October 18, 2012

Photo Essay: Upon the 90th Anniversary of the Egyptian Theatre (Updated for 2020—Sold to Netflix)

[Last updated 12/24/20 11:01 PM PT—information on sale of theatre and new ownership added]

Ninety years ago, Los Angeles' center city was still Downtown, filled with glittering marquees and glitterati. Hollywood consisted mostly of lemon groves and farmland—and what did a hicktown like that know about the movies, or live entertainment?

Sid Grauman set out to change that.

In 1922, the Egyptian Theatre was built relatively quickly by Hollywood setbuilders and other artisans, primarily out of the same materials (chickenwire, plaster, etc.). And lucky for Sid Grauman, it opened just weeks before the discovery of King Tut's Tomb, which sparked a worldwide obsession with all things Egyptian.

The Egyptian Theatre - with its hieroglyphic embellishments and imposing "stone" architecture - was a hit...

...and hosted all of the biggest Hollywood movie premieres with all of the biggest stars in its massive courtyard...

...starting with Douglas Fairbanks' Robin Hood.

Like many historic theaters of Los Angeles, the Egyptian changed hands several times, and was modernized over and over again to try to keep up with the times, and the increased foot traffic on Hollywood Boulevard.

American Cinematheque—the theater's current owner [until May 2020]—embarked on a massive $15MM renovation of the Egyptian to return it to its original splendor, preserving or restoring many of the surfaces.

The exterior, exposed to the elements, could use a little touch-up.

The interior is gorgeous and modern, and not immediately evocative of what one might expect inside an Egyptian Revival historic monument. There are two dogs adorning the lobby which are not original to the building, but reportedly are original props from the Elizabeth Taylor Cleopatra film. [Update: These have been removed from the theatre and are currently in the possession of Hollywood Heritage.]

Original lighting fixtures with original glass still remain...

...along a ceiling whose intricate stencil pattern has been painstakingly restored and, in some cases, reproduced using original stencils.

Inside the theater itself, the ceiling "starburst" pattern was merely cleaned...

...decades of nicotine and tar (from years of cigarette smoking) having preserved the colorful paint underneath.

In the wings, you can see where present day technology and amenities meet the original walls...

...with sound panels merely obscuring the walls (rather than requiring them to be torn down, since these panels are usually inside the wall).

If you look up from one of the side aisles, you can see the original singer's boxes...

...and if you're lucky enough, your tour guide will take you up to stand in one.

Sid Grauman was infamous for his over-the-top stage shows that preceded the movie screenings, full of singers, dancers, and elaborate pageantry - a tradition he brought over to the Chinese Theater, which opened five years later.

Upstairs, you can still see some unrestored areas, like the old bathroom and dressing rooms, which currently store some original old furniture that will hopefully one day make its way back out in public view.

The building - primarily constructed of hollow blocks - was also not up to earthquake code, so during the renovation some of those walls were covered in a plastic to try to prevent anything crumbling under significant seismic activity.

A new marquee was added as well - not exactly like the original, but certainly evocative of it.

This week the Egyptian celebrates its 90th anniversary with a number of events, film screenings, and a gala event on Saturday night.

Of course I have to go.

But of course I had to get a good look at the theater first.

Update: In May 2020, a deal was finalized to transfer ownership of the Egyptian from American Cinematheque to Netflix. 

Netflix plans to "restore" the theatre to an earlier time period—including reversing some of the updates and renovations that have been done. 

It will still allow American Cinematheque to run repertory screenings and festivals on weekends, while it will use the theatre as a screening room for its original productions throughout the rest of the week. 

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Behind the Scenes at Grauman's Chinese Theater

1 comment:

  1. I used to see films at the Egyptian in the late 1940s to the 1960s before moving to the San Francisco bay area in 1972. It was around 1964 that Owen Marshal organized an antique car parade down Hollywood Blvd. My wife and I were in the rumble seat of one of them. It was probably the Egyptian where the parade of old cars parked and we went inside for a showing of Safety Last, a Harold Lloyd film. I think that it was Gaylord Carter at the pipe organ console. Harold gave a talk afterwards and I got him to autograph my program. Owen Marshal had designed the mine train rides at Disneyland and Knots Berry Farm as well as other attractions. What he wanted most off all was to create a show boat with big pipe organ and old-time stage show while cruising the San Francisco bay. He just could not get together enough financing but he did have the organ.