May 30, 2012

Photo Essay: Behind the Scenes at Grauman's Chinese Theater (Now TCL, Updated for 2019)

Last Updated: 1/12/19 8:47 PM PT

When I was back home earlier this month, Maria asked me if I ever did any cheesy touristy things in LA, like taking a tour of the Chinese Theater. I said, "No, not yet."

And then this weekend, I had my chance.

I always knew the Grauman's Chinese Theater—familiar to me for decades as "Mann's" Chinese Theater—as the locale of hundreds of Hollywood movie premieres...

circa 2019

...and Walk of Fame star dedications, foot- and handprint-making in awkward, bent-over, cleavage-spilling poses.

circa 2019

I had no idea of its place in Hollywood's architectural and cultural heritage.

Built relatively quickly to open in 1927, the Chinese Theater was Sid Grauman's latest (and last) venture in his game of one-upsmanship against himself, having already made a splash with other elaborate movie palaces...

...namely, in Downtown LA with the Metropolitan, and nearby in Hollywood with the Egyptian.

Quite staggeringly, even after drastic renovations in the late 1950s and in the early 2000s, the Chinese Theater still stands...

...though some original elements have gone missing over time (like the original chandelier, and some light bulbs which have gone out).

circa 2013

In 2013, after Chinese home electronic company TCL Corporation bought its naming rights, the theatre closed for a period of restoration—including the installation of LED lighting features—and to be retrofitted with an IMAX screen. The raked floor was gutted and rebuilt.

Prior to that, its screen was already large (perhaps the largest in LA) and still, as in its heyday, was showing first-run films and premiering them with all of the glitz and glamour as ever. Now, it's one of the largest IMAX theaters in North America, currently with a seating capacity of 932.

circa 2013

Brick walls are ornately painted with Chinese icons, poured concrete ceilings are painted to give the appearance of wood, columns are coated in plaster to appear as stone...

...and even though the singer's boxes and crystal ornaments on each side of the stage are gone (the latter having been removed in the advent of sound, since they rattled too much)...

...everything still shines, glitters, and glows.

The ushers (and usherettes) no longer appear in full Chinese regalia...

...but one lovely lady does sit in lobby to greet the moviegoers.

Backstage, there are no longer dancers comprising Sid Grauman's "Cast of Thousands" in his famous prologues which often delayed the start of a film several hours.

Down below, under the stage (which was lowered in the '50s), you can no longer climb the stairs up into the orchestra pit.

It's unclear whether any of this exists anymore after the 2013 restoration, as this was part of the gutting.

But one thing's for sure: Babies no longer cry in the cast and crew nursery.

Upstairs, the dressing rooms have been converted into offices.

Original etched windows still stand in the panes, but Sid no longer peers through them from his office chair.

The projection room operates on a primarily digital platform instead of off the classic reels...

...but it still is showing movies for thousands of adoring fans.

Related Reading:
Photo Essay: Inside Governor's Island: Fort Jay Movie Theater
Behind the Mask

1 comment: