<< Go Back up to Region ‘Los Angeles: Hollywood’

Follow Mike Hume’s Historic Theatre Photography: Follow Historic Theatre Photos on Instagram Follow Historic Theatre Photos on Facebook Follow Historic Theatre Photos on Twitter
El Capitan Theatre

El Capitan Theatre

First Opened: 3rd May 1926 (94 years ago)

Reopened: 19th June 1991

Former Names: Hollywood Paramount, Loew’s, Cinema on Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood Cinema

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

Telephone: (818) 845-3110 Call (818) 845-3110

Address: 6838 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028 Show address in Google Maps (new window)

Featured Photos

Overview

The El Capitan opened in mid-1926, dubbed “Hollywood’s First Home of Spoken Drama”, and was the brainchild of producer and entertainer Charles Toberman. Toberman envisaged Hollywood as a new theatrical and entertainment district for Los Angeles and played an integral part in key developments including the Roosevelt Hotel, Grauman’s Egyptian and Chinese theatres, and the Masonic Temple (now the El Capitan Entertainment Center hosting “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”).

The building’s exterior on Hollywood Blvd, as designed by Morgan, Wells & Clements
The building’s exterior on Hollywood Blvd, as designed by Morgan, Wells & Clements

The design of the El Capitan was a collaboration between noted Los Angeles architects Morgan, Walls & Clements (exterior) and G. Albert Lansburgh (interior). They would later team-up again on The Wiltern; previously Morgan, Walls & Clements had designed the Belasco and Mayan theatres; Lansburgh the Palace, the Orpheum, and the Shrine Auditorium.

The exterior is of Spanish Colonial style with offices above street level, the large-windowed space beside the theatre lobby being retail, originally opened as a Baker Bros. department store. Morgan, Walls & Clements also designed the exterior ticket lobby.

Drawing of the El Capitan Theatre as printed by the Los Angeles Times upon its opening
Drawing of the El Capitan Theatre as printed by the Los Angeles Times upon its opening

Lansburgh’s lavish interior was inspired by East Indian themes which he noted had never been used in Southern California before. In his own words that was what made the style suitable for Hollywood, because “the residents demand the extraordinary”.

Although initially successful, Toberman found running the theatre hard work and turned it over to theatre manager and producer Henry Duffy within a few years. Duffy ran legitimate productions for over a decade with stars including Clark Gable, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, Joan Fontaine, and Will Rogers.

In May 1941 the El Capitan hosted the world premiere of Citizen Kane (1941) Link opens in new window. After the short run the theatre closed for conversion into a movie theatre, reopening on 18th March 1942 as the Hollywood Paramount under the management of brother and sister team Fanchon & Marco, on a long-term lease from Toberman.

The El Capitan’s “East-Indian” themed auditorium was designed by G. Albert Lansburgh
The El Capitan’s “East-Indian” themed auditorium was designed by G. Albert Lansburgh

The streamline “art moderne” renovation saw ornate plasterwork covered-up with undulating corrugated sheet metal, however the theatre was described at its reopening as “a resplendently modernized establishment”.

Charles Toberman moved his interest – and his theatre name – eastward to the Hollywood Playhouse which he bought in partnership with Sid Grauman and renamed the El Capitan Theatre, largely financed by the leasing of the original El Capitan. With the new Paramount design aimed at movie exhibition and not stage presentation, Toberman arranged for “stage equipment” (the precise details are not clear) to be moved from the old theatre to the new, and the Los Angeles Times reported that his entire staff also made the transfer to the new El Capitan Theatre.

The renovated auditorium interior
The renovated auditorium interior

In the mid-1960s management switched hands to Statewide Theatres who carried-out a major refurbishment in 1964. Loew’s took over in mid-1967 followed by General Cinema in 1972, then Century Theatres in mid-1974, and Sterling Recreation Organization in late 1976. Various minor modernizations, further altering the historic fabric of the building, took place over the years of successive management. In 1985 Pacific Theatres took over, with the theatre ultimately closing in 1989.

In 1989 the Walt Disney Company joined forces with Pacific Theatres to restore the theatre to its original configuration, in a project led by renowned theatre designer Joseph J. Musil. Corrugated sheet metal was peeled-back to reveal the original 1920’s architecture, and missing features – such as the auditorium boxes and parts of the lobbies – were painstakingly recreated from historic photographs. The iconic “El Capitan” lettering atop the building’s mast was also restored. The theatre was declared a Historic Cultural Monument by the City of Los Angeles in 1990 and reopened in June 1991.

