Hollywood Journal – It Wasn’t What I Wanted

Egyp Pylons Angle

Things change, and sometimes change is hard to accept. Part of the reason I spent years keeping a journal on Hollywood was to record the transformations that were taking place. One of the biggest upheavals was in the way films were exhibited. Hollywood is home to a handful of movie palaces, all of them built over the course of a decade starting in the early twenties. Up through the eighties, those palaces were still playing first run movies, and on opening weekend you might see lines going down the block.

But in the eighties multi-plexes started springing up, and the huge Hollywood theatres couldn’t compete. They either had to change or die. The Egyptian Theatre was shuttered in 1992. I was really upset. I’d seen so many movies there, including 2001, Alien and Point Break. When it suffered major damage in the 1994 Northridge quake, I was sure the next step was demolition. So I was overjoyed when I heard the American Cinematheque had bought the building and was going to renovate it.

Overjoyed, that is, until the theatre reopened and I saw the results. The auditorium was less than half its original size and the screen was significantly smaller. Plus, there were a number of minor changes that bugged me. I wrote it all down in the journal entry below. I was ticked off.

On the plus side, though, the Cinematheque was on Hollywood Boulevard and they were showing some great stuff. I eventually signed on as a volunteer, and ended up giving tours of the theatre, which made me look at the changes in a whole new light. In the first place, there was no way the Cinematheque could run the Egyptian as a 2,000 seat house. It just wasn’t possible to fill an auditorium that big on a regular basis. They had to find a way to solve that problem, and the solution was building two smaller theatres inside the original structure. Second, the theatre I remembered was very different from the theatre Sid Grauman had built in nineteen twenty two. He created a silent movie palace. As soon as sound came in, the theatre had to start adapting to stay viable, and numerous changes had been made over the years. In the process of renovating the Egyptian, the Cinematheque actually revealed parts of the original structure that had been concealed for decades. Third, the process of renovating a historic building is incredibly complex and costly. The Cinematheque had to follow the City’s code for historic preservation and find the money to pay for everything. They were lucky to connect with a couple of very talented architects, Craig Hodgetts and Ming Fung. The team came up with a number of innovative and elegant solutions to some difficult problems.

I love seeing movies at the Egyptian these days. If the screen isn’t quite as big as it used to be, it’s still one of the largest you’ll find in LA. And the sound is way better than it was when the Egyptian was operating as a commercial movie theatre. So while the journal entry below shows my initial disappointment, as the politicians say, my views have evolved. When the theatre first reopened, I wanted it to be the way I remembered it in years past. That wasn’t possible. Things change.

Here’s a link to a page on the American Cinematheque web site that shows images of the Egyptian over the years.

Egyptian Theatre Past

And here’s a link to the Hodgetts and Fung web site that shows images of their renovation/restoration.

H+F Egyptian Theatre

Egyp Hier

January, Nineteen Ninety Nine

Well, last night I finally made it over to the American Cinematheque. And I’ve gotta say I’m pretty disappointed with what they’ve done to the Egyptian. I mean, if you just want to look at it as a modern, mid-sized theatre it’s fine. But, aside from preserving some of the decorative elements, it has nothing to do with what the Egyptian was. It seems like the auditorium is about half its original size. The screen is considerably smaller. The seats are cozy but narrow, and there’s very little leg room. I was more comfortable the other night at the Beverly. Why do they have that sign up that says it’s Grauman’s Egyptian? It’s not. Did any of the people involved seriously think they were restoring or renovating the original theatre? All they’ve done is build a mid-sized auditorium inside the shell of a movie palace. They’ve completely changed the interior and the exterior of the building. The experience of going to this new Egyptian Theatre is totally different, and it’s certainly not a change for the better.

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, I also have to say I’m really glad to have the American Cinematheque on Hollywood Boulevard. I’m pretty impressed by their programming so far. It seems like they really want to offer all kinds of films. In spite of what they’ve done to the Egyptian, I look forward to going back.

