Think you’re looking at an ancient Egyptian temple? Well, not quite. This isn’t Egypt, and this wasn’t built thousands of years ago. Try Hollywood, and 1922. This is Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre.
Patrick and I have been meaning to take one of the tours offered at the Egyptian for years now, and with the theatre’s future up in the air, as Netflix has been in talks to purchase the property, we finally made it!
Built under the eye of showman Sid Grauman, the Egyptian was home to the first ever Hollywood movie premiere, Robin Hood, with that swashbuckling star, Douglas Fairbanks, for its grand opening on October 18, 1922. Contrary to popular belief, that the Egyptian capitalized on the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, the Egyptian opened nearly a whole month before the tomb was unearthed. But the Egypt-mania that swept the world following Howard Carter’s great discovery certainly aided in bringing in the crowds.
Ever the showman, Grauman regularly placed unique props and items in the forecourt of his theatre, everything from pirate ships to stagecoaches to help lure in the crowds. He also hosted grand prologues prior to screenings that were more or less live plays, consisting of elaborate costumes and props.
But soon Grauman would come up with an even more unique draw for a theatre forecourt, by immortalizing the hand and foot prints of movie stars. But it wouldn’t be at the Egyptian. Grauman sold the Egyptian in 1927 to move onto his next grand project, one that would soon become one of the most recognizable icons in Hollywood, the Chinese Theatre.
Also in 1927 a restaurant opened next door, Pig ‘n Whistle, and a door, connecting the forecourt and the restaurant, was added to feed hungry patrons and even movie stars visiting the Egyptian. The entrance was marked by tiles feature a pig playing the flute. (Read more about Pig ‘n Whistle in this post!)
The Egyptian survived the first half of the 20th century fairly well, hosting many more premieres, but by 1992 it had fallen into decay and closed, landing in the hands of the city of Los Angeles. The following year the theatre became a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument, however it would soon suffer damage from the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. In 1996 American Cinematheque stepped in, purchasing the theatre from the city for a mere one dollar, but with the stipulation that it would be fully restored. It even received a grant from the National Trust to aid in the restoration. After a few million dollars, the theatre reopened in 1998, but with a lot of changes.
While the exterior is phenomenal, and restored to its original state, American Cinematheque greatly altered the interior. They shrunk the actual seating area, creating enough room for a lobby for concessions and a second screen. The interior lobby is actually so unimpressive that I failed to take an overall photo of it. The only exception is the ceiling, which is adored with hieroglyphs, original light fixtures, and two statues of Anubis.
Originally the theatre sat over 1700 movie goers, but now seats 616. Additionally, the theatre seating area itself severely lacks the grandeur that it originally had, with the exception of the stunning sunburst and scarab in the middle of the ceiling.
If walking through the forecourt didn’t make me feel like I was about to explore an ancient tomb, climbing up the stairs to the former green rooms and using our phones as flashlights to gaze upon the old dressing room furniture sure did. These dressing rooms were built for those involved in the prologues of the theatre’s early years, and furnished with stunning furniture with Egyptian motifs. I was rather disheartened that they items just sat tucked away gathering dust, as I believe a display case in the lobby would be a much better place for them.
So just why would Netflix want to purchase a movie theatre? Netflix has moved into the motion picture making business, but typically, their productions go straight to their streaming service, skipping the cinema altogether, however, in order to qualify to be nominated for the Oscars, films must be shown “for paid admission in a commercial motion picture theater in Los Angeles County,” running for “at least seven consecutive days, during which period screenings must occur at least three times daily, with at least one screening beginning between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. daily.” The theatre would ensure they always had a place to show their films, as well as a permanent place to host events. So, Hollywood waits with bated breath for the future of this unique theatre.
Explore the Egyptian Theatre at 6706 Hollywood Boulevard, just down the street from the Babylonian inspired mall. Visit American Cinematheque’s website for information regarding showtimes and tours.
December 2020 Update: Netflix has announced their renovation plans, including digital renderings visible in this article from What Now Los Angeles. The Egyptian is slated to reopen in 2022.