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Hollywood’s Chinese Theatre: Historic photos of the iconic movie house

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The theater opened on this day in 1927

Premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre Photos courtesy LA Public Library

Today marks the 90th anniversary of the day Hollywood impresario Sid Grauman opened his Chinese Theatre, which would become the most famous—and arguably the greatest—movie theater ever constructed.

As a recent LA Times profile explains, the extravagant theater was constructed at a hefty cost of $2.1 million on land that Grauman didn’t actually own. The showman, who also developed Downtown’s Million Dollar Theatre and the Egyptian Theatre just two blocks east of the Chinese, leased the land on which the iconic theater sits from silent film star Francis Xavier Bushman, who owned a mansion on the site.

The building was designed by architectural firm Meyer and Holler and represents an Art Deco-influenced (and shamelessly exoticized) reinterpretation of a Chinese temple. The theater’s facade is framed around a 90-foot tall pagoda topped with masks and flanked by imported artifacts from China, such as stone figures and temple bells, as LA Conservancy notes.

The theater’s most famous feature, the Forecourt of the Stars, is as old as the venue itself. Screen icons Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford were the first stars to preserve their handprints and footprints for posterity, according to the Times. Though the two actors wrote the theater’s opening date in the concrete, however, the prints were actually made a few weeks earlier in advance of the venue’s first big premiere (Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic King of Kings).

Now named after Chinese electronics manufacturer TCL, the theater recently underwent major renovations that equipped it for IMAX screenings. And 90 years after opening day, it’s still the place to beat for star-studded red carpet premieres. Here’s a look at the historic venue over the years.

Lights and crowds for a premiere
Thousands of spectators gathered along Hollywood Boulevard for the theatre’s opening night in 1927.
Illustration of robbery
A heist at the theater in 1929 resulted in a shootout between a police officer and robbers who made off with $15,000 in receipts; the event yielded this illustration in the Los Angeles Examiner.
Man painting sign
The theater’s ornately detailed facade, including its recognizable blade sign, have been well-maintained over the years.
Photo of crowds in front of the theater
The 1930 premiere of the Howard Hughes war film Hell’s Angels was perhaps the most extraordinary in the theater’s history. According to the Times, it included fireworks and airplanes engaging in mock combat over Hollywood Boulevard.
Betty Grable making a handprint
Hundreds of stars have left hand and footprints in the forecourt. In 1943, with the help of a few men in uniform, Betty Grable also left imprints of her legs.
Crowds gather for the Oscars
In addition to premieres and regular screenings, the theater also hosted the Academy Awards for three years in the 1940s.
Lines form for Mary Poppins premiere
The theater has hosted premieres for countless films, from Star Wars to Mary Poppins.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre

6925 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90028