El Capitan Theatre

6838 Hollywood Boulevard,
Los Angeles, CA 90028

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El Capitan Theatre

The El Capitan Theatre was built as a legitimate theatre by local Hollywood property tycoon Charles Edward Toberman, and is situated across Hollywood Boulevard from the famed Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. It opened on May 3, 1926 with the stage show “Charlotte’s Revue of 1926” staring Gertrude Lawrence, Beatrice Lilley and Jack Buchanan. The magnificent office building which fronts the theatre on Hollywood Boulevard was designed in a Spanish Baroque style by architects Octavius Morgan, J.A. Walls & Stiles O. Clements, and features Churriqueresque details and has characters from literature and drama carved into its upper storeys, including Shakespeare characters. This part of the building originally contained Barker Brothers furniture department store on the first and second floors with offices above, and was topped by a huge metal sky sign giving the name of the theatre.

The interior of the theatre is in an opulent East Indian Revival style, the work of architect G. Albert Lansburgh. Seating was provided for 1,435 in orchestra and balcony levels, with a stage box on each side of the 49 feet wide proscenium. The stage is 81 feet wide and 33 feet deep and there were seven dressing rooms and a full sized orchestra pit. The El Capitan Theatre operated very successfully as a live theatre from its opening until 1937, and attracted stars such as Will Rogers, Clark Gable, Fanny Brice, Buster Keaton, Jackie Cooper, Henry Fonda Rita Hayworth and Joan Fontaine to appear on its stage in dramatic plays and comedies.

In 1937 it was equipped to screen movies, and on May 9, 1941 it presented the world premiere of Orson Well’s “Citizen Kane”, with Welles personally taking over the running of the theatre for this presentation, due to it being blocked from being screened in other major theatres by William Randoph Hearst. The El Capitan Theatre was then renamed Hollywood Paramount Theatre, and came under the direction of Fanchon & Marco. In 1942, the theatre had a complete make-over, and a new interior was constructed over the original decorations, hiding them completely. Architects William & H.L. Periera were responsible for the design of this modernisation which consisted of corrugated sheeting that resembled a huge sea-shell. A large modern marquee was also installed over the entrance, above which part of the façade was covered in corrugated cladding, and a false ceiling was installed in the outer lobby and inner foyer areas. The ‘new’ Hollywood Paramount Theatre was opened with Cecil B. DeMille’s “Reap the Wild Wind”, and it remained a ‘premier’ house for many years. In 1967 it was operated by Loews, followed by Century Cinema Circuit and then SRO in 1976. Pacific Theatres took over in late-1983, by which time the Paramount Theatre was a general release house, and it was closed in 1989.

There were plans to twin the theatre with two 500-seat auditoriums in an Art Deco style, as it was thought that the original Lansburgh interior decorations had been 80% destroyed by the 1942 remodeling, but as work began on the conversion, workmen and the theatre owners were amazed at what lay beneath the false walls and ceilings. It was decided to drop the twin cinema scheme, and go for a ‘museum standard’ restoration scheme costing $6 million, financed by the Walt Disney Organisation and Pacific Theatres. Theatre artistic designer Joseph Musil was engaged to restore and replace the splendid architectural details of the theatre which had been hidden and damaged for almost 60 years.

Renamed El Capitan Theatre, it reopened on June 18, 1991 with a world premiere of Disney’s “The Rocketeer”, plus a stage show. The seating capacity has now been reduced to 998. In 1999, the magnificent Wurlitzer ‘Fox Special’ 4 manual 37 rank theatre organ, which was originally installed in the much missed Fox Theatre, San Francisco, was found a new home in the El Capitan Theatre, and is now played at program breaks regularly on weekends. The organ was dedicated at an opening ceremony on April 29, 2000 by house organist Dennis James accompanying a restored print of the 1924 silent version of “Peter Pan”. As the flagship theatre of the Disney Studios empire, it is part of the Pacific Theatres circuit of which Disney owns a large stake.

Every major animated release from Walt Disney Pictures Animation premieres here complete with a live stage show and more. The theatre was the first in the United States to announce an online movie ticketing and printing system.

The El Capitan Theatre is Designated a Historic-Cultural Monument.

Contributed by Ken Roe

Recent comments (view all 313 comments)

cubdukat on August 30, 2017 at 4:35 pm

Anybody know why El Capitan chooses not to do 3D presentations? I’ve only ever seen one 3D showing there, and that was for “Age of Ultron.” They didn’t even do 3D for “Rogue One” last year.

They’re certainly more than capable of it, so I’m confused as to why they don’t. If they do the same for “Last Jedi” this year, I’ll be catching it at an official Dolby Cinema screen.

