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New owners of Hollywood's Chinese Theatre announce big upgrades

October 4, 2011 |  5:42 pm

Chinese Theatre Hollywood In Hollywood, face-lifts are pretty common, especially for an icon that is nearly 85 years old.

But this upgrade is expected to cost at least $2 million and draw close inspections by thousands of fans.

The Chinese Theatre in Hollywood is undergoing a renovation that will include a restaurant to serve gourmet food and a renovated lobby that will be used to host parties of up to 1,000 guests, according to the new owners of the theater. The theater recently added a new seating reservation system as part of the upgrades.

The face-lift should be completed by early November, said entrepreneur Elie Samaha, who bought the theater in May along with movie producers Don Kushner and Steve Markoff from a  partnership between Warner Bros. and Paramount Pictures parent Viacom Inc.

Samaha called the theater Hollywood's most popular tourist attraction and said he wants to see it enjoyed by out-of-town visitors and Hollywood insiders.

"What we love about Hollywood is the history," he said. "And we want to preserve that."

The theater is scheduled to host about 40 movie premieres by the end of the year. With its upstairs lobby converted to a ballroom, the theater will be able to host after-parties and other private events, Samaha said.

"We pretty much want to do more premieres," he added.

The single-screen theater -- known for its giant, red Chinese pagoda, signature Chinese dragon guard dogs and cement footprints and handprints of Hollywood celebrities -- was declared a historic and cultural landmark in 1968.

Warner and Viacom acquired the theater in 2001 along with six other theaters owned by Encino-based Mann Theatres after the chain declared bankruptcy in the face of rising competition.

Warner and Viacom have been trying to sell the theater for more than a year but had struggled to find a buyer. The details of the deal were not disclosed.


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-- Hugo Martin

Photo: The Chinese Theatre. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times