and San Francisco, in the formal opening of Grauman's Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard Wednesday night of this week. It will not be a strictly motion-picture event. Instead from the plans already formulated it will be one of the most brilliant social affairs of recent times here. The first families of Los Angeles will be represented to the extent of the city's social register; the chief figures of the screen naturally will be presents, Gov. Young and staff will attend, and Mayor Rolph of San Francisco will captain a special trainload of that city's four hundred. All seats to this opening will be countersigned by Sid Grauman, to whom the Chinese Theater represents a dream of years. The regular price of the seats is the highest that has ever been exacted for a motion-picture production." (See Myra Nye, "Society of Cinemaland," Los Angeles Times, 05/15/1927, p. 32.)

In addition to a chartered train bringing Mayor Rolph and guests from San Francisco, another brought investors and industry moguls from New York for the event. "The [New York] train proposed by the delegation from the metropolis will be made up exclusively of drawing-room cars, with special observation car containing a dance floor, motion-picture equipment, stock-market ticker, radio and orchestra, according to plans The trip as planned in the eastern metropolis involves an absence of ten days, a train, theater and banquet expense of $481.68." The price of this package (exclusive of lodging) would have been equivalent to $6,708.80 in 2018 dollars. (See "Expect Special Train: Announcement Made of De Luxe Cars to Grauman Opening," Los Angeles Times, 05/11/1927, p. A11.) Demille's film "King of Kings" played for five months at Grauman's Chinese, and was viewed by more than 500,000 people. (See "Film House Acquired by Producers," Los Angeles Times, 10/26/1927 p. A10.)

Grauman had multiple financial partners in this enterprise, including the movie stars Mary Pickford (1892-1979) and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., (1883-1939), and the film exhibition company, West Coast Theatres, Incorporated, under Sol Lesser (1890-1980). Grauman also sold bonds to finance some of the cost of construction. The Stars Pickford and Fairbanks diversified their salaries into various investments, including the foundation of the United Artists studio in 1919 with director D.W. Griffiths and comedian Charlie Chaplin. The pair also invested in a chain of movie theatres under the "United Artists" name in the US and abroad beginning in 1926. (This company was called the "United Artists Theater Circuit, Incorporated." See Earle E. Grove, "Theater Chain Does Well," Los Angeles Times, 11/29/1927, p. 14.) In late 10/1926, theatre owner and President of the combined United Artists studio and exhibition chain, Joseph M. Schenck, (born "Ossip Schencker," 1876-1961), announced that UA had purchased West Coast Theatres' 2/3rds interest in Grauman's Chinese, but would be keeping Grauman on as Managing Director. (See "Film House Acquired by Producers," Los Angeles Times, 10/26/1927 p. A10.)

As a result of her investments in the UA studio and theatre chain, Pickford amassed an estate valued between $40 and $50 million at her death in 1979. Grauman sold his interest in the theatre in 1929, but, save for periods of brief retirement in 1929 and 1930, continued to serve as its Managing Director until his death in 1950.

Designed by the Los Angeles firm of Meyer and Holler, Engineers and Builders, Grauman's Chinese cost a very large amount for the time, $2.1 million, and had an elaborate "oriental" decorative scheme. According to the theatre's web site in 2018: "Authorization had to be obtained from the U.S. government to import temple bells, pagodas, stone Heaven Dogs and other artifacts from China. Poet and film director Moon Quon came from China, and under his supervision Chinese artisans created many pieces of statuary in the work area that eventually became the Forecourt of the Stars. Most of these pieces still decorate the ornate interior of the theatre today." (See TCL Chinese Theatre Imax.com, "History," accessed 01/03/2019.) Its forecourt, where movie star hand and footprints are preserved in cement, is a top tourist attraction. Theatre historian David Naylor, has credited Meyer and Holler employee, Raymond Kennedy, as the building's "chief designer." (See David Naylor, American Picture Palaces The Architecture of Fantasy, [New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold: 1981], p. 88.)

In 2011, Grauman's was sold by "an an ownership group that included Warner Bros. and Viacom" to movie producer, Don Kushner and entrepreneur Elie Samaha. (See Deadline Hollywood.com, "Grauman's Chinese Gets New Owners," published 04/28/2011, accessed 01/03/2019.)

The Chinese electronics company, TCL, headquartered in Huizhou, Guangdong Province, bought 10-year naming rights for $5 million to the theatre in 01/11/2013. (See Richard Verrier, Los Angeles Times.com, "China firm buys naming rights to Grauman's Chinese Theatre," published 01/11/2013, accessed 01/03/2019.) The theatre was known following this agreement as the "TCL Chinese Theatre."

Building Notes

Grauman's Chinese, the last of Sid Grauman's three movie palaces in Los Angeles, CA, contained a respectable 2,258 seats, about half the number of the largest movie theatres of the era. There were no balconies, only 4 private loges for Grauman and his guests.

The M.H. Lewis and Company of Los Angeles sold first mortgage 6/1/2% serial bonds, due 1928-1940 to cover some of the construction expenses. An ad for these bonds stated: "Total security value, without considering leashold, exceeds $906,000, making this issue less than a 50% lien, while net earnings are conservatively estimated at more than 6 times annual interest charges." (See "A 50% Lien on Grauman's Magnificent Chinese Theatre Opening Today," M.H. Lewis and Company advertisement, Los Angeles Times, 05/18/1927, p. 15.)

Alteration

The Westlake Village-based architectural firm of Behr Browers Architects, Incorporated, supervised a renovation of Grauman's Chinese Theatre beginning in 2001. Following the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, a thorough examination of the building's structure took place. The theatre's own web site said of this 2001 restoration effort: "In 2001, the theatre underwent major renovations that coincided with the opening of the Hollywood & Highland mall and the new Chinese 6 Theatres. This renovation was designed to rejuvenate and enhance the Chinese Theatre. Additionally, several earthquake retrofits were required to protect the structure and ensure its permanence." (See TCL Chinese Theatre Imax.com, "History," accessed 01/03/2019.)

Behr Browers Architects web site stated of its work here: "In addition to seismically reinforcing this world famous landmark, our team was charged with integrating state of the art sound and image technologies, new concession sale area, and modestly restoring the various interior and exterior decorative elements and lighting." (See Behr Browers Architects, Incorporated.com, " (See Behr Browers Architects, Incorporated.com, "Grauman's Chinese Theatre," accessed 01/03/2019.) Behr Browers also added a new six-theatre, Mann's Chinese 6 Theatre, to the Hollywood and Highland Mall attached to the Grauman complex.

California Historical Landmark: ID n/a

Los Angeles Historical-Cultural Monument (Listed 1968-06-05): 55

PCAD id: 514