Last night we saw Cruising, and Friedkin was there to talk about it. I really liked the film. It was interesting to hear the director’s comments, too.

Egyp Columns

Hollywood Journal – A Different Kind of Marathon

DSC06891

March, Nineteen Ninety Nine

A weird, ugly, fun day.

I woke up around ten. Played some music. Robert Goulet, Sid Ramin, June Christy.

Around noon I realized that the hangover I’d been hoping to avoid was kicking in. Lying on the living room floor, I could hear car horns honking outside. Had no idea what that was about. I dozed for a while.

Woke up around two and told myself I’d have to move if I was gonna make the three forty show of Fallen Angels at the Beverly.

I walked out onto the street and saw that Cahuenga was a parking lot. Massive traffic jam. Then it hit me. The marathon.

I was thinking I’d catch the two twelve on Hollywood Boulevard, but the marathon meant Hollywood Boulevard was closed. Should I go back home? Skip the movie?

Nah. I didn’t feel too hung over at that point, and I felt like walking a little might clear my head. I decided to go down to Sunset and catch the bus over to La Brea in the hope that the two twelve would be running that part of its route.

But Sunset was closed, too. So I figured, okay, I’ll go down to Santa Monica. Which I did. The only westbound bus that went by was so packed I couldn’t get on it.

So I walked down to Melrose. By this time I wasn’t feeling too good. I leaned against the pole at the bus stop, wishing the bus would come. Another guy who was waiting told me that it was gone arrive in about five minutes.

Ten minutes passed. Fifteen. I finally decided to just go on walking, and it’s a good thing cuz not a single bus passed me in the time it took me to reach La Brea.

From there it was a short walk down to the theatre. As much trouble as it was, the movies were worth the trip. Fallen Angels was wonderful. And I liked Chungking Express much better seeing it a second time.

FA 2

Hollywood Journal – Preservation Prevails

The Cinerama Dome under construction in 1963.

The Cinerama Dome under construction in 1963.

I spent a good part of 1998 freaking out over Pacific Theaters’ plans for “renovating” the Cinerama Dome. The initial proposal involved gutting the auditorium, removing the curved screen and putting a fast food restaurant in the lobby. The film and preservation communities protested loudly. To their credit, the people at Pacific met with the opposition and made a number of important concessions.

If you’re not into film, and if you don’t care about Hollywood history, you might be mystified by the uproar. So let me offer a little background….

Cinerama was a process that revolutionized the production and exhibition of films back in the early fifties. Three strips of film were projected in perfect synchronization to create the illusion of a continuous widescreen image, accompanied by stereophonic sound playback. The image was shown on a huge curved screen to produce an early version of what we now call immersive entertainment.

In the early sixties, Cinerama, Inc. unveiled an ambitious plan to create hundreds of Cinerama theatres based on a radical new model. They would construct geodesic domes using prefabricated panels, which would supposedly allow them to build a theatre in half the time and for half the cost of using conventional methods. They purchased a site on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood and hired the firm of Welton Becket and Associates to design what would become the Cinerama Dome.

The premiere of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at the Dome in 1963.

The premiere of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World at the Dome in 1963.

Becket’s company was one of the major architectural firms in the city at that time, and played a large part in setting the look and tone of mid-century Los Angeles. To my mind the Dome is something of a companion piece to one of their earlier signature creations, the Capitol Records Building, which is just a few blocks away on Vine. Together these two icons helped to define space age architecture.

Of the theatres that were constructed to show films in the Cinerama process, only a handful are left today. The Dome is a unique creation designed by one of the most important architectural firms in the city’s history. That’s why so many of us got so crazy when we saw the initial plans to renovate it. I will always be grateful to Pacific for listening to the community and preserving the Dome.

The two pictures above are from the Los Angeles Public Library photo archive. The first shows the dome under construction. It was taken by Howard D. Kelly in 1963. The second shows the premiere of the film that the Dome opened with, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. It was also taken in 1963, but no photographer is credited. Below are some photos I took of the Dome and the area surrounding it back in 1998. Sorry that the quality isn’t better. They were taken with a disposable camera, and have faded over the years. A couple of photos were taken from Morningside Court, which used to go through to De Longpre, but was closed off with the construction of the Arclight parking structure.

February, Nineteen Ninety Nine

For weeks I’ve been meaning to write abut the latest on the Cinerama Dome. Here it is.

Apparently the people from Pacific Theaters sat down and talked with the preservation people, and the end result was Pacific gave up a lot of the changes they were going to make. As I recall, these are some of the things pacific agreed to.

The entrance will remain at the front of the theatre.

The layout of the seating will stay basically the same, though they will be putting new seats in.

They won’t alter the ceiling of the auditorium.

And —

They’ll keep the curved screen.

I’m actually really grateful to Pacific for giving in on all this stuff. I doubt they understand why the Dome is such a great piece of architecture, so from their point of view the preservationists are going crazy over nothing.

Of course, we still don’t know what the Dome is gonna look like when they’re through. But at this point I’m cautiously optimistic.

The front of the Cinerama Dome in 1998.

The front of the Cinerama Dome in 1998.

Screen walls and landscaping on the periphery of the Dome.

Screen walls and landscaping on the periphery of the Dome.

A shot from the parking lot, looking north to Sunset.

A shot from the parking lot, looking north to Sunset.

A shot of Morningside Court, looking toward Sunset.

A shot of Morningside Court, looking toward Sunset.

Another shot of Morningside Court, this time looking in the opposite direction towards De Longpre.

Another shot of Morningside Court, this time looking in the opposite direction towards De Longpre.

This was taken from the parking lot behind the Dome, facing west.  The site just across the street is where Amoeba now stands.

This was taken from the parking lot behind the Dome, facing west. The site just across the street is where Amoeba now stands.

This shot was taken facing the opposite direction, now looking across the parking lot towards Morningside Court.

This shot was taken facing the opposite direction, now looking across the parking lot towards Morningside Court.

Hollywood Journal – Relaxing at the Roosevelt

Another visit to the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel. I used to like hanging out there back in the nineties because the lobby was big and dark and quiet. It was a great place to chill, in large part because it was usually pretty empty. Since then it’s been remodelled, and they’ve managed to attract a young, hip crowd, so the place is a little more lively these days. I’m glad they’re doing more business, but I spend less time there now.

The photos were taken recently, and while the lobby is substantially the same, it has changed some in the past fifteen years. And as I’ve mentioned before, in transcribing these entries from my journal I’ve left the errors alone. The correct spelling for the name of the hotel is “Roosevelt”.

January, Nineteen Ninety Nine

Today I was on Hollywood Boulevard. I think it was around four o’ clock. And I decided to go to the Rooseveldt. Have a beer. Kick back. It’s been a while since I stopped in there.

The lobby was pretty empty. I walked up to the bar. Ordered a beer. Then strolled over to the table by the piano and sank into a big, soft chair.

It was so nice. So quiet. I sat there looking at the patterns on the ceiling. I finished my beer and thought, what the hell, why not have another.

Rsvt Chand

The guy comes in to play the piano. I ask him if he knows any Mancini. He says not a lot. I mention Charade. No dice. He throws out a few titles. Pink Panther. Baby Elephant Walk. I’m disappointed but I settle for The Pink Panther.

There are quite a few people in the lobby by now. A man with a cell phone sitting across the table from me. At the next table over a woman reading a paperback. And there are a couple of guys sitting to my left. One of them is talking about Barry Fitzgerald. He’s trying to name movies Fitzgerald was in. The man with the cell phone jumps into the conversation. He offers Going My Way. Then he says Ten Little Indians. I want to correct him, he’s thinking of And Then There Were None. But these days I’m reluctant to start chatting with strangers.

So they go on talking. The guy who was going on about Barry Fitzgerald says he works in movies. I think he said either as an actor or a stunt man. The guy with the cell phone says he’s a producer. In the exchange that follows I’m obviously not setting down what was said verbatim. I’m just trying to give an outline of the conversation.

