SoCal’s Historic TCL Chinese Theater

It opened with a bang, and today, the TCL Chinese Theater remains a Hollywood icon.

The grand opening of SoCal’s Historic Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood in 1927 was the most spectacular theater opening in motion picture history. Thousands of people crowded onto Hollywood Boulevard and a riot broke out as enthusiastic fans tried to catch a glimpse of their favorite movie stars and other celebrities as they arrived for the opening. The film premiering that night was Cecil B. DeMille’s, The King of Kings, which was preceded by Glories of the Scriptures, a live prologue devised by the one and only master showman Sid Grauman. A Wurlitzer organ and 65-piece orchestra provided music for the prologue.

“The TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX has always been the epicenter of Hollywood. For nearly 90 years, when you think of a red carpet movie premiere, you can’t help but think of the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX. Then there’s the fact that the theatre was one of the first to recognize and award the talent in Hollywood. “The Hand and Footprint Forecourt predates the Oscars, the Golden Globes and the Walk of Fame,” says Alwyn Hight Kushner, President and COO of TCL Chinese Theatres.

In 1928, Grauman started the handprint ceremony to honor Hollywood’s best. It didn’t take long for the famous forecourt of handprints on Hollywood Boulevard to become an international tourist destination. On average, more than 20,000 people a day visit the TCL Chinese Theatre. It is one of the most visited locations in the world, drawing as many annual visitors as the Sistine Chapel in Rome.

The Chinese Theatre and its adjacent Chinese 6 Theatre complex, host more than 40 red carpet film premieres a year, have hosted three Academy Award ceremonies and numerous world premieres for internationally-acclaimed film franchises, such as Star Wars and Harry Potter. It was declared a historic-cultural landmark in the late 60s, and there has always been a restoration program in process to maintain the theatre’s beauty. After the 1994 Los Angeles earthquake, geological experts were brought in to inspect the theatre and advise the owners with regard to protecting and strengthening the entire structure. The theatre has undergone a series of renovations. Three years ago, the world’s largest IMAX theatre unveiled a new box office marquee and state-of-the-art LED billboards along Hollywood Boulevard, preservation of the blade signs on the façade of the building, as a tribute to Grauman, outdoor lighting, significant exterior painting, among other enhancements.

The history of the theatre does, however, include some challenges. “The biggest challenge has been making this theatre one of the highest-grossing IMAX theatres in the world. When we took the theatre over about five years ago, it was in need of a makeover. It was beautiful but had lost its relevance as a top movie theatre for current movies. How do we make this a #1 destination for movie-goers, while also maintaining its legacy as the most famous movie palace in the world and the #1 location for red carpet premieres?  That was the challenge,” says Hight Kushner.

What strategy did they use? “We converted the theatre into the largest IMAX theatre in the world and put in stadium seating and the best cutting edge technology.  We were able to maintain the historic integrity of the building and, in many cases, restored all of the historic character-defining features of this iconic movie palace. It was a major renovation.  Now, we open all the first-run films and we are one of the highest-grossing IMAX theatres in the world.  We host more than five million visitors every year to our forecourt of the stars.  We are a top tourist destination in Southern California,” says Hight Kushner.   

Many institutions come and go, what’s been the secret to the theatre’s longevity? To that question, Hight Kushner states that “The amazing thing about the Chinese Theatre, like the movies it showcases, it is timeless.”

No doubt, there’s something to be said for experiencing a movie in the most advanced technologies of the various decades, to exploring the hand and footprints in the forecourt, and seeing the stars arrive to experience their newest films for the first time.

With such a storied past, what does the future hold? “Just last year we were the first commercial theatre in the world to have the new IMAX Laser experience.  Ever since it opened in 1927, the TCL Chinese Theatre has been a leader in exhibition. It pioneered what we now call today the red carpet movie premiere.  It has always defined showmanship, ever since Sid Grauman created the hand and footprint ceremony to honor cinema legends and promote films. This theatre has a long history of firsts.  It was the first in the world to present Fox Grandeur 70mm, Cinemiracle, Cinemascope, THX, Digital Surround Sound, Digital Projection, 2k digital projection, and the list goes on,” says Hight Kushner. 

Look for the TCL Chinese Theatre to continue to be at the epicenter of the film industry.  Cinema’s most accomplished filmmakers come to the TCL CT to view their films. 

“Our everyday guests at the theatre include the industry’s top executives, the most revered filmmakers, the best talent, and of course patrons from the community and around the world.  On any given day you may encounter Leonardo DiCaprio, Christopher Nolan, John Favreau or Gwen Stefani watching a movie here,” says Hight Kushner.

She says proudly, “Nothing less than the absolute best is acceptable here.  Our standards far exceed that of any other movie theatre out there.  We take great pride in ensuring that when you experience a film here you are experiencing it exactly as the filmmaker intended.  After all the filmmaker himself might just be seated in the audience!  It is our responsibility to provide the best movie presentation in the world every single day.  Just as Sid Grauman did, the TCL CT continues to define and redefine showmanship.”

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