The “Fox Special” Wurlitzer Pipe Organ
The “Fox Special” Wurlitzer Pipe Organ

The theatre houses a 4-manual, 37-rank Wurlitzer pipe organ, the last of five magnificent “Fox Specials” built in the 1920’s, designed with all the “bells and whistles” for deluxe movie palaces. It was originally installed in the San Francisco Fox Theatre in 1929. The four organ chambers (two per side) house over 2,500 individual pipes, the largest of which is over 32 feet long. The organ was meticulously restored over a one-year period and installed by G.M. Buck Pipe Organs, Inc. of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Today the El Capitan showcases first-run Disney movies, screenings of Disney classics, and hosts innumerable movie premieres. The continued tradition of pre-show entertainment and organ performances helps preserve the early 20th Century movie experience for generations to come.

Movie, TV & Music Video Appearances

Movies

Television

Documentary

Listed/Landmark Building Status

How do I visit the El Capitan Theatre?

As of mid-2018 the theatre runs 45-minute tours daily, usually at 8:30am, for $12 per person, subject to availability and/or change without notice. The tour includes the auditorium, backstage, dressing rooms, lower lounge, lobbies and the organ – all subject to availability and current theatre operations.

“Express” tours ($9 and lasting 15 minutes) are generally available throughout the day, dependent on current programming, and cover Front-of-House and lobby areas.

Tickets for all tours are available for purchase in-person at the theatre Box Office; advance reservations are not required. For further information check out the El Capitan Theatre Tour Flyer Link opens in new window or refer to the El Capitan Theatre ticketing website Link opens in new window. For more information or questions call 1-800-DISNEY6 or visit the theatre Box Office.

Note: movie screenings at the El Capitan often feature specially tailored pre-shows, often featuring the Wurlitzer organ and various entertainment features inside the auditorium, so differing requirements of these programs may restrict tour access to certain areas.


Upcoming Special Events
** CANCELED ** Theatre Tour

** CANCELED ** Theatre Tour (Daily, usually 8:30am)

** THIS EVENT HAS BEEN CANCELED **

Discover the history and magic of Disney’s premiere movie theatre with a behind-the-scenes tour!

45-minute docent guided tour, $12 per person includes: El Capitan Theatre and Hollywood history; behind-the-scenes “fun facts” and special event highlights; Wall of Fame and lobbies; Lower Lounge and exclusive displays; Theatre Auditorium; Backstage areas, including Sherman Brothers Star Dressing Room; photo opportunity with the mighty Wurlitzer Organ.

Tour tickets are available at the theatre, and walk-ups are welcome. Advance reservations by calling 1-800-347-6396 but are not required.

Note that each tour is unique. Tour locations may vary based on the theatre production schedule and showtimes. Tours are subject to availability and may change without prior notice.

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

Further Reading

Online

Books

Technical Information

General Information
Seating Capacity
998 (originally 1,550; reported as 1,520 in 1942; then 1,498 in 1964)
Stage Dimensions
Proscenium Width
49ft
Stage Depth
33ft
Stage Width
81ft
Historic Photos & Documents

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

Photos of the El Capitan Theatre

Jump to Photo Section:

  1. Auditorium
  2. Backstage
  3. Ticket Lobby
  4. Exterior and Public Areas
Auditorium

The auditorium dressing, lighting color scheme, and pre-show are designed for each movie playing at the theatre. “Classic” or “Throwback” screenings do not always include a pre-show or special auditorium dressing, but do often feature a Q&A session and/or short film about the movie being screened.

The main house drape is a guillotine-style curtain but also features 10 independent point lifts which allow the drape to be gracefully scalloped in a vast array of raising/lowering combinations, commonly called a contour curtain.

Backstage

The stage houses a “Mickey Lift”, a stage trapdoor mechanism designed and used exclusively by Disney.

Ticket Lobby

In early 2020 Disney announced the renaming of the ticket lobby as the Ed Collins Historic Lobby.

Exterior and Public Areas

The basement Function Room is often used for prop and costume displays relating to the movie currently playing at the theatre. The space was originally the Ladies Lounge.



Follow Mike Hume’s Historic Theatre Photography: Follow Historic Theatre Photos on Instagram Follow Historic Theatre Photos on Facebook Follow Historic Theatre Photos on Twitter