The actor (stunt man?) asks,

What did you produce?

The producer answers,

The Buddy Holly Story.

At this point I can’t restrain myself.

You produced The Buddy Holly Story? I say. I liked that movie.

I never thought it’d make any money, the producer says.

What else did you make?

Diner.

That was a cool movie.

Who was in Diner, asks the actor.

Oh, wow, a lot of people. Mickey Rourke.

And Kevin Bacon, says the woman with the paperback.

Now I know there are a lot of people in this town who will claim to have produced, directed, written all sorts of famous films. Who knows if this guy was legit. But I think I was on my third beer by that time and obviously not feeling very skeptical. The guy probably could’ve said he produced Dinner at Eight and I would have believed him.

The conversation moves on to other subjects. Italian food in New Jersey. Mexican food in LA. I ask the pianist for something by Gershwin. He plays Someone to Watch over Me.

I felt pretty good when I left.

Rsvt Chat

Hollywood Journal – Some Photos

While I was keeping my Hollywood Journal, I tried to take photos to document some of the changes that were occurring. These were taken while the Hollywood & Highland Center was being constructed, and they sort of go along with the first entry I wrote (Hollywood Journal – Intro). Sorry the quality isn’t better. I’m not a great photographer, and these were taken with a disposable camera.

It’s important to remember that Hollywood & Highland was being built as the same time as the Red Line was under construction below Hollywood Boulevard. Because one of the subway stops is built into the complex, the two projects had to be done concurrently. It was a crazy time, because the construction of that stretch of the Red Line was a mess. Hollywood Boulevard sank six inches, in part because the contractor was was not following proper procedures during tunneling. It was reported that they were using telephone books instead of metal wedges to prop up the supports.

Construction site on Hollywood Boulevard.

Construction site on Hollywood Boulevard.

A different angle on the site.

A different angle on the site.

Above are two views of the construction site from Hollywood Boulevard. In both you can see part of the office building that used to stand on the northwest corner of Hollywood and Highland. Also, in the background you can see the former Holiday Inn, which is now Loews Hollywood Hotel. Those familiar with the area will notice that in those days it didn’t have the facade which was added back when it was known as the Renaissance.

Looking down Orchid to the El Capitan.

Looking down Orchid to the El Capitan.

This is a shot of the El Capitan from Orchid. This part of the street no longer exists, since it was closed off in order to construct Hollywood & Highland. You can still enter Orchid from the north on Franklin, but it no longer continues through to Hollywood Boulevard.

The Walk of Fame during construction.

The Walk of Fame during construction.

The stars on the sidewalk in front of the project were removed during construction, and then replaced when the project was finished.

Looking west on Hollywood Boulevard.

Looking west on Hollywood Boulevard.

Above is a shot looking west. It’s too bad the image isn’t very sharp, but you can see the remnants of a cool mural depicting whales in the ocean. It was painted on the side of the Chinese Theatres. Also, in the distance, you can see the Roosevelt Hotel.

The construction site, again facing west.

The construction site, again facing west.

Another shot of the construction site facing west.

The First National Building stands alone against the sky.

The First National Building stands alone against the sky.

In the first two photos above you can see the office building that used to stand on the northwest corner of Hollywood and Highland. It had to be demolished to make way for the new mall, and I remember how its disappearance created this amazing sense of space. Before the new structure rose up, you had a mostly unobstructed view of the hills. And for a while the First National Building, which still stands today, seemed to tower over everything.

Looking across the construction site towards the El Capitan.

Looking across the construction site towards the El Capitan.

Another view of the construction site, looking towards the El Capitan.

Next to the Chinese Theatre, you can see the Chinese Two and Three, not long before demolition.

Next to the Chinese Theatre, you can see the Chinese Two and Three, not long before demolition.

During the eighties movie exhibitors began building multiplexes instead of stand-alone theatres. In order to compete, the company that owned the Chinese built two more auditoriums right next door, the Chinese Two and Three. They didn’t look like much from the outside, but they both offered large screens and excellent sound. When Hollywood & Highland was built these two theatres were demolished, and were replaced with six more inside the mall.

