Hollywood’s Historic Buildings

Theaters and other architectural gems lined Hollywood’s famous boulevards during its Golden Age and now hold restored star appeal

Capitol Records building
Capitol Records building in Hollywood. Bettmann / Corbis

Pantages Theater

Pantages Theater
(Ralph Crane / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images)
6233 Hollywood Boulevard

The Day of the Locust Director John Schlesinger once said of Hollywood, “[it] is an extraordinary kind of temporary place.” Fame may be fleeting, but when it comes to Hollywood architecture “preservation” is now the watchword. Thanks to the efforts of private companies and such preservation groups as Hollywood Heritage and the Los Angeles Conservancy, dozens of historic buildings in the area have been rescued.

Even though it opened in 1930 less than a year after the stock market crash, this grand movie palace spared no expense. Vaulted champagne-colored arches soar over the lavish Art Deco lobby, anchored by a grand staircase. An ornate three-dimensional ceiling crowns the 2,812-seat auditorium. Initially the new theater featured a mixed bill, alternating movies with live vaudeville acts. For a decade in the 1950s, it was the home of the Academy Awards presentations and other galas. In 1977, the Pantages was renovated to stage touring productions of Broadway plays, the first being Bubbling Brown Sugar. The theater underwent a $10 million overhaul in preparation for the opening of The Lion King, making it a sought-after venue for major theater productions.

The Hollywood Palladium

Chuck Berry
(George Rose / Getty Images)
6215 Sunset Boulevard


When the Palladium Theater opened on Halloween night 1940, hundreds packed the enormous coral and chromium ballroom to hear the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and a young Frank Sinatra. Judy Garland, Jack Benny and Lana Turner joined the throngs who sipped champagne, dined on $3 meals and danced on an 11,200-square-foot maple wood floor under sparkling chandeliers. With Big Band music on the wane a decade later, the Art Deco-style building attracted such award shows as the Grammys and Emmys as well as rock musicians from James Brown to Bjork. It was the home of the Lawrence Welk Show in the 1960s and the venue for a 1961 political dinner attended by President Kennedy. Falling into disrepair in the 1980s and ’90s, it became notorious for brawls and prison-style security and eventually closed. Concert promoters Live Nation put millions into restoring the theater and reopened it with hip-hop artist Jay-Z in October 2008.

Cinerama Dome

Cinerama Dome
(American Stock / Getty Images)
6360 Sunset Boulevard

With a dimpled concrete exterior resembling a golf ball and an interior hexagon-patterned ceiling to match, Hollywood’s Cinerama Dome was designed to provide audiences with the ultimate movie experience. When it opened in November 1963, patrons watched the premiere of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World on an 86-foot-wide screen curved at a 126-degree angle that practically engulfed them in the 800-seat circular auditorium. Movie buffs have called the stereophonic sound system “near-perfect.” The geodesic dome was to herald a new era in supercinema design, but instead it lost out to the multiplex concept. Cinerama Dome was closed in the 1990s, but with the support of preservationists it was renovated and reopened in 2002. In December 2009 the dome debuted its first 3-D film, Avatar.

Egyptian Theatre

Egyptian Theatre
(Los Angeles Public Library)
6712 Hollywood Boulevard

Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks joined hundreds of fans in the Egyptian’s sandstone-colored courtyard to celebrate the theater’s 1922 debut and Hollywood’s first motion picture premiere, for the silent film Robin Hood. With thick hieroglyphic-covered columns, a ceiling sunburst, and a pair of sphinx figures guarding the auditorium’s orchestral pit, the venue ushered in a Hollywood wave of exotic-themed architecture. Over time it lost several original elements, including the 150-foot-deep courtyard and a stage where impresario Sid Grauman presented live prologues, and by the 1980s it was in full decline. The theatre reopened in 1998 as a showcase for revival and specialty films, resulting in one of Hollywood’s most successful adaptive reuse projects. The courtyard was restored with palm trees and towering pharaoh heads.

Max Factor Building

Hollywood History Museum
(© 2004 Kayte Deioma)
1660 N. Highland Avenue

Dozens of celebrities, including Ginger Rogers and Jean Harlow, turned up for the grand opening of the Max Factor beauty salon in 1935 to honor the man who coined the word “make-up.” Factor, a polish immigrant who created many beautifying innovations, including lip gloss and special greasepaint for film actors, called his building “the world’s greatest cosmetics factory.” Behind the pink and white marble façade lay a showroom adorned with Classical Greek touches, crystal chandeliers and antique furniture. The four special make-up salons, painted to enhance a client’s hair color (a blue room for blondes, dusty rose for brunettes, green for redheads and peach for brownettes ) have been preserved as part of the Hollywood Museum, which the building now houses.

Hillview Apartments

Hillview Apartments
(Los Angeles Public Library)
6531 Hollywood Boulevard

Confronted with signs reading “no actors, no dogs” on many Hollywood rentals, silent film stars like Joan Blondell and Stan Laurel moved to the 54-unit Hillview Apartments. The pink stucco complex was built in 1917 to provide actors with lodging near the movie studios. Not only did the U-shaped Mediterranean-style “Pink Lady” have a spacious parlor and central courtyard, there was even an automatic elevator. And though the basement was originally planned to be a rehearsal space, Rudolph Valentino turned it into a speakeasy during Prohibition. Falling out of favor as the Hollywood neighborhood deteriorated in the 1960s, the property was declared unsafe in the ’90s and became a squatters dwelling. After a fire in 2002, historic photos were used to restore the building to its original 1917 appearance, including recreating exterior arches and storefront windows. It reopened as luxury residences in 2005.

Capitol Records Tower

Capitol Records building
(© Bettmann / Corbis)
1750 Vine Street

Instantly recognizable for its resemblance to a stack of vinyl records, the 13-story Capitol Records Tower was nicknamed “The House that Nat Built” to acknowledge the financial success singer Nat King Cole brought to the company. The tower was constructed in 1956 and is the world’s first circular office building. A rooftop spire flashes “Hollywood’ in Morse code, and the building’s three glass and wood studios remain some of the best in the business. Everyone from Dean Martin to Coldplay has recorded here. Music pioneer Les Paul helped design the property’s eight underground echo chambers, each producing a unique reverberation that can’t be duplicated. Though parent company EMI sold the tower in 2006 they continue to lease it, despite rumors of closing down West Coast operations. Still, the proposed construction of nearby 16-story condos has some worrying about Capitol’s future in Hollywood.

El Capitan Theatre

El Capitan Movie Theatre
(© Wendy Connett / Alamy)
6838 Hollywood Boulevard

For more than a decade after its 1926 opening, theatre-goers packed “Hollywood’s first home of spoken drama” to catch live productions of plays featuring such film actors like Will Rogers, Henry Fonda and Rita Hayworth. Viewers sat high in the upper balcony or in lavishly ornamented opera boxes alongside the grand theatre’s velvet-draped proscenium. In 1941 El Capitan hosted the West Coast premiere of Orson Welles’ controversial film Citizen Kane, which led to the theater’s transformation to a movie house called the Hollywood Paramount. The theatre underwent a $14-million restoration after the Walt Disney Company took over in 1989. Today it’s an exclusive showcase for first-run Disney films, often accompanied by a live musical revue or melodies played on a 1928 Wurlitzer pipe organ, added in 1999.

Yamashiro

Hollywood: Yamashiro Restaurant
(Jantti / Sipa)
1999 N. Sycamore Avenue

Completed in 1914 for two collectors of Asian art, Hollywood’s 10-room teak and cedar hilltop mansion had all the features of a Japanese mountain palace: silk-papered walls, hand-carved rafters and an inner courtyard with Koi-filled ponds. Later, Yamashiro became a private club for Hollywood elite like Norma Shearer and Charlie Chaplin. Fearing anti-Japanese backlash, owners disguised its Asian elements during World War II when the mansion served as a military school for boys. It was sold in 1948, but the new owner halted demolition of the mansion after discovering its distinctive details buried beneath layers of paint. His family opened Yamashiro Restaurant in 1959 and continues to operate it today. Yamashiro, its outbuildings—including a 600-year-old pagoda—and its public gardens were designated a Los Angeles Historic Cultural Monument in early 2008.