Grauman's Chinese Theatre, a Hollywood landmark that attracts millions of tourists each year to its outdoor courtyard where generations of movie stars left their hand and footprints, has been purchased by Hollywood's largest commercial landlord.
CIM Group of Los Angeles says it has no plans to change the 80-year-old theater, and the purchase continues its string of acquisitions in the heart of Hollywood.
The developer already owns nearly all the property on the north side of a two-block stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between Highland and Sycamore avenues. That includes the Hollywood & Highland Center, Renaissance Hollywood Hotel, Mann Chinese 6 Theatre multiplex and the Galaxy building.
"It's important to us that key properties like Grauman's don't fall into the wrong hands," said Shaul Kuba, a principal at CIM Group. The purchase price was not disclosed.
Mann Theatres has a long-term lease on the legendary venue for movie premieres and will continue to operate it as a film house. It was sold to CIM by the Damon Runyon Cancer Research Center of New York and Barlow Respiratory Hospital of Los Angeles.
"We have been very interested in purchasing the property since we acquired Hollywood & Highland" in 2004, said John Given, another principal at CIM. "Our ownership cements the relationship between the theater and Hollywood & Highland Center."
Built in 1927 by impresario Sid Grauman, the 1,162-seat theater is perhaps the epicenter of Hollywood and one of Southern California's top tourist attractions. Millions of visitors every year step into the footprints of famous movie stars preserved in concrete in its forecourt. Tour buses start and end their journeys out front.
The theater itself is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. Its signature pagoda-inspired entrance features two immense coral red columns topped by wrought iron masks that hold aloft the bronze roof.
Between the columns is a 30-foot dragon carved from stone. Guarding the theater entrance are two giant stone Heaven Dogs, original artifacts brought from China by Grauman.
Previously, Grauman built the Million Dollar Theatre in downtown Los Angeles and the lavish Egyptian Theatre a few blocks from the Chinese Theatre.
Actress Norma Talmadge turned the first shovel of dirt at the groundbreaking, and opening night was a riot of glamour as mobs of fans turned out to see celebrities attend the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille's "The King of Kings."
CIM does not own the parking lot west of Grauman's, where Madame Tussauds plans to build a branch of its popular London wax museum. It also does not own an underground city parking lot or subway station below Hollywood and Highland. CIM and the city share ownership of Kodak Theater, home to the annual Academy Awards.
Landlord CIM, with all its properties, "assumes a huge responsibility in Hollywood," said preservationist Robert Nudelman of Hollywood Heritage Inc. "They need to go several steps further because their impact on the district is tremendous. They need to maintain things at a higher level than most do."
CIM was "the absolute logical buyer," said Hollywood real estate broker Christopher Bonbright of Ramsey-Shilling Co., who was not involved in the sale. "It doesn't surprise me they were the successful bidder."
CIM had an incentive to outbid its competitors for the theater because of its importance to the Hollywood & Highland complex and its other nearby properties, Bonbright said. "It's a strategic imperative for them."
The company controls more than a dozen office, retail and residential properties in Hollywood, including the TV Guide building and the former Seven Seas nightclub building across from Grauman's.
It is bringing sought-after clothing stores H&M and Zara to Hollywood Boulevard. CIM also has signed British retailer Tesco to occupy part of the former Hollywood Galaxy shopping center as part of its strategy to bring in businesses that serve local residents.
At Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, CIM is converting an office high-rise into an apartment building scheduled for completion at the end of 2008.
Unlike the original developer of Hollywood & Highland, CIM "has made a point to reach out to the community," said Anastasia Mann, president of the Hollywood Hills West Neighborhood Council. "They're very proactive."
CIM's main dispute with neighborhood residents, she said, is one that includes several other local landlords: their desire to sell large-scale advertising high on their buildings.
"No one wants to stop people from being creative, but projects need to be examined for their impact on the community," Mann said.
Nudelman of Hollywood Heritage said CIM needed to be a better neighbor. "They're trashing out the neighborhood with billboards," he said. There are so many signs on Hollywood & Highland, "it's a cluttered mess."
The rapid pace of change in Hollywood in recent years has included billions of dollars' worth of residential and commercial development, unnerving some residents who worry that the historic character of the neighborhood may be lost. Traffic congestion and parking woes have added to the angst.
CIM, founded by Israeli immigrants Kuba and Avi Shemesh with Richard Ressler, specializes in developing and investing in urban centers. It is largely financed by pools of money raised by institutional investors including the California Public Employees' Retirement System.
CIM Group's projects outside of Hollywood include a recently completed residential and retail complex in downtown Los Angeles housing a Ralphs supermarket. It has residential and retail projects in downtown Anaheim, Sacramento and San Jose.
The firm also played a role in developing the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica, Old Pasadena and Brea Town Center.