When I’m back East, sometimes my family asks me if I ever did any touristy things in LA, like taking a tour of the Chinese Theater.
It took me some time, but once I got my chance, to start exploring some of the more mainstream attractions of Hollywood, I realized why tourists enjoy them so much. It’s OK to allow yourself to be a tourist in your own town.
I always knew the Grauman’s Chinese Theater – familiar to me for decades as “Mann’s” Chinese Theater – as the locale of hundreds of Hollywood movie premieres and Walk of Fame star dedications, foot- and handprint-making in awkward, bent-over, cleavage-spilling poses.
I had no idea of its place in Hollywood’s architectural and cultural heritage.
Built relatively quickly to open in 1927, the Chinese Theater was Sid Grauman’s latest (and last) venture in his game of one-upsmanship against himself, having already made a splash with other elaborate movie palaces – namely, in Downtown LA with the Metropolitan, and nearby in Hollywood with the Chinese.
Quite staggeringly, even after drastic renovations in the late 1950s and in the early 2000s, the Chinese Theater still stands…
…some original elements missing (like the original chandelier, and some light bulbs which have gone out)…
…its large screen (now the largest IMAX screen in the world) still showing first-run films as in its heyday, still premiering them with all of the glitz and glamour as ever.
Brick walls are ornately painted with Chinese icons, poured concrete ceilings are painted to give the appearance of wood, columns are coated in plaster to appear as stone…
…and even though the singer’s boxes and crystal ornaments on each side of the stage are gone (the latter having been removed in the advent of sound, since they rattled too much)…
…everything still shines, glitters, and glows.
The ushers (and usherettes) no longer appear in full Chinese regalia, but one lovely lady does sit in lobby to greet the moviegoers.
The ladies room is still very much of a lounge…
…though some bulbs have gone out there too.
Backstage, there are no longer dancers comprising Sid Grauman’s “Cast of Thousands” in his famous prologues which often delayed the start of a film several hours.
Down below, under the stage (which was lowered in the ’50s), you can no longer climb the stairs up into the orchestra pit.
Babies no longer cry in the cast and crew nursery.
Upstairs, the dressing rooms have been converted into offices.
Original etched windows still stand in the panes, but Sid no longer peers through them from his office chair.
The projection room operates on a primarily digital platform instead of off the classic reels…
…but it still is showing movies for thousands of adoring fans.
To find out how you can take your own walking tour of the Chinese Theater, visit http://www.tclchinesetheatres.com/theatre-tour/.