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Egyptian Theatre

Egyptian Theatre

First Opened: 18th October 1922 (97 years ago)

Reopened: 4th December 1998

Website: www.egyptiantheatre.com Open website in new window

Telephone: (323) 461-2020 Call (323) 461-2020

Address: 6712 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90028 Show address in Google Maps (new window)

Featured Photos

Overview

Built in the early 1920s by Sid Grauman, the Egyptian Theatre was was the site of the first Hollywood movie premiere. The theatre was designed by Meyer & Holler and was originally planned to be hispanic in nature, but was restyled prior to construction as Revival-Egyptian due to public fascination with Egyptian archaeology. This proved to be extremely fortuitous given Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun just one month after the theatre opened.

1922 Auditorium
1922 Auditorium

When opened in late 1922 the auditorium seated 1,771 all on one level. There were six large “windows” in the rear auditorium wall, one of which may have been a private balcony for Sid Grauman.

On either side of the auditorium there were Singer’s Boxes, used for the elaborate prologues Grauman was famous for staging prior to movie screenings. Whereas the House Right Singer’s Box was directly accessible from the Dressing Rooms, the House Left Singer’s Box required a trip out the Stage Door and along a cement sidewalk before ascending a short ladder to the box, probably negotiating at least two doors to shield noise and light.

Stage in 1922
Stage in 1922

The Proscenium was flanked with two pairs of gargantuan plaster pillars of 6ft diameter, with Sphinx sculptures between them at floor level, and capped overhead with elaborate decorative stepped plaster beams. The whole affair framed the proscenium and visually stepped-in towards it from the wider and higher auditorium.

At the center of the outermost plasterwork beam was a winged scarab Khepri surmounted by the traditional medallion supported by snakes. Lights behind the scarab would have filtered through the open holes around the plasterwork design.

Organ Grille in Auditorium Ceiling
Organ Grille in Auditorium Ceiling

The centerpiece of the auditorium was a massive stylized sunburst device on the ceiling which was in fact an organ grille. Above the plasterwork beams framing the proscenium sat two organ chambers concealed from view, from where the organ would “speak” into the auditorium via the sunburst organ grille. Because of the 15ft height limit within the chambers the longer pipes were housed along the Stage Left wall, above the Load-In door, in an arrangement similar to the El Capitan Theatre Link opens in new window just a few blocks west on Hollywood Boulevard.

The auditorium included a large orchestra pit to house the musicians who accompanied the elaborate prologues.

Forecourt in 1924
Forecourt in 1924

The Egyptian was one of a few theatres built in Southern California during the 1920s to feature an outdoor courtyard “lobby”. Taking advantage of the agreeable Los Angeles climate, the courtyard allowed patrons to congregate in a large open space, while being in full view of the busy street, thereby attracting passers-by to look in and wonder what was happening inside...and perhaps stop and buy a ticket. Never one to miss a trick, Sid Grauman also used the courtyard to advertise the theatre’s program with props and billboards, even including a life-size elephant to promote The Thief of Bagdad in 1924!

To add to the Egyptian theme, a Bedouin guard, in full costume, paraded back and forth across the top of the tiled roof prior to showtime, in full view of the incoming audience and counting down the minutes so the patrons would not be late to their seats. The Spanish-style roof tiles above the entrance hint at the original design intent that the theatre have a Spanish theme.

Other theatres of the time which were built with courtyard lobbies were the Fox Fullerton and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (both also by the architectural firm of Meyer & Holler, completed in 1925 and 1927 respectively), the Pasadena Playhouse and the Alex Theatre (both completed 1925), and the Geffen Playhouse (completed 1929 as a masonic lodge).

Opening night at the Egyptian was the premiere of “Robin Hood” starring Douglas Fairbanks. The prologue was reported to include a replica of the film’s Nottingham Castle set on the stage of the Egyptian. It was an elaborate affair, making full use of the outdoor courtyard for the stars to make their entrance with the press pack overlooking events from above. Thus the Hollywood movie premiere was born.

Backstage, the Egyptian was a hemp house with a Pin Rail at height on the Stage Right side. There is no evidence that the theatre was updated with a counterweight system at a later date.

In 1955 the Egyptian received updates to equip it for a long run of Oklahoma! Link opens in new window in TODD-AO projection, which saw some parts of the original proscenium removed. Seating was reduced to 1,318.

In 1968 further, and more extensive, updates were made to accommodate Dimension 150 (D-150) projection with an increased seating capacity of 1,340. The 70ft wide screen meant all of the original proscenium was removed. A new Projection Booth was also built at the rear of the main floor level.

The theatre closed in 1992, however was declared a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 1993. Some damage was caused to the building during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.

Auditorium in 2016
Auditorium in 2016

In 1996 American Cinematheque Link opens in new window bought the building from the Community Redevelopment Agency. The exterior was restored to its original condition while the interior was “upgraded” to 20th Century standards. Interior hieroglyphics were recreated with plaster outlines showing their original positions.

