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The Grand Egyptian

By Genie Davis

June 12, 2017

Built in 1922, The Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard was the first true movie palace in Los Angeles, and as such, became the first home for Hollywood premieres. Margot Gerber, director of marketing and publicity for the Egyptian Theatre and American Cinematheque, as well as serving as the chair of the Art Deco Society, has been working with the historic theater since 1992.

“I became the historian during the theater’s renovation in 1997 and 1998,” she relates. “I’ve launched a public tour of the theater one Saturday morning a month, as one of the ways to promote and preserve it.”

“The Big Parade” premiere at the Egyptian Theatre in 1925. (Photo courtesy of Bison Archives)

Gerber also uses all forms of social media to share what the theater screens each week, with many cinematheque members and others on the theater’s mailing list.

“Preservation is an on-going challenge. We did a half-million-dollar update to our original renovation in 2016 and 2017. A lot of the plaster was very compromised from water leakage. Our portico roof was in dire need of repair. We were also able to restore some murals on the courtyard walls that were cracking and crumbling.”

She notes that the theater is an historic cultural monument registered with the City of Los Angeles.

With her first year as president of the Art Deco Society, Gerber advocates for historic landmarks throughout the city. “I got involved with the organization in part because I started to work at the Egyptian. I’m exceptionally interested in maintaining the theater and other historic buildings.”

The theater was designed by the architectural firm of Alyer and Holler, and the first film screened was Robin Hood, starring Douglas Fairbanks.

“In the first five years the theater was open, the highest grossing films of the era played there, including Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush. Sid Grauman was the impresario who presided over the Egyptian Theatre until 1927, when he sold his interest to be part of the development of the new Chinese Theatre down the street where he remained until his death in 1950,” Gerber reports.

Today the theater screens a variety of films, with many showings highlighted by in-person guest appearances. Everything from Super 8 to 70mm format films are shown.

“Showing films on film as opposed to a digital format is almost a museum-quality experience,” Gerber explains. “We are coming up on screenings of films all made in 1982 that were blown up to 70mm, including E.T., the original Tron, and Poltergeist, among others.”

The theater was among the first in Los Angeles to host filmmakers and other guests related to films in person outside of film festivals, all year long.  The theater’s 60 foot screen provides an immersive experience for viewers.

As to the theater’s historic architecture, its crafted to look like an ancient Egyptian structure, using Egyptian Revival style.

“It was constructed in a similar way to sets from the big biblical productions of the day using false doors and staircases. The hieroglyphs are real symbols and the depictions of deities on the exterior of the building are actual Egyptian gods,” Gerber points out.  “The theater is one of the last open-air courtyard theaters along with the Alex in Glendale and the TCL Chinese up the street.”

The Egyptian Theatre celebrated its 90th anniversary in 2012. (Photo by Gary Leonard)

The theater recently received a grant from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, as well as having received a grant on their 90th anniversary in 2012 from the Art Deco Society to keep the theater in pristine condition. Even today, the structure is still grand, both inside and out.

According to Gerber, “Seeing a film at a theater with so much history is a rare treat. There are not a lot of single screen movie palaces left. It is a state-of-the-art theater housed in an historic shell, so the quality of the presentation is very high tech,” she enthuses.

As to the future? “American Cinematheque, the non-profit that owns and operates the theatre, plans to keep the Egyptian running as a movie theater long past its 100th birthday in 2022,” Gerber says.

The Egyptian Theatre
6712 Hollywood Blvd.
(323) 461-2020

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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