The Movie Theater you think about when you think about Hollywood.
Okay, here’s the deal. A long time ago, white folks living in Los Angeles, thought being Asian was exotic and rare.
And it was, given the fact that immigration laws restricted Chinese Immigrants to so-called “Chinatowns”. Things started to change with the Magnuson Act in 1943, and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, and finally ended Asian exclusion from immigrating to the United States. (Point is, there was a reason Chinatowns existed, and it wasn’t because that’s where Chinese Immigrants “chose” to congregate. But, if you’ve read my piece on L.A.’s Chinatown, this is already old news to you).
Anyway, back to our tale…
Sid Grauman was the son of David Grauman. They went into the business of building Vaudeville Theaters together. They eventually expanded into Los Angeles. Where…well, let me just quote the Theater’s website here:
The grand opening of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on May 18, 1927, was the most spectacular theatre opening in motion picture history. Thousands of people lined Hollywood Boulevard and a riot broke out as fans tried to catch a glimpse of the movie stars and other celebrities as they arrived for the opening. The film being premiered that night was Cecil B. DeMille’s “The King of Kings,” which was preceded by “Glories of the Scriptures,” a live prologue devised by master showman Sid Grauman. A Wurlitzer organ and 65-piece orchestra provided music for the prologue. The theatre opened to the public the following day, May 19, 1927.
Previously, Grauman built the Million Dollar Theatre in downtown Los Angeles and the lavish Egyptian Theatre a few blocks from the Chinese, but he wanted to build his dream theatre. Real estate mogul C.E. Toberman helped him secure a long-term lease on a piece of property on the boulevard and Grauman developed the plans for the theatre with architect Raymond Kennedy. Norma Talmadge turned the first spade full of dirt in January 1926 and beautiful Chinese actress Anna May Wong drove the first rivet in the steel girders. Built at a cost of $2,000,000, eighteen months later the Chinese Theatre opened.
The Egyptian is still open and doing a modicum of business (I tend to think of it more for special screenings and Art Films). The Chinese was sold to the Mann Theater Chain, and on May 21, 2011 it was sold to the Chinese Theater LLC, which has all kinds of grand plans for it, now that Hollywood has been revitalized.
That being said, the Theater’s still a little racist.
Not in a Klan, “we mean to offend and do harm” kind of a way, but in a “your Old Uncle who really doesn’t know any better” kind of a way.
But what are you gonna do? It’s a historic landmark, no one wants it torn down or anything. No one’s going to boycott it or anything. But it is an uncomfortable reminder of a slightly less “aware” time.
C’mon. This is a city with a vibrant, strong and important Chinese-American community going back, apparently, to the very beginnings of Los Angeles (we’re talking 1789, folks). Anyone who thinks that the Grauman’s Chinese Theater has anything at all to do with that community, or anything genuinely Chinese is out of their minds. The Chinese Theater is what an old white man’s idea of what being Chinese is all about.
(Side note: I will saw that the Theater’s Marketing Director is a woman named Lisa Ha. At this point, that which is Chinese-American about this place, she may be it.)
Now, is Grauman’s historic? Of course it is. The courtyard is interesting, especially for the cement handprints contained therein. (And yes, they’re rotated in and out, depending on what’s popular…kinda like the Walk of Fame).
The big difference, of course, over the Walk of Fame is that, at least at the Chinese Theatre, you are seeing the actual handprint or footprint of your favorite Star. That’s real. There’s more of a connection there than anything the Walk of Fame can provide, so that alone makes it worth it.
On top of that, the Chinese is a damn good theater. It’s got a mammoth screen and a killer, blow-you-out-the-back sound system. If there’s any reason to go, there it is.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: If you’re weirded out by people in costumes (Spiderman, Batman, Zorro, Frankenstein), or weirded out by massive amount of tourists taking pictures of those same people in costumes, then the Chinese Theater is not for you.
The only time you will catch an actual Angeleno hanging out at the Chinese Theater is either when they’re going to the movies, or they’re taking their tourist friends so they can take pictures of the crazy people in costumes.
Grauman’s Chinese Theater
6925 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, California