When we were in California, we dropped in on the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. It is arguably the most famous Cinema in the world and has hosted hundreds of Premieres since it opened on May 18th 1927.
By co-incidence, we were there exactly 82 years later and we signed up for a “VIP Tour”, a chance to see “backstage”.
Of course, it isn’t really backstage at all, or even behind the scenes, as we didn’t go anywhere that the paying public would not also be able to access. It was a chance, however, to have a guided tour round the foyers and a quick peek into the auditorium, as well as the “VIP lounge” in the nearby Mann’s Chinese 6 (a modern multiplex) and a sit in a D-Box chair, theme park meets flea pit!
Our knowledgeable guide handed out headsets with belt packs and my first thought was that it was some form of recorded commentary. It was actually a radio based personal PA system so we could hear everything he said to us over his boom Mic (unless we lagged too far behind).
The cinema is unusual in that it has a frontage set back from the road forming a large paved elliptical area. It is designed as a Chinese temple and I’m not certain that Syd Grauman actually indended it to become the tourist trap it is today with the “Forecourt of the stars” (Intended or not, it was a brilliant piece of marketing though, even if it does sound like a celebrity petrol station).
Having seen the Disney reconstruction in Florida, I can remember visiting the Hollywood one some 12 years ago and being somewhat disappointed to see a rather out-of-place rectangular opening hacked into one of the side walls, with a cheap sign above showing the way to the car park. That opening is still there but it has been much played down architecturally as it only leads to a fire exit corridor and the wall of a large construction site to the left of the Cinema. To the right, a large shopping centre has now been built, which also houses the Manns Chinese six.
Entering the lobby of the theatre, a rather visually jarring refreshment counter betrays that it was formerly part of the back stalls, with richly elaborate fibrous plaster cross-shaped medallions on the ceiling.
We were led quietly through the darkened auditorium- Wolverine was showing on the huge 90′ screen! It was much bigger than I was expecting, although it now only seats 1,200 or so. (It doesn’t have a balcony, but did/does have private boxes upstairs).
They let me come back later in the interval though, to take this snap.
Whilst it has lost much detail over the years, what remains is still very striking.
Much more of the history and vintage photos here.