Cliffs on October 11, 2017 at 3:04 am

@cubdukat, Because 3D isn’t a draw anymore. The theaters have realized that when given the choice, most people choose 2D now. I had a conversation with a high-up at Arclight and he told me that 3D shows in the Dome NEVER sell as much or as quickly as 2D shows in the Dome. The theaters are just following customer preference. Even IMAX has started to cool on IMAX 3D and are offering more and more IMAX 2D engagements.

And if you go to a Dolby Cinema screen, you won’t see it in 3D there either.

MarkA on December 20, 2017 at 6:36 pm

RE: “In 1999, the magnificent Wurlitzer ‘Crawford Special’ 4 manual 37 rank theatre organ, which was originally installed in the much missed Fox Theatre, San Francisco, was found a new home in the El Capitan Theatre, and is now played at program breaks regularly on weekends.”

For the record, these Wurlitzers were not known offcially as “Crawford Specials,” a misnomer. After the installation of the New York Paramount’s 4m/36r, Opus 1458, the Fox Theatre chain eventually ordered 5 of these organs fo flagship theatres, thus they were dubbed “Fox Specials.” Although the Paramount organ was basically designed by Wurlitlzer, Paramount Organist Jesse Crawford did specify some of the ranks of pipe he wanted in the organ, hence the “Crawford Special” name.

The other four remaining Fox Specials were: Opus 1894, Detroit Fox Theatre (still in situ with its slave console) Opus 1904, Brooklyn Fox Theatre (this was a 4m/37r) Opus 1997, Saint Louis Fox Theatre (still in situ) Opus 2012, San Francisco Fox Theatre (in the El Capitan) A fifth Fox Special was ordered for a Fox Theatre in Jersey City, but it was cancelled.

There was a fifth Fox flagship theatre in Atlanta, the Atlanta Fox. This Fox began life as a Shriner’s Auditorium but was taken over by Fox Theatres when the Shriners defaulted on their financing. This Fox Theatre still has its organ, a 4m/42r M.P. Möller theatre organ (Opus 5566). This organ was designed while the Shriners were still in the picture.

The Fox Specials were indeed special. All of them had a second “slave” console, a 12 note set of tuned tympani and a piano, playable from the console … not to mention the rare ranks of pipes not usually seen in most Wurlitzers.

To quote the late Ben Hall in his book, The Best Remaining Seats, a movie palace without its organ would made it as soulless as an armory. May the remaining Fox Specials and all other theatre organs installed in theatre continue to thrill audiences.

moviebuff82 on December 27, 2017 at 6:35 pm

I wonder how star wars is doing based on mixed word of mouth…

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on February 28, 2018 at 6:33 am

Answering an earlier question about why El Cap doesn’t show movies in 3D: It’s technically a Dolby Cinema house. Doesn’t use the Dolby Cinema name but it’s the same technical framework: Dolby Vision HDR projection plus Dolby Atmos audio. I have yet to see a Dolby Vision/Cinema house equipped for 3D. Frankly, it doesn’t need it! It’s presentation is already the best in the business…topped only by full screen 70MM IMAX.

jeffpiatt on May 16, 2018 at 7:11 am

Dolby has a Deal with AMC Theaters to only install the Dolby Cinema auditoriums in there locations in the US the spec has a Dolby designed Recliner seat with built in speakers and a Video wall entrance tunnel experience made by the producers of the film.

LARGE_screen_format on July 7, 2018 at 4:44 am

When I watched Reel Steel at this cinema back in October 2011 the Wurlitzer was played before the performance began.

At the time this was the closest to Full HD video quality I had ever seen on a cinema screen. Does anyone happen to know which projector they would have been using at that time?

alisonwriter on July 10, 2018 at 10:23 pm

Hello, I’m working on a project about the El Capitan and would like to interview former (and current) employees—projectionists, managers, ushers, ticket sellers, janitors, etc. No on-camera required. alisonnastasi (at) gmail

richjr37 on February 5, 2019 at 2:27 pm

The owner/operatorship is only slightly correct. In the mid ‘70s,the Loews theatres that didn’t go to General Cinema went to the short lived Century Cinema Circuit. In 1976,Seattle Washington based SRO Theatres took over until Pacific acquired most of the lot in late 1983.

moviebuff82 on May 1, 2019 at 12:11 pm

The premiere of Endgame didn’t take place at this theater nor the Dolby but a specially designed auditorium at the famed Los Angeles Coliseum to show the IMAX version of the film, which has broken all sorts of records.

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