LOS ANGELES, Aug. 15 -- Hollywood's Egyptian Theater took a major step Thursday toward regaining its reputation as a grand movie palace with plans to renovate it as a showcase for classics, independent films and documentaries. The Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles approved a financing plan that would turn the city-owned landmark over to the non-profit American Cinematheque film organization for $1. The CRA also engineered a $9.5 million financing deal that includes $2 million in federal earthquake repair loans, a $3 million grant from insurance proceeds, American Cinematheque funds and conventional loans to pay to restore the theater. The City Council is expected to consider the deal later this month. CRA spokesman Marc Littman said he expects the council to approve it because the deal has the enthusiastic support of Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg, who represents the Hollywood area. Sid Grauman, creator of the famous Chinese Theater about a block to the west on Hollywood Boulevard, opened the Egyptian 1922 when the United States was in the midst of an Egyptology craze. Its launching of the Douglas Fairbanks feature 'Robin Hood' that year was the first star-studded, red carpet Hollywood movie premiere that began the tradition the major studios still observe. Its lavish interior featured pyramids, palm trees, hieroglyphics and other images of Egypt. The theater was designed to seat 1,200, but American Cinematheque plans to subdivide it into a 600-seat theater with better sightlines and more comfortable seating and a 70-seat screening room.
The 40,000-square-foot theater complex, located at 6704 Hollywood Blvd., includes a 6,700-square-foot tiled courtyard and a 3,080-square- foot retail building. Plans call for removal of modern-day additions to the courtyard and lobby, restoration of the 1935 blade sign and the 1944 structural steel marquee, restoration of the portico and relocation of the ticket booth, refurbishing of the retail storefronts closed in 1938, repair of the historic ceilings and restoration of a 1922 theater organ for concerts from the ornate organ loft. American Cinematheque, which has been looking for a permanent home for 10 years, has been selling out screenings at its current base, Raleigh Studios. It plans to begin construction by November and hopes to open the theater on New Year's Eve 1997 with a black-tie gala. In addition to an evening schudule of independents, classic film festivals and documentaries, the organization plans to produce a film about the history of Hollywood to be screened daily for the thousands of tourists on the boulevard. The Egyptian has been vacant for about five years and was heavily damaged in the 1994 Northridge earthquake, Littman said. The CRA paid $1.525 million for the facility in February 1993 and later that year had it designated a city cultural-historic monument. Its current value is estimated at $1.8 million. Littman said the CRA sees the Egyptian as one of the key elements to its Hollywood revitalization project, along with the El Capitan Theater and the Hollywood Entertainment Museum, set to open next month. The Walt Disney Co. bought the El Capitan and with long engagements of that studio's releases, including animated projects paired with live stage shows, has transformed it into the highest-grossing single-screen theater in the nation.