Some of the brightest gems I love in Los Angeles are its movie theaters. What could be a better tribute to the art of film than to house them in celestial-inspired shrines? The exterior facades are as alluring as the magic inside flickering on film. Embellished stone or color-encrypted light bulbs decorate what would otherwise be a normal building. "Going to the big picture show" isn't just "going to the movies." It's an entirely unreal experience: from the first footfalls approaching an exterior illuminated to a state of spectacular, to the moment we look over our shoulder, remembering a world outside our own.
The Majestic Crest:
Since its opening in 1940, the Crest Theater has undergone many transformations, renamings, and remodels. Located close to the UCLA campus, the theater was known as UCLAN for a time, in concordance with the university's name at the time: University of California at Los Angeles. It has also been known as the Westwood Theater or the Westwood Crest. By the 1980s, the interior was redecorated in art-deco style, complete with a ceiling of stars. Before a show starts, a shooting star explodes across the mimic-night sky.
The Egyptian Theater is the site of Hollywood's first movie premiere in 1922 for Robin Hood. Tickets for the opening were $5, a hefty price at the time. Showman Sid Grauman and real estate developer Charles E. Toberman built the theater, deciding on the Egyptian theme soon after plans for a Hispanic theme were already in development. Hieroglyphics paint the walls, and huge columns stand throughout, although in one ceiling section, Hispanic designs remain intact. Grauman built the world renown Chinese Theater five years after the Egyptian opened.
The Million Dollar Theater:
Quite possibly L.A.'s oldest theater, built in 1918, is the Million Dollar Theater. It was designed by Albert C. Martin, a prominent architect at the time, and was developed by Grauman before the Egyptian was built. Carved into its stone facade are figures of bison heads and long horn skulls, in traditional Spanish Churrigueresque style. Located in Downtown, it stands across from the Bradbury building, another historic architectural landmark. When it opened, it housed 2,345 seats, one of the largest theaters in the world at the time. After refurbishing in 2008, the theater reopened and now plays shows on a special basis.
The El Capitan Theatre:
The El Capitan originally housed live performances, instead of films. It opened in 1926 with Charlot's Revue, starring Jack Buchanan, Gertrude Lawrence, and Beatrice Lillie. Also developed by Toberman and Grauman, the theater was built across the street from Grauman's Chinese and a few blocks away from the Egyptian. In keeping with the ongoing cultural theme, the El Capitan was designed with Spanish Colonial influences. The world premiere of Orson Welles' Citizen Kane was held at the El Capitan in 1941. From 1941 to 1991 it was known by the name of the "Hollywood Paramount." It is now operated by Walt Disney Pictures.
-- Jennifer Pellerito
Photo Credit: Jennifer Pellerito