Hollywood Boulevard is Hollywood’s main artery and was one of its most glamorous streets during its glory days before WWII.
Now undergoing a continuing revitalization with new developments and renovation of historic properties Hollywood Boulevard is once again host to the annual Academy Awards excitement and the first stop for visitors to California’s entertainment mecca.
Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is probably the most famous movie theatre in the world and a symbol of Hollywood that many people recognize.
Built by Sid Grauman—who owned it along with Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford—the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard has anchored the Hollywood Entertainment District since its opening in 1927 with the “King of Kings” Cecil B. Demille silent movie. Renamed Mann’s Chinese Theatre in 1973 it was renamed TCL Chinese Theatre in 2013 after TLC Corporation purchased the naming rights.
It was Sid Grauman who came up with the idea of enshrining stars hand and foot prints in wet cement in the forecourt of the theatre.
Variations include imprints of Groucho Marx and George Burns’ cigars, Betty Grable‘s legs and Jimmy Durante and Bob Hope’s profile defining noses.
The foot and hand prints of Cowboy stars Tom Mix, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers also feature hand gun and/or horse’s hoof prints.
With such limited real estate in the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre forecourt each block is reserved for a true superstar and it’s a rare occasion, and big event, when a new set of prints is added.
Home to the Academy Awards from 1944 to 1946 and featured in many TV shows and movies such as “Singing in the Rain,” “Blazing Saddles,” and the I Love Lucy episode where Lucy and Ethel attempt to steal the block with John Wayne’s footprints as a souvenir. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is also featured in the Walt Disney World theme park where The Great Movie Ride travels through a recreation of the building.
Sid sold his share of the theater in 1929 though he continued as the Managing Director until his death in 1950. Declared an historic and cultural landmark in 1968 the theater was renamed Mann’s Chinese Theater after being purchased by Ted Mann in 1973. The original name was restored in 2001.
The Chinese Theatre is also the departure point for many tours including those to “Movie Stars Homes.”
For several decades after World War II Hollywood’s glamorous image suffered from decay and neglect that was readily evident to any visitor to the downtown shopping district around Hollywood Boulevard.
Historic icons of Old Hollywood such as the Egyptian Theatre—the first grand movie palace in Hollywood and also built by Sid Grauman—and the Roosevelt Hotel—original site of the Academy Awards—had been allowed to fall into disrepair and they were surrounded by dirty sidewalks, seedy x-rated movie theaters and tacky t-shirt and cheep souvenir shops.
The good news now is that things have turned around and an ongoing revival has resulted in a Hollywood Entertainment District that more closely reflects the glamorous experience that millions of visitors a year come looking for.
Much like the renaissance experienced in the Times Square area of New York on the other side of the continent, Hollywood Boulevard has benefited in recent years from corporate investment to restore many historic properties. In fact the same show, Disney’s “The Lion King”—continuously playing in the New Amsterdam Theater in New York since 1997 and the restored Pantages Theatre in Hollywood since—is symbolic of the change to both neighborhoods.
Disney has restored the El Capitan—opened in 1926 as a live theatre—into a classic movie palace with glittering marquee and plush interior. Once a venue for stage plays featuring the likes of Clark Gable, Will Rogers and Henry Fonda, the El Capitan now hosts world premiers for Disney animated films such as “Alladin” and “Beauty & the Beast.”
The Hollywood and Highland entertainment and retail center multi-level complex opened in 2001 next to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and directly across Hollywood Boulevard from Disney’s El Capitan Theatre. The Hollywood Sign is framed by an Egyptian-style arch and numerous architectural elements including two huge sitting elephant sculptures on top evoke the glitz and glamour of an earlier era.
Over 60 shops, a dozen bowling lanes, 2 nightclubs, 26 restaurants and the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel fill the Hollywood and Highland Center but the most famous tenant is the 3,400 seat Kodak Theatre.
American Idol finals, special awards ceremonies and live entertainment ranging from Celine Dion to Prince, Barry Manilow, the Dixie Chicks, American Ballet Theatre and touring Broadway productions have been hosted at the Kodak Theatre but it’s best known since 2001 as the site of the annual Academy Awards.The theatre was built specifically for this purpose with an impressive entry from Hollywood Boulevard.
The sidewalk in front of the Hollywood and Highland Center is now the most popular location for stars in the Hollywood Walk of Fame. A double row of stars in front of the center contrasts with a single row throughout the rest of the walk.
Max Factor was a Russian immigrant who began his career developing makeup for the Russian Royal Ballet, but he made his name in Hollywood with cosmetics for such screen legends as Bette Davis and Jean Harlow. Max Factor invented the first concealer, false eyelashes and even wigs.
Today the Hollywood Museum is housed in the classic Art Deco old Max Factor Building. Four floors with 5,000 exhibits and displays including movie sets, costumes, cars, props and memorabilia could take a whole day to see. Max Factor’s world famous makeup rooms and thousands of vintage photos are included.
Other entertainment venues of interest to visitors on Hollywood Boulevard include Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium, Hollywood Wax Museum and Guinness World of Records though you may want to skip the last two as they are not the same quality of entertainment as the newer venues on Hollywood Boulevard.