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Arts and Entertainment

Photos: A Look Back At Hollywood's Iconic Chinese Theatre

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This week, one of Hollywood's most recognizable landmarks is celebrating nearly nine decades of bringing the stars to the screen and their feet to the cement.

On May 18, The TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX (the former Grauman's Chinese), the famed and countlessly photographed theater on Hollywood Boulevard, will turn 89 years old. And while there are big plans for next year's 90th anniversary, we thought now would be a fun time to look back at the story and legends behind this Hollywood icon.

Built by Sid Grauman, one of Hollywood's most legendary showmen, the theater followed several other Grauman movie palaces, including the lavish Egyptian Theatre just down the street and downtown's Million Dollar Theatre. Grauman developed the plans for the theatre with architect Raymond Kennedy, which he co-owned with his screen legends Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, as well as Howard Schenck.

Levi Tinker, current tour guide and manager at the TCL Chinese Theatre, tells LAist that the design was heavily influenced by Grauman's travels to China, who went so far as to obtain permission from the U.S. and Chinese governments to import temple bells, pagodas, stone Heaven Dogs and other artifacts from the country. Grauman also invited Chinese poet and film director Moon Quon to work with Chinese artisans to craft many of the details in the theater's forecourt, which is surrounded by 40-foot high curved walls and copper-topped turrets.

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Inside the forecourt, now known as the Forecourt of the Stars, you'll now find another of the TCL Chinese Theatre's most recognizable features: the hand and footprints of over 250 stars. According to the L.A. Times, that tradition began when actress Norma Talmadge, who turned the building's first spade full of dirt in January 1926, accidentally stepped in wet cement while touring the site during construction. Grauman, ever the showman, decided to turn the accident into a tradition a year later, creating the theater's own hall of fame in cement.

Then on May 18, 1927, the theatre opened to huge fanfare and reported crowds of thousands, for the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille’s The King of Kings, which was kicked off by a live prologue created by Grauman. The theater then opened to the public the following day.

Grauman eventually sold his share to Fox West Coast Theatres in 1929, but remained the theater's managing director until his death in 1950. In 1944, 1945, and 1946 the theater also hosted the Academy Awards ceremonies. In 1968, the theater was declared a historic-cultural landmark and has undergone periodic preservation efforts since then, including earthquake retrofitting. In 2001, the theatre underwent major renovations coinciding with the building of the adjacent Hollywood and Highland Center, which also included the addition of the Chinese 6 Theatre multiplex. Then in 2013, the theater partnered with China’s biggest electronics manufacturers, TCL, aka “The Creative Life." The partnership not only changed the name to the TCL Chinese Theatre, but also added stadium seating and turned the theater into the largest IMAX 3D theater in the world. Renovations also included a new box office marquee, LED billboards and other structural and cosmetic updates. The theater's famous neon dragon marquee, meanwhile, went to the Museum of Neon Art.

Check out a cool time-lapse of the 2013 renovation here:

Since opening, the now-world famous theater has hosted countless premieres, averaging roughly 40 per year, not to mention a special Star Wars wedding, and welcomes thousands of visitors each year.

The TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX is located at 6925 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood, (323) 461-3331.