Opened back in the 1920’s the El Capitan Theatre is commonly known as “Hollywood’s first home of spoken drama.” Last month my family was treated to an early screening of Disney Pixar’s Coco here, and from the moment I walked up, I felt as if I was stepping back in time.
Located at 6838 Hollywood Blvd. in Los Angeles it is across the street from the Hollywood and Highland Center, as well the Dolby Theatre. For families visiting Los Angeles, we highly recommend attending a movie screening or at least taking a behind the scenes tour of the iconic El Capitan theatre.
History of the El Capitan Theatre
Although the Barker Bros. Furniture Emporium owned part of the El Capitan Theatre in the 1920’s, it did not deter real estate developer Charles E Toberman from his vision of a Hollywood theatre district. In fact, the El Capitan Theatre was the third out of four theatres that “Father of Hollywood” Toberman, constructed. Toberman was involved in many projects in Hollywood.
Some of these are the Hollywood Museum (formerly the Max Factor Building), The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, and the Hollywood Masonic Temple. With the help of Sid Grauman, he also opened the Egyptian Theatre in 1922, the El Capitan Theatre in 1926 and the Chinese Theatre in 1927.
Originally the El Capitan Theatre housed live plays. In fact, there were over 120 productions where actors such as Clark Gable, Joan Fontaine, Will Rogers, and Buster Keaton performed live. The El Capitan Theatre began showing movies in the late 1930’s. In fact, the iconic Citizen Kane had its world premiere at the venue after Orson Welles could not find any other theatre that would show the film.
Over the decades the El Capitan changed multiple owners until the late 1980’s when Disney’s Buena Vista theaters company purchased the entire building. In fact, the company Disney spent a whopping 14 million dollars over a two year period in renovations.
Disney went as far as having paint scrapings from the walls put under a microscope, so they could accurately match the different paints. These upgrades included restoring as much of the original décor as they could, along with adding state of the art cinematic technology.
The El Capitan reopened in 1991, with the premiere of The Rocketeer.
Since the Disney take-over, the 998-seat theatre has been the home for many Disney motion pictures. Disney has even extended some screenings to include live show productions. The area where the Barker Bros. Furniture Emporium is now the home of the Ghirardelli Fountain Shop.
Unique pre-show fun
Before our screening of Disney Pixar’s Coco, we enjoyed a 25-minute concert featuring Disney classic songs. Some of the songs that stick in my head are Beauty and the Beast, as well as The Little Mermaids Under the Sea.
The El Capitan Theatre is also home to a 1920’s-era “Mighty Wurlitzer” Organ. The organ rose from below the stage before the screening and plays Disney songs. The “Mighty Wurlitzer” organ has four keyboards and over 2500 pipes. The longest is over 32 feet long.
The El Capitan exhibits
When we visited, there were no displays, but in the past, Disney did a great job of displaying movie props, costumes, and memorabilia items for patrons to enjoy before the various movie screenings.
The Ghirardelli Soda Fountain Shop
For guests with a sweet tooth, stopping at the nearby Ghirardelli Soda Fountain shop is a must. The venue sells Disney merchandise as well as ice cream, chocolate, and drinks.
While you enjoy your complimentary piece of delicious chocolate, you may want to keep your eyes out for new exclusive Disney pins. If you are an avid Disney fan, you know these pins can not only carry high sentimental value but also trading or selling value too.
Need a sugar high? Then make sure you order one of the ice cream sundaes that change periodically to match the theme from the current Disney movie shown.
Typically, El Capitan Theatre is showing the latest Disney feature. Currently, it is showing the Disney Pixar’s Coco, which should not be missed. On select Thursdays, they also show favorite oldies like Mary Poppins and Frozen. Since the theatre only shows Disney films, many are G-rated and safe for children of all ages.
When planning your El Capitan Theatre day, know that current VIP seats (center orchestra and center balcony seats ) are $23 per seat, for adults and children at all shows. General Admission tickets are more budget friendly at $14 for adults and $11 for children. These seats are on the side of the theatre, the main floor, and balcony. There is also a $2-dollar discount on adult tickets if you chose matinees.
Tip: Since shows do sell out in advance, so it is best to avoid disappointment and purchase your tickets online ahead of time.
The Capitan Theatre also offers backstage tours. There are the 30-minute tours that lead visitors through areas like the Sherman Brothers Star Dressing Room and an up-close view of the Grand Wurlitzer Organ. If the grand backstage tour is on your itinerary, plan on arriving early. They are offered before the first screenings of the day, and you will not be disappointed. Expect the 30-minute tour to cost you $15 per person.
Then there are the 15-minute tours. These tours are $9 per person and run throughout the day. The Wall of Fame, lobby and lounge areas are included in this tour.
After experiencing both tours, I admit we enjoyed the 30-minute tour more. The Grand tour offered not only a more detailed visit but the opportunity to take some ‘selfies’ with the Organ. Well worth shelling a few extra dollars, in my opinion.
Autism Travel Tips
- The El Capitan Tiny Tot Tuesday program is perfect for kids with autism that are sensitive to loud noise or lights. Parents interested in attending should know that the first showing on every Tuesday has dimmed lights along with reduced sound levels.
- We parked in a parking building across the street. As always, take a picture of where you park. The parking structure is multi-leveled so a picture will help locate your car when leaving. Trust me when I say, it is embarrassing not to find your car, because you are on the wrong level.And if your kid is like mine they will start complaining about having to walk around aimlessly.
- If you have children with hearing sensitivities, I would recommend bringing some noise canceling headphones. Movies can become loud, and hurt little one’s ears.
- Also, make sure you bring in a light jacket. As we discovered the theatre varies when it comes to temperature so you may find the air conditioning a bit high in some areas.
Have you been to the El Capitan Theatre? If so, what movie did you see?Disclaimer: Special thanks to Disney Pixar for hosting us for the Pixar’s Coco screening. Our opinions are own and cannot be influenced in any way.