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The Hollywood Boulevard Commercial and Entertainment District was established in 1985 to recognize the historical significance of over 100 entertainment, commercial, and retail buildings located in Hollywood’s commercial core, stretching roughly 12 blocks along Hollywood Boulevard. The district contains 10 theatres.
The commercial core of Hollywood started to gain prominence in the early 1920s although its first theatre (the Hollywood Theater, now the Guinness World Records Museum) was actually built in 1913. The general design pattern of the area, still visible today, was high-rise buildings at major intersections flanked by one/two-story retail buildings.
The vast majority of the buildings listed in the district were built between 1915 and 1939. The district has a large number of neon signs and is notable for the Hollywood Walk of Fame which runs for 1.3 miles (2.1 km) between the intersections of Hollywood & La Brea and Hollywood & North Gower.
After the Hollywood Theater opened in 1913, the next theatre to open was the Holly Cinema in 1920, altered into its current French Chateauesque style in the 1930s by noted theatre architect S. Charles Lee. The old movie theatre has long since been converted to retail use.
After opening the Million Dollar Theatre in early 1918 in downtown Los Angeles, Sid Grauman turned his attention to Hollywood, building the Egyptian Theatre which opened in October 1922. At an early stage of construction the design was switched from Spanish Colonial to Egyptian Revival (note the Spanish-style roof tiles above the main entrance) which proved to be an extremely fortuitous move for Grauman given Howard Carter’s discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun just one month after the theatre opened. The opening of the Egyptian Theatre on 18th October 1922 was Hollywood’s first movie premiere: “Robin Hood” starring Douglas Fairbanks.
Grauman went on to build his Chinese Theatre, a couple of blocks west of the Egyptian Theatre, which opened in May 1927 and has likely seen the greatest number of movie premieres of any movie theatre across the globe. Both the Chinese and Egyptian theatres feature outdoor “courtyard lobbies” taking advantage of outdoor open space in front of the theatre and its visibility from the street.
The courtyard lobby concept helped create a buzz of excitement as passers-by saw crowds gathering for a performance or screening, however was only really practical in theatres in the Southern California area. Other theatres featuring courtyard lobbies are the Alex Theatre in Glendale, the Arlington Theatre in Santa Barbara, the Fox Fullerton, the Geffen Playhouse, the Pasadena Playhouse, and the Plaza Theatre in Palm Springs.
The opening of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre had been preceded by a year in which four new theatres opened in Hollywood: first came the El Capitan Theatre in May 1926, the Music Box Theatre followed in October, then January 1927 saw both the Vine St Theatre and the Hollywood Playhouse open.
The El Capitan was built by producer and entertainer Charles Toberman, who 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 popular late-night TV show Jimmy Kimmel Live! ).
The El Capitan Theatre was dubbed “Hollywood’s First Home of Spoken Drama” and staged legitimate productions. Over the years the theatre increasingly ran movies, and in 1941 it was rechristened as the Hollywood Paramount, dedicated to movies. The theatre was painstakingly restored by Disney in the mid-1980s and is now their principal first-run movie theatre, often featuring movie premieres, spectacular pre-shows, organ accompaniments, and Q&A sessions.
The Music Box Theatre, a mile east of the El Capitan, opened in October 1926 as a theatre dedicated to light-hearted musical comedy reviews, opened by Carter DeHaven who sought to bring a “Ziegfeld flavor” to Los Angeles’ entertainment scene. The venture was not successful and within a year the theatre was focused on presenting legitimate drama. Now called the Fonda Theatre, it continues to be a popular and vibrant live entertainment venue in the heart of Hollywood and was recently named top music venue in L.A. (number 1 out of 50) by Los Angeles music critics.
The Vine St Theatre was opened in January 1927 by the Wilkes Brothers, claimed to be Hollywood’s first Broadway-style theatre. In 1936 it became the CBS Radio Playhouse and the home of The Al Jolson Show. In 1999 the Ricardo Montalbán Foundation bought the building with the vision of providing inspiration and training for emerging artists in the Hispanic community and thus enabling them to mainstream into the performing arts and the broader entertainment industry. The theatre reopened in 2004 as the Ricardo Montalbán Theatre and now features a hugely-popular rooftop cinema.
Five days after the Vine St Theatre opened, the Hollywood Playhouse opened as yet another legitimate theatre. After the Great Depression hit, the Playhouse became the WPA Federal Theatre for its participation in the Federal Theatre Project. For a few years in the 1940s the theatre took the El Capitan name, having recently been released by the renaming of the El Capitan Theatre as the Paramount Hollywood.
In the early 1950s NBC bought the theatre and turned it into their US West Coast television theatre. Many notable broadcasts came from the theatre including The Bob Hope Show. In the early 1960s ABC bought the theatre and made it the home of The Jerry Lewis Show. In 2002 the theatre was purchased by Hollywood Entertainment Partners as an addition to their successful “Avalon” clubs in Boston and New York. Avalon Hollywood has been going strong for nearly 20 years and continues to be at the forefront of premier live entertainment and music in Hollywood as we enter the 2020s.
