El Capitan Theatre

6838 Hollywood Boulevard,
Los Angeles, CA 90028

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El Capitan Theatre

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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, and Pacific Theatres took over in 1974, 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 ‘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. 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 286 comments)

Chris Utley
Chris Utley on November 7, 2013 at 7:08 pm

I pity the poor souls who have to watch Episode 7 here in December 2015.

Cliffs on November 29, 2013 at 12:59 am

Well now that Arclight appears to be in a separate booking district, I would assume Ep 7 would also play the Dome, but in their patented “sh!t-D” 3D experience.

Edward Havens
Edward Havens on November 30, 2013 at 9:15 am

The Cap has a good sized screen, but if the ONLY thing I cared about was screen size, there are other theatres to go to. I don’t go to The Cap just for the screen size. I go to The Cap for the entire package.

KramSacul on December 22, 2013 at 8:03 am

Never thought the screen size was small at the El Capitan but it depends on what aspect ratio the screen is set up for since they seem to mask it down vertically for scope (common width). 1.85:1 films are pretty tall. Taller than anything at Arclight for sure.

GeorgeC on January 19, 2014 at 7:31 pm

Before the restore, the Paramount had a terrific curved 70mm screen … great for viewing Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

No question that installing these wide screens upset the original proscenium arch… not only at the Paramount, but the Chinese, Egyptian, Warner Hollywood and most every movie palace.

At the same time because of their size, these movie palaces could easily accommodate the largest screens and were the ideal place for an audience to get the full impact of Scope and 70mm. Check out the photo of the D-150 screen at Cinema treasures Egyptian site to get an idea. This was the screen before the AFI renovation.

The proscenium arch was a carry over from live theater, where it helped hide stage craft and kept audiences focused on center stage. It was never needed for projecting movies, no matter what aspect ratio was projected. Most movie palaces were converted vaudeville houses and live stage acts were still occasionally booked along with the feature. Keeping the arch made sense.

But with recent restorations, it doesn’t seem as if anyone was aware that the original proscenium arch and modern screen aspect ratios didn’t fit together well. The big question should have been, do we focus on the best screening experience or an architectural feature that’s part of the experience only when the house lights are up?

DonSolosan on January 19, 2014 at 10:03 pm

@GeorgeC, that “big question” should include “do we preserve the historic elements of these buildings, because we don’t know what the future holds”? The El Cap is a good example — they’re using the stage and proscenium to great effect…

bella_1990 on March 7, 2014 at 1:33 pm

I disagree on having someone on stage singing, making kids cry because they weren’t choosen to be on stage making me wanna leave and never coming back! Disappointed

DavidSimpson on July 2, 2014 at 6:12 am

I went to see “Malificent” last night, the recent re-working of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, starring Angelina Jolie. The feature was preceded by a very elaborate live magic show starring Greg Wilson which really added to the occasion. I’ve added some photos I took. They aren’t that great (I was in the back row of the circle) but hopefully they give an idea of the really elaborate lighting and stage effects. All this, and the film was in 3D (which was excellent), for only $13 for me as a senior (and only $16 for adults) made this a wonderful evening’s entertainment. And there was also a comprehensive display of props from the film! Just a shame the audience (for the 7.30pm show) was a bit sparse, with most of them in the stalls and only about half a dozen of us in the huge rear circle.

Giles on July 3, 2014 at 9:37 pm

can someone comment on how the Dolby Atmos system sounds – I know that both here and the Dolby Theater factor in that both auditoriums have balconies – how is sound dispersed in a theater that has mult-tiered seating?

moviebuff82 on August 6, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Saw this theater during footage of Drunk History….read my post on the chinese

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