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El Capitan Theatre

Capacity: 998 seats

Restored to showcase its original lavish architecture and to reflect its glamorous theatrical origins, the El Capitan Theatre boasts a history dating back to Hollywood’s inception as the center of the entertainment world.

In the early 1920s, when Hollywood Boulevard was still a quiet mix of homes and agricultural businesses, real estate developer Charles Toberman envisioned a thriving theatre district there. Often called “The Father of Hollywood,” Toberman played a role in developing over 30 buildings in the heart of Hollywood, including the Roosevelt Hotel and the Hollywood Masonic Temple (now the El Capitan Entertainment Centre, home to ABC’s late night talk show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!). Along with Sid Grauman, Toberman developed three theme theatres – the Egyptian, the Chinese, and the El Capitan.

Local architect, Stiles O. Clements, of Los Angeles-based firm Morgan, Walls & Clements, designed the theatre’s elaborate cast-concrete Spanish Colonial-style exterior. G. Albert Lansburgh, a San Francisco architect known for his design of over 50 theatres and luxury cinema houses on the West Coast, designed the lavish East Indian-inspired interior of the theatre.

Stars of the stage attended the opening of the El Capitan Theatre, the largest legitimate theatre in Hollywood, which debuted on May 3, 1926. They filled the 1,550-seat theatre, dubbed “Hollywood’s First Home of Spoken Drama,” for the premiere of the fresh-from-Broadway play Charlot’s Revue, starring Jack Buchanan, Gertrude Lawrence and Beatrice Lillie.

Well-known theatre manager and producer, Henry Duffy, operated the El Capitan for a decade, producing over 120 live plays on its stage, including No, No, Nanette, Anything Goes and Ah, Wilderness. Legendary stars Clark Gable, Buster Keaton, Mary Pickford, Joan Fontaine, Henry Fonda and Will Rogers have graced the El Capitan stage.

In 1941, the El Capitan Theatre was converted from a playhouse to a movie theatre. Searching for a theatre in Hollywood to premiere his controversial film Citizen Kane (1941), Orson Welles rented the El Capitan. On May 8, 1941, Welles’ first feature film, Citizen Kane, premiered at the El Capitan Theatre. Shortly thereafter, the theatre closed for a two-month renovation and modernization. The theatre reopened in March 1942 as the Hollywood Paramount, a new, streamlined “art modern” first-run movie house. Meanwhile, the El Capitan name and the entire El Capitan staff moved to the nearby Hollywood Playhouse.

For over 35 years, control of the theatre changed hands multiple times and the name of the theatre changed multiple times as well, from Loews Hollywood, to the Hollywood Cinema, to Pacific’s Paramount Theatre. In 1989, the Walt Disney Company joined forces with Pacific Theatres and launched a two-year, museum-quality restoration of the historic theatre, led by renowned theatre designer Joseph J. Musil.

Under the supervision of the National Park Service’s Department of the Interior, and with guidance from conservator Martin Weil and architect Ed Fields, the certified national historic site was restored to its former grandeur. The renovation restored many of the original design details such as the ornate plasterwork found hidden behind walls. Using old pictures of the original theatre, Musil reconstructed missing elements such as the opera boxes in the main auditorium as well as the lobby, recreating the ornate glamour of the El Capitan. The renovation updated materials to support the technical needs of a modern movie theatre and also included a new marquee sparkling above Hollywood Boulevard. Musil’s design achieved his goal to recreate the look and feel of the El Capitan Theatre in 1926.

The newly restored movie palace, declared a Historic-Cultural Monument by the City of Los Angeles, reopened its doors to the public on June 19, 1991, for the world premiere of Walt Disney Pictures’ The RocketeerThe Rocketeer became the first of many Walt Disney Pictures feature films to premiere at the El Capitan Theatre.

With its grand reopening, the El Capitan was an early participant in Hollywood’s revitalization efforts. In 2001, the Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex opened directly across the street. In the heart of this bustling Hollywood entertainment district, the El Capitan Theatre is an exclusive first-run theatre for Walt Disney Pictures and hosts live stage shows, world premieres, and other special events that have helped restore showmanship to Hollywood Boulevard.