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Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, a Hollywood landmark and perhaps the most famous movie theater in the world, is being sold.
Controversial nightclub operator-turned-film producer Elie Samaha and producer Don Kushner are buying the theater from a joint venture of Warner Bros. and Viacom Inc. for an undisclosed price. The transaction is expected to close May 20. As part of the deal, the buyers will take over the long-term lease of the adjacent Mann Chinese 6 Theatre, which is housed in the Hollywood & Highland Center.
The famed theater, which is on local and national historic registries — protecting it from demolition or significant alteration — has long been home to some of Hollywood’s biggest movie premieres. Mann Theatres, which is co-owned by Warner and Viacom, operates the theater and the Mann 6 multiplex.
Changes could be in store for the Chinese Theatre. The new owners are exploring ways to maximize “the real estate opportunity,” said commercial real estate broker John Tronson, who has been informally consulting on the project for Samaha and Kushner, whose credits include Tron: Legacy and Monster.
Tronson, a Hollywood expert and principal at Ramsey-Shilling Commercial Real Estate Services, said that the new owners are considering advertising opportunities, special events and product promotions as ways to wring more revenue out of the property.
“They do movie premieres there, but that’s all they really do in the way of events,” said Tronson, who is consulting on the project along with Ramsey-Shilling CEO Chris Bonbright. “They could do a lot of other things there that would drive people who come and visit and see it.”
Several Hollywood sources said they had heard that the new owners are considering turning the theater, which has 1,152 seats, into a nightclub. It’s worth noting that Samaha has interests in two historic Hollywood Boulevard movie theaters that have recently been transformed into nightlife venues: the Fox Theatre and Vogue Theatre.
Leron Gubler, CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, and Nicole Mihalka, a commercial real estate broker at Cushman & Wakefield, both said they had heard talk about the Chinese Theatre being converted to a nightclub. However, Tronson said he doesn’t expect that to occur, adding that the new owners had not mentioned such a potential change to him.
“That would kill all the interest from people who are interested in coming there,” Tronson said.
Samaha has a checkered history in the entertainment business. Before segueing into the movie business, he owned a dry cleaners operation — called Celebