Completion by November 2001
Chinese Theater Restoration to Begin
As part of Hollywood Heritages approval of TrizecHahns Hollywood/ Highland project in 1998, a special condition was the restoration of Graumans Chinese Theater. TrizecHahn agreed to this the day of the final Community Redevelopment Agency hearing, and now the results of that six-month negotiation are coming to fruition. No other group, agency, or individual demanded, or even asked for, the restoration of the Chinese Theater to be a part of the projects approval (Hollywood Heritage had several other issues that were also addressed).
Mann Theaters, owners of the Chinese, have embarked on a $5 million program for the world famous 1927 theater. Seismic retrofitting is being done in the stage housing and will also include a shear wall in front of where the current projection booth is located. The 1994 earthquake revealed some structural conditions in the building that will be improved. The new wall is 32 feet long and designed to minimize any visual impact.
The projection booth is being moved back to its original location (it was moved downstairs in 1958) and a new screen is being installed, increasing image size to over 85 feet (the current anamorphic size is 75 feet, 81 feet for 70mm). New wider seats will be installed and, at Hollywood Heritages suggestion, the original cast iron aisle chair designs with Chinese motif will hopefully be recreated.
The side concession stands will be removed while the center stand will be pushed back into the space occupied now by the projection booth, providing more space for concession sales and opening up the lobby. The original decorative plaster ceiling elements, now hidden above the booths false ceiling, will be revealed and restored. Paint and plaster damage on the lobbys ceiling and wall is being restored and new carpeting will be installed.
In the auditorium, the over 1,000 ceiling lights that are not on or not now functioning will be put back into operation. This includes the multiple color circuits that provided a light show in the auditorium and lit the detailed ceiling, which is almost impossible to see today.
Some lighting features, such as the "spider lights" above the side exit corridors, have already been relit. No one remembers when they were last on, due to the problem of accessing them. Many other architectural detail treats will once again come to life as the November 1 finish date approaches. All work is being done in the late evenings and mornings, so only a few weekday matinees will be cancelled. The theater itself will remain open during construction.
For the exterior, a return to the look of 1927 is being planned. The elaborate 1957 neon design marquees will be removed, revealing the original decorative arches beneath. The neon marquees will be replaced with a simple flat-panel marquee above the arches, less than half the size of the current signage, and will not cover any architectural details. The two original vertical blade signs will be recreated reading "Graumans" and "Chinese" with neon and incandescent lighting. The ficus trees in front of the theater have been removed and will be replaced with palm trees.
The 1957 marquees have become landmarks themselves, and Hollywood Heritage is looking at ways to maintain at least one, of not both, on site. We hope to have them included into the new sixplex being built next door, but no plans are final as yet. The signs will not be thrown away, but it would be best to include them into the new project where they could bridge the history of the two buildings and provide practical signage to let patrons know where the new theaters are located. Plus, they are great visual attractions that deserve to be preserved.
The theaters stone and concrete exterior will be repaired and repainted. Metal work will be cleaned and missing pieces recreated. A new lighting scheme will highlight the exteriors architectural exuberance at night. The two fountains in the forecourt will be restored (one is already operating again after 40+ years of non-use). The concession stands and other assorted forms of visual blight in the forecourt will be removed. Starline Tours will remain, but in the 1927 ticket booth, just east of the doorway. Two other new stands will be built, to be sympathetic to the design of the forecourt, behind the existing storefronts. These new units will not be seen from the street. Soda machines, all other items outside of the stands, and the 1927 ticket booth will be removed. The net result will be a two-thirds reduction in square footage of concession stands (which provide an amazing amount of profit that is competitive with the theaters).
Additional forecourt work will include conservation and restoration of the foot and handprints (especially those made in the 1990sthey are not doing as well as those from the 1920s). The two large feather palm trees that graced the front of the forecourt will be reinstalled. Mann is reviewing Hollywood Heritages request to put trees back on the top of the theater in the front, as were there until the 1940s. These would be studio trees, not real ones, to minimize maintenance, as well as water and weight damage to the roof.
The existing ticket booth and metal canopy would be removed. Tickets will be purchased next door at the new complex and holes in the forecourt would be used to erect a cloth canopy when needed (this is how the theater was originally designed, with no permanent canopy and a rear forecourt box office).
These are important changes that will bring back the glamour and greatness of the worlds most famous theater, both for tourists seeing just the exterior, and for the patron getting the classic movie experience. Other ideas discussed for the future have included reinstalling the theater equipment (as at the El Capitan), reinstalling a pipe organ (the original is in a Burbank church), and recreating the globular chandelier that hung until 1958 in the auditorium. Hopefully there will be a phase two, if the restored theater is a success (how could it not be?).
As with any project this complex, there are many people to thank. For Mann Theaters: Project Manager Jeff Hicks; 50+ year employee, Corporate Representative Bill Hertz (the best first-hand account of how the theater has changed); and theater managers John LaCaze and Colen Jones. Michael Browers and his team at Behr Browers architects have done a tremendous job in putting together the restoration and recreation plans. They have been planning this for close to 10 years, patiently waiting, and it was their early work that helped spark Hollywood Heritages push for a restoration agreement. Historic Resources Group has overseen the plans and details to make certain of compliance with historic regulations under the guidance of Christy McAvoy, Peyton Hall, aia, and Steve Moga. Kipp Rudd of the CRA and Jay Oren of the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission have kept reviewing the project for compliance, and Jays suggestions to modify the concession stand designs greatly reduced their negative visual impact.
Finally, a special thanks to the late Ted Mann. Although his name change on the theater caused a controversy (the current newspaper ads now read "Graumans"), he had a strong feeling for the theater. When almost every other large, single screen, theater was being closed, cut-up, or redeveloped, he kept the Chinese going with first-run movies. He maintained the theater as a cultural icon and kept it financially viable. If he hadnt, the restoration being done today would not have been possible. And the renowned fame of the Chinese for being a major showcase for important pictures and movie premieres would have ended in the 1960s. So, a special thanks to Ted Mann and his wife, actress Rhonda Fleming who supported him throughout and continues with their many charitable concerns, including film preservation.