American Cinematheque officially reopened the theatre on Friday 4th December 1998 with the “re-premiere” of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 silent film The Ten Commandments, presented with the original live orchestral score. The evening’s gala event, devised by Cinematheque executive director Barbara Smith, came 75 years to the day after the movie originally premiered at the Egyptian Theatre.

The auditorium is now smaller (originally reported as seating 630; now reported as 616) however boasts a balcony, better seating, sightlines, and sound system. A second and much smaller screening theatre was also added at this time. The auditorium ceiling with its magnificent sunburst organ grille was preserved, as were the Singer’s Balconies. Some of the theatre’s original decorative items still remain on-site although hidden from general public view.

In July 2016 the projection booth was upgraded to allow the screening of 35mm nitrate prints. The walls of the booth were upgraded to provide better fire resistance and a new ventilation system, separate to the rest of the theatre, was added.

In Summer 2019 several media outlets reported that media giant Netflix was in talks with American Cinematheque to acquire the Egyptian Theatre.

Movie, TV & Music Video Appearances

Documentary

Listed/Landmark Building Status

How do I visit the Egyptian Theatre?

As of Summer 2019, American Cinematheque runs monthly tours, schedule permitting. Generally tours run at 10:30am on Saturdays, last around 60 minutes, and cost under $10. Most of the tour is on a level surface with very low gradient ramps. If you want to visit the old Dressing Rooms and Backstage areas be prepared to climb several flights of stairs. Find out more by looking at American Cinematheque’s Calendar Link opens in new window. Walk-ups welcome; advance reservations not required.

Upcoming Special Events
Theatre Tour

Theatre Tour (23rd November 2019, 10:30am)

Enjoy a day in historic Hollywood at the home of Hollywood’s first movie premiere! Take a behind-the-scenes, docent-led tour of the legendary 1922 Egyptian Theatre built by legendary impresario Sid Grauman. See what it would have been like to be in a Grauman stage show with a visit to the dressing rooms and singers’ boxes. Discover the painstaking restoration work and the marriage of modern technology with a landmark of Hollywood history.

Tours will start promptly at 10:30am at the Box Office. Tours run approximately 60 minutes. Wear your walking shoes! You will see the old dressing rooms, the singer’s boxes and our projection booth. Reservations are not required, we have room for everyone. Tours will be held rain or shine.

Tour Tickets: $9 General Admission ($7 Member/Student/Senior)

Click here to go to the event website. Link opens in new window

Further Reading

Online

Books

Technical Information

General Information
Seating Capacity 616
Movie Projection
Film Formats 16mm, 35mm, 70mm
Projection Angle 8 degrees
Projection Throw 92ft
Screen Dimensions 53ft by 27ft
Historic Photos & Documents

Historic files shown here may be subject to copyright; review our “Fair Use” statement here.

Photos of the Egyptian Theatre

Jump to Photo Section:

  1. Auditorium
  2. Exterior
  3. Other Public Areas
  4. Backstage
Auditorium

The auditorium, now called the Lloyd E. Rigler Theatre, originally sat 1,760 on a single level. Seating capacity is now 618 (Main floor: 504; Balcony: 114).

The 1990s renovations greatly altered the rake of the main floor seating, removed the rear section of seats for lobby space, and added a balcony. The dark blue structures were a main addition of the 1990s renovation and provide services such as lighting, air conditioning, and sound. The structures were designed so as not to intercept with the historic structure. The baffle “walls” provide improved acoustics for movie screenings and opened-up like doors before and after screenings to afford patrons sight of the original structure. Sadly the movable parts have not been used in many years and remain closed, providing for good acoustics but hiding much of the historic building from sight.

Exterior

The theatre’s courtyard is 45ft wide and 125ft long. The shops lining the left side of the courtyard originally housed Egyptian-themed business such as a rug maker. A stairway at the southern end of these shops led to the roof area above the shops, an area where the press pack often gathered to photograph movie premieres. Immediately in front of the theatre entrance the courtyard is wider, with a monumental false entrance from the east (Las Palmas Ave).

Other Public Areas

During the 1990s renovation the original Orchestra rear seating area was completely removed and the space revamped to add lobby space, concessions, ADA access, and a small screening theatre (capacity 77) called the Steven Spielberg Theatre.

Backstage

The movie screen is set far back onto the original stage, with perhaps 10ft remaining before the rear wall. Whereas there is nothing left of the original stage at stage level, the block containing Dressing Rooms at Stage Left is still intact.

The main level of the Dressing Room block, comprising the theatre’s original Fan Room and Battery Room, is used for storage. Dressing Rooms occupy the remaining two levels, with the first level also providing access to the House Right Singer’s Balcony. There are various pieces stored from the theatre’s 95+ year history, most notably the oblong-shaped “urns” which were used as decoration on either side of the Singer’s Balconies and can be seen in photos dating from 1922.

Patrons attending the theatre’s regular tours are taken through the old Dressing Rooms and get a chance to stand out on the Singer’s Balcony.



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