Hollywood Journal – The Egyptian

The Egyptian Theatre, Hollywood’s first movie palace, opened in nineteen twenty two with Robin Hood, starring Douglas Fairbanks. Over the years its fortunes rose and fell along with the rest of Hollywood Boulevard. I started going to the Egyptian around nineteen seventy. My friend Paul took me there to see 2001. It blew me away.

I saw many more films at the Egyptian throughout the seventies and eighties, but by the early nineties the theatre was in bad shape. It closed in ninety two. After the Northridge earthquake in ninety four, I was walking past the rear of the auditorium and saw a gaping hole in the wall. I was sure they’d tear it down and put up a mini-mall.

Fortunately, the American Cinematheque bought the Egyptian from the City of LA a few years later, and it reopened in nineteen ninety eight. Hodgetts + Fung was the firm in charge of the renovation/restoration. This journal entry was written around the time they were finishing up.

The photo below is not from the nineties. It was just taken recently.

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December, Nineteen Ninety Eight

A cold, windy day in Hollywood. But still a lot of people out and about. The coffee house I’m sitting in seems to be doing good business.

On my way over here I went by the Egyptian. In fact, I walked into the courtyard. It’s open again. They’ve finally finished their renovation or restoration or whatever they’re calling it. My feelings were mixed. On one hand, yeah, I’m glad it’s open and I’m glad it’s being used as a theatre instead of a swap meet.

On the other hand I can’t say I’m crazy about the finished product. Even though they’ve obviously gone to a lot of trouble to restore certain features of the original design. I feel like they’ve ended up with self-conscious kitsch. But I should wait till I’ve seen the inside before I make any rash judgments.

It’s gotta be hard for an architect working on a project like this. The original Egyptian wasn’t a masterpiece of design. It was impressive, theatrical kitsch that overwhelmed you with its size. And god, it was a great place to see movies. Brian says when the Times reviewed the restored building they didn’t even mention that the auditorium is much smaller than it used to be.

Hollywood Journal – Leave the Dome Alone

Another entry from my Hollywood journal, this one very brief.

The wrangling over Pacific Theaters’ plans for the Cinerama Dome continues. There was a good deal of anger in the Hollywood community over the proposed project. The Community Redevelopment Agency had received letters of protest from over a hundred concerned citizens, including Steven Spielberg and Richard Schickel. And the people at Pacific had started paying attention.

I also mention a couple of record stores I used to frequent. Eastside was in a strip-mall on Hillhurst. It’s long gone now. Record Recycler was on Sunset near Vermont. It’s actually still around, though it hasn’t been at that location for years. The owner moved the store down to Torrance. Those of you who are into used vinyl can get more info by clicking here.

For a while I was in the habit of hitting the Roosevelt Hotel for a drink at the end of the day. I loved zoning out in the lobby and listening to the guy at the piano. Totally relaxing. I should point out that the photo below was not taken at the time I wrote this journal entry. I snapped it on a recent visit. I wanted to show a little bit of the Roosevelt lobby, but it’s important to say that it’s been remodeled since this entry was written.

And finally, in transcribing this journal I’ve decided to leave the errors in, which is why “Roosevelt” is misspelled in the last paragraph.

June, Nineteen Ninety Eight

Yesterday I called Pacific Theaters again to see if there was any change in the Cinerama Dome situation. And apparently, yeah, they’ve made some concessions. It’s still hard to say whether this so-called remodeling is gonna work out okay, but from what the woman told me, it sounds like they’re finally thinking a little bit about design. I heard they were talking to the L.A. Conservancy. Thank God for the Conservancy.

This afternoon I went and bought some records, first at Eastside, then at Record Recycler.

A little after six I walked into the lobby of the Rooseveldt. Ordered a beer. Sat down in a chair over by the piano. The guy actually played Three Coins in the Fountain. Mercy.

Rsvt Lobby