El Capitan Theater: Beautiful in Architecture, Rich in History

By: Joachim Jocson

In many big cities there is always an old classic movie theater. In Los Angeles however I have seen so many theaters both vintage and modern.  One such theater has always caught my eye for two reasons, one it reminds me of an old school theater house and two because it’s owned by Disney.

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The El Capitan according to their website was developed after the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and three themed theatres were created. It was created by Sid Grauman who made Egyptian, the Chinese, and the El Capitan. All three of these theaters are along Hollywood Boulevard and within close proximity between each other.

The Theatre opened May 3, 1926 and was known as Hollywood’s First Home of Spoken Drama. When you enter the theater, you’ll be welcome by colorful lights as an almost opera theater like atmosphere with an organist playing just before your performance. The organist is playing Disney music from past and present.

According to the El Capitan website between 1926 and 1936, more than 120 live plays were produced at the El Capitan Theatre, including “No, No, Nanette,” “Anything Goes,” and “Ah, Wilderness.” In 1941, Orson Welles’ Academy Award winning Citizen Kane premiered at the El Capitan before it was closed for remodling. A year later, it made a name change and was called the Hollywood Paramount, it was known as a sleek, new “art moderne” movie house.

In 1989, The Walt Disney Company joined forces with Pacific Theatres to begin a two-year archeological dig, which led to a museum-quality restoration of the legendary palace. Under the supervision of the National Park Service’s Department of the Interior, and with guidance from conservator Martin Weil, architect Ed Fields, and renowned theatre designer Joseph J. Musil, the certified national historic site was restored to its former grandeur and reopened to the public in June, 1991, with the world premiere of Walt Disney’s The Rocketeer.

The El Capitan Theatre was an early participant in Hollywood’s recent revitalization efforts. In 2001, the Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex which houses the permanent home of the Oscars at The Kodak Theatre opened directly across the street. As an exclusive first run theatre for Walt Disney Pictures, The El Capitan Theatre hosts live stage shows, world premieres, and other special events that have helped restore showmanship to Hollywood Boulevard.

Before every movie Showtime an organist plays for the audience using a 4/37 Wurlitzer according to the Disney website. It was the last of five magnificent “Fox Specials” built in the 1920’s, and is considered the top of the line in theater organs and was designed with all the “bells and whistles” for movie palaces. Every year they try to improve and fine tune the instrument for better quality and for the enjoyment of the audience.

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The El Capitan’s “Mighty Wurlitzer,” which is the name of the organ, was originally installed in 1929 at the World Famous San Francisco Fox Theatre and subsequently purchased

What the future holds for The El Capitan Theater consists of Oz the Great and Powerful opening weekend, the Iron Man 3 premiere and opening weekend and Monsters University. Disney still plays movies both previous and current hits. Plus next door is The Disney Soda Fountain and Studio Store with food and Disney Memorabilia. Also the theater has hosted many Disney movie premieres. Just recently Oz the Great and Powerful hosted their premiere at El Capitan Theater. Coming in April they will play host to the premiere of Iron Man 3. Disney and the El Capitan will have a long standing relationship that will last for years to come.

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