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Hollywood History: The TCL Chinese Theatre

By Genie Davis

April 28, 2017

The glitz and glamor of Hollywood is nowhere as present as at the historic TCL Chinese Theatre, which opened in 1927.

According to Alwyn Hight Kushner, president and C.O.O. of the theater, “This is our 90th anniversary year. The theatre opened showing Cecil B. DeMille’s King of Kings. Sid Grauman’s concept was to build this mecca to the movies, and he did. We have hosted more premieres than any other theatre in the world.”

The Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, circa 1957. (Courtesy photo)

While the theatre also serves as the local movie-going experience for its Hollywood neighborhood, over 5 million visitors a year visit the famous forecourt with its celebrity handprints and footprints. “We also host VIP guided tours that take you through the inside of the theatre, and explore the history, special events, and premieres happening over the years,” Kushner relates.

“I think that Hollywood is it’s own brand, and people from around the world are intrigued by our location and the theatre. The TCL Chinese Theatre is the epicenter of the movies. People come here to experience the magic of movies and of Hollywood. The theatre represents that.”

The years have brought a variety of changes to the movie palace. Grauman never owned the theatre, instead holding a 1/3rd interest with partners that included Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Mary Pickford, and Howard Schenck. He sold his share to Fox West Coast Theatres and remained the managing director until 1950. Declared an historic-cultural landmark in 1968, the theatre was later owned by Mann Theaters. In 2001, with the opening of the Hollywood & Highland shopping center, the six-screen multiplex was added on the mall’s upper level. “In 2012, our naming rights partner TCL came on board, and they helped to make possible all the great renovations and restoration here,” Kushner explains.

In 2013, the Chinese underwent conversion to become the largest IMAX screen in the world, and then installed the first IMAX laser system in the country.

TCL Chinese Theatre in 2017. (Courtesy photo)

Constructing the IMAX screen involved a lot of effort. “The proscenium and the ceiling are historic, so in order to get stadium seating without destroying them, we had to dig into the ground. The first half of the stadium is an above-ground structure, but when you get to the cross aisle half-way down to the bottom in front of the screen, we went and took out the pre-existing basement and orchestra pit and actually went down into the dirt to get the additional volume in the room without sacrificing historic features. It was a pretty big excavation.”

But adding their impressive IMAX screen is just one part of the film-going picture at the Chinese.

“Because we do so many premieres and you have the actual filmmakers and producers and actors who made the film coming to watch it here, the audio and visual presentation has to be superior. We take great pride in making sure people are seeing the movie exactly in the way that the filmmakers intended,” Kushner relates. “This carries through to the smaller Chinese 6 Theatres upstairs. We host smaller premieres up there, and hundreds of screenings for private industry, press junkets, test screenings, indie films, and film festivals. And so throughout the theatres the same quality applies.” The TCL Chinese hosts film festivals including AFI, TCM, and Dances with Films every year. Kushner says each festival brings something different to the theatre, and finds it hard to pick a favorite.

Along with pristine film presentation, the theatres have a full liquor license and offer food from sandwiches and chicken fingers to fries. “Prohibition has ended,” Kushner laughs. “You can now enjoy a cocktail with your movie.”

But what Kushner loves best about the theatre is not any single element. “It’s such an outstanding place to see a movie. It’s this historic movie palace with unique defining features. You couldn’t find a place like this anywhere in the world. The history that comes with this is so special, and the audio and visual experience is first class.”

Alwyn Hight Kushner, president and C.O.O. of TCL Chinese Theatre. (Courtesy photo)

The combination of historic beauty and first class, cutting-edge technology draws crowds every day of the week.

“There are so many options for watching movie today – from cell phone to a big screen TV at home. We need to go that extra mile and be sure that we’re offering our patrons a way to come out and see a movie that is worth experiencing. I think that is important, and it’s something I really value here at the theatre,” Kushner says.

The theatre is celebrating it’s 90th anniversary with a special screening of “Cleopatra” on Monday, May 1, 2017.

TCL Chinese Theatre
6925 Hollywood Blvd.
(323) 461-3331

Genie Davis is a multi-published novelist and journalist, and produced screen and television writer. Passionate about everything-Los Angeles, you can see her work in the arts on her own

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