Hollywood Boulevard Rebounds
by Scott Holleran
December 29, 2005

Burbank, California—A case of cabin fever on an unusually warm and sunny Christmas Eve—even for Los Angeles—led me to Hollywood Boulevard, which, despite the usual round of redevelopment projects, hasn't been glamorous for a long time. Awash with last-minute shoppers and busy parking attendants, it practically bustles and shines.

Hollywood and Highland shopping complex
Photo Credit: Sean Saulsbury

Hollywood and Highland
The shopping complex at Hollywood and Highland, which houses the Kodak Theatre—where the Oscars are held—has struggled since it opened in November, 2001. Dubbed simply Hollywood and Highland and with two 13,500-pound elephants atop its Babylon Court (inspired by D.W. Griffith's 1916 movie Intolerance), the plaza is finally attracting clusters of new merchants. It's about time.

The complex, which hosts six Mann movie screens with a private lounge, a hotel, a couple of nightclubs, shops and restaurants, and a swanky bowling alley, is a mix of trendy locals, families and foreign tourists who pose for snapshots.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard
Photo Credit: Sean Saulsbury
Grauman's Chinese Theatre
Mann's other, more famous, property sits on the same block. Grauman's Chinese Theatre is, for the money ($11.25 per ticket), an exceptional moviegoing experience. Though the ArcLight Theaters on Sunset Boulevard, with the Cinerama Dome, have become the favored place to see movies, rich and glamorous Grauman's is not to be missed. Seeing The Family Stone for a second viewing—there's more going on than first meets the eye—in this gorgeously restored picture house made for the perfect Christmas Eve treat.

The theatre is 90 feet high with a stone dragon between towering columns capped by a bronze roof. Entering the theater is impressive, with over a thousand plush seats in countless rows that end at flowing curtains, which close following the previews—reopening when the movie starts—as if the motion picture might actually merit an unveiling.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre debuted in 1927 in a grand opening that had Hollywood Boulevard lined with people to see the stars attending the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille's The King of Kings. With temple bells, pagodas and statuary gods imported from China, it must have been a grand spectacle. Grauman's still evokes old Hollywood style.

El Capitan
Photo Credit: Sean Saulsbury
El Capitan and Disney's Soda Fountain and Studio Store
Across the street is Sid Grauman's other movie palace, El Capitan, which opened in 1926 after he built it—and the Chinese and the Egyptian—with real estate developer Charles Toberman. El Capitan is now owned by the Walt Disney Company, which opened a soda fountain and studio store next door earlier this year. After the picture at the Chinese, I decided to try Disney's place for a tuna sandwich and a cup of coffee.

The studio store features rare Disney DVDs—including access to the Buena Vista catalog on an in-store kiosk, where DVDs and videos can be bought and shipped—and unique merchandise. With fresh food—the tuna sandwich is made from an employee's home recipe—seven flavors of ice cream by Bakersfield, Calif.-based Dewar's, Mickey Mouse peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and gigantic desserts—perfect for kids at the counter—the menu alone makes the destination worth the visit.

Later, I talked with Disney executive Lylle Breier, senior vice-president of special events, who explained that Disney had always planned to have such a place. "Ever since we first took over the El Capitan, we knew we wanted to have premium ice cream and a place to have a hot fudge sundae," she told me in a phone interview, adding that over half the receipts come from El Capitan's moviegoers.

Disney's Soda Fountain and Studio Store serves old-fashioned ice cream, phosphates and sandwiches
Photo Credit: Sean Saulsbury
That's not bad, with successful runs like El Capitan's exclusive two-week showings of Disney's Cinderella and the popular Chronicles of Narnia and Breier says the place is often filled with happy moviegoers eating hot dogs and homemade ice cream. "Everything is premium," she says. "The coffee is Starbucks, the grilled cheese is Tillamook. We'll even serve it with the tomatoes cooked inside."

The store, which shares space with the soda fountain, carries limited edition items—including its own Christmas ornament—and will soon stock exclusive merchandise from Disney/Pixar's upcoming movies Cars and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. Also coming soon: annual passports to Disneyland, which, like Hollywood, is another mythical California destination—and subject of a future column—that was conceived to promote the movies.

Hollywood and Highland
Grauman's Chinese Theatre
El Capitan Theatre
Disney's Soda Fountain and Studio Store

• 12/22/05 - Past TV Gems Add Christmas Cheer
• 12/8/05 - Remembering the Munich Massacre
• 12/3/05 - Columbus, Cowboys & Christmas
• 10/1/05 - Restoring Disney's Wonderful World

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