In 1928 Warner Bros were keen to make their mark on the Hollywood scene and commissioned theatre architect G. Albert Lansburgh to design the massive Warner Brothers Hollywood theatre, taking up half a city block and seating just short of 2,800. The theatre had two entrances: one on Hollywood Blvd and the other on Wilcox Avenue. The theatre is peculiar in that it’s oriented 45 degrees to the street grid, however in this way Lansburgh could fit a large theatre into a smaller building footprint.
The lobby wraps around the Orchestra level seating in the shape of a horseshoe. In 1978 the theatre was triplex’d (split into three separate movie theatres) and ultimately closed in 1994. From October 2000 the main auditorium was used by the Entertainment Technology Center as their Digital Cinema Laboratory, and then in 2006 a church took over use of the theatre. The church’s lease was terminated in 2013 and the building has remained vacant and shuttered since then.
In mid-1930 the Pantages Theatre opened, claimed to be the United State’s first Art Deco theatre. It was the last theatre to be built by theatrical impresario Alexander Pantages and was designed by architect B. Marcus Priteca. A 10-story office tower was originally planned above the theatre however it was scrapped due to the Great Depression.
Designed as a vaudeville/movie combination theatre, it ended up showing mostly movies due to the depression. The theatre was fully renovated and restored in 1999-2000 just prior to a two-year run of Disney’s “The Lion King”. The Pantages is now the home of Broadway in Hollywood .
Nonprofit organization Hollywood Heritage was formed in 1980 with the mission to preserve and protect the historic built environment of Hollywood. Hollywood Heritage is based in the Lasky DeMille Barn in Hollywood.
The organization looks after the fascinating “Hollywood in Miniature” model, brainchild of Joe Pellkofer, owner of the Hollywood Cabinet Company, who kept his craftsmen busy during quiet periods by recreating detailed street scenes of Hollywood in the mid-1930s. The model is hosted in the DeLongpre Annex – a storefront that was donated by Robertson Properties Group, and is usually part of the Old Hollywood Walking Tour .
Originally opened as the Hollywood Playhouse in 1927, the theatre was the last of four major legitimate theatres to open in Hollywood in relatively quick succession. During the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, the building was the U.S. West Coast’s best-known television theatre, broadcasting shows such as “The Bob Hope Show”, “The Hollywood Palace”, and “The Jerry Lewis Show”. It is now a popular live entertainment venue called “Avalon”.
The 1927 TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood was Sid Grauman’s second Hollywood movie palace following the opening of the Egyptian Theatre in 1922, just down the street on Hollywood Boulevard. The Chinese Theatre has likely hosted the largest number of movie premieres of any venue in the world, having been a favorite since its hosting of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The King of Kings” in May 1927.
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 Spanish 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.
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!”).
Opened in 1928 as the Warner Brothers Hollywood and seating just short of 2,800, this was the largest theatre of its day in Hollywood. Architect G. Albert Lansburgh cleverly maximized the available space by orienting the oval-shaped auditorium and stage at 45 degrees to the building’s rectangular footprint.
The Pantages was the United States’ first Art Deco theatre, completed in June 1930. No expense was spared on its opulent interior. For a time the theatre was owned by Howard Hughes who maintained his personal offices above the theatre. It is now owned and managed by the Nederlander Organization and was extensively refurbished 1999-2000. The theatre now brings Broadway hits to the Los Angeles and wider Southern California audiences.
Hollywood’s 3,400-seat Dolby Theatre, formerly known as the Kodak Theatre, was designed as a permanent home for the annual Academy Awards ceremony (the Oscars), and having opening in November 2001 has hosted the Oscars every year since. The theatre is located within the Hollywood & Highland entertainment and shopping complex, in the heart of Hollywood.
The Earl Carroll Theatre opened in late 1938 as an “entertainment palace” dinner theatre, or supper club, located in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard. Earl Carroll, a Broadway impresario nicknamed “the Troubadour of the Nude”, had already operated a similarly themed theatre in New York from 1922 to 1932, and both theatres sported the phrase “Through these portals pass the most beautiful girls in the world” over their respective entrances.
The Fonda opened in late 1926 as the Music Box Theatre, offering light-hearted musical comedy reviews. It was one of a flurry of theatres to open in Hollywood during 1926 and 1927. An open-air terrace was included above the lobby which catered for dancing and socializing, as well as illicit drinking. The theatre was designed by L.A.-based architects Morgan, Walls, & Clements.
The Montalbán opened in January 1927 as the Wilkes Brothers Vine Street Theatre and the first legitimate Broadway-style theatre in Hollywood. The early 1930s saw it run as a cinema for a few years before becoming the CBS Radio Playhouse – and home of the Al Jolson show – in 1936.
April Clemmer’s Old Hollywood Walking Tour will tour you around the Hollywood Boulevard Commercial and Entertainment District and even get you inside some of the old theatres. Tours generally run the last Friday of every month plus additional special dates, and last approximately 90 mins. Advance reservations are requested. For more information, tour schedules, and reservations, go to the Old Hollywood Walking Tour website .
Photographs copyright © 2002-2020 Mike Hume/historictheatrephotos.com unless otherwise noted.
Text copyright © 2017-2020 Mike Hume/historictheatrephotos.com.
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