Sid Grauman was a busy man back in the 1920s. No sooner than he finished building the Million Dollar Theatre in the downtown Broadway Theatre District and he got to work on the Egyptian Theatre on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre opened on 1922 and was the site of the first ever Hollywood film premier. The film was Robin Hood, starring Douglas Fairbanks and it premiered on October 18, 1922. The film cost over $1 million to produce (more than the cost of building the theatre), a staggering sum for the day. Robin Hood was not shown in any other Los Angeles theater during that year.
The original plans for the Egyptian Theatre called for a spanish design. However there was a fascination at the time with the multiple expeditions searching for the tomb of Tutankhamun in Egypt and this led to a change in the theatre’s design to the Egyptian theme.
The Egyptian Theatre cost $800,000 to build and took eighteen months to construct. Architects Meyer & Holler designed the building and it was built by The Milwaukee Building Company. Sid Grauman and his partner Charles E. Toberman subsequently built the nearby El Capitan Theatre and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The popularity of the Chinese Theatre eventually overtook the Egyptian Theatre, mainly because of the hand and footprints of celebrities in the courtyard.
The exterior and interior walls contain Egyptian-style paintings and hieroglyphs. The four massive columns that mark the theatre’s main entrance are 4 1⁄2 feet wide and rise 20 feet. Inside a large courtyard, complete with a fountain and queen palm trees, was specifically designed to host the theatre’s famous red carpet ceremonies.
As Hollywood declined in the 1980s, the theatre eventually fell into disrepair. It was also severely damaged in the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. In 1996, the city of Los Angeles sold the theatre to the American Cinematheque for a nominal one dollar with the provision that the landmark building be restored to its original grandeur and re-opened as a movie theatre. The Cinematheque committed to raising the funds to pay for the restoration and to using the renovated theatre as home for its programs of public film exhibition.
Technology to accommodate the American Cinematheque’s programming of film and new media was installed. The exterior was restored to its original appearance and projection, sound, seating, mechanical systems, and circulation were all brought up to 21st century standards.The Egyptian Theatre was re-opened to the public on December 4, 1998, after a $12.8 million renovation. (note that the original cost to build it was $800,000). In 2000, the project won the National Preservation Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
The Egyptian Theatre is still being run by the American Cinematheque film archive. Guided tours are available on the weekends. For a listing of shows, visit the American Cinematheque website.
The Egyptian Theatre is located at 6712 Hollywood Blvd.