El Capitan Theatre is a fully restored movie palace at 6838 Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood. The theater and adjacent Hollywood Masonic Temple (now known as the El Capitan Entertainment Centre) is owned and operated by The Walt Disney Company and as such, serves as the venue for a majority of the The Walt Disney Studios’ film premieres.
1926 opening and early years
In the early 1920s, real estate developer Charles E. Toberman (the “Father of Hollywood”) envisioned a thriving Hollywood theatre district. With Sid Grauman, he opened the Egyptian (1922), El Capitan (“The Captain”) (1926), and Chinese Theatre (1927).
El Capitan, dubbed “Hollywood’s First Home of Spoken Drama,” opened as a legitimate theatre on May 3, 1926 with Charlot’s Revue starring Gertrude Lawrence and Jack Buchanan. The design featured a Spanish Colonial Revival style exterior designed by Stiles O. Clements of the architectural firm of Morgan, Walls & Clements, and a lavish East Indian interior by G. Albert Lansburgh.
For a decade it presented live plays, with over 120 productions including such legends as Clark Gable and Joan Fontaine. By the late 1930s, El Capitan felt the economic effects of the Depression, showcasing fewer and fewer productions. This period saw a cycle of experimentation with entertainment. In an effort to boost attendance at the theatre, its management attempted to lure revues, road shows and benefits. Despite these efforts, business was faltering. When Orson Welles was unable to locate a theatre owner willing to risk screening Citizen Kane, he turned to El Capitan, and in 1941, Citizen Kane had its world premiere there. The theater then closed for one year.
1942 renovation and renaming the Hollywood Paramount
The building was remodeled in the modern style, and reopened on March 18, 1942 as the Hollywood Paramount Theatre. Its inaugural film presentation was Cecil B. DeMille’s Technicolor feature Reap the Wild Wind, starring Ray Milland, John Wayne, Paulette Goddard and Raymond Massey.
The theater remained the West Coast flagship for Paramount Pictures until the studio was forced by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the antitrust case U.S. vs. Paramount Pictures, et al. to divest itself of its theater holdings. After this, the Hollywood Paramount was operated by United Paramount Theatres for some years, then by a series of other companies, culminating with ownership by the Pacific Theatres Circuit in the 1980s.
1991 reopening with name El Capitan
By the late 1980s, movie studios were once again being allowed to own theatres, and in 1989 the Walt Disney Company entered into a lease agreement with the Pacific Circuit for the Paramount and the smaller Crest Theatre in Westwood. These theaters became Disney’s flagship houses. They spent $14 million on a complete renovation of the Paramount, restoring much of the building’s original decor as well as the theater’s original name. El Capitan reopened in 1991 with the premiere of The Rocketeer. In recent years, many of Walt Disney Pictures’ feature films have premiered here as well as the debut of Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first made-for-TV special Prep & Landing, and most movies are accompanied by live stage shows. Jimmy Kimmel Live!, which airs on Disney-owned ABC, originates from a TV studio next door at the Hollywood Masonic Temple (now known as the El Capitan Entertainment Centre).
The refurbished theater features a giant Wurlitzer Theatre organ originally installed in San Francisco’s Fox Theatre in 1929. Below the theater is a small exhibit space, often used to display props from the films, such as costumes or set pieces. Next door is the adjacent Disney’s Soda Fountain and Studio Store, where patrons can purchase ice cream themed to the film currently playing in the cinema next door. A wide variety of Disney and movie merchandise is available there. At some point Disney also acquired the former Hollywood Masonic Temple next door, where they had been housing add-on attractions for big Disney films such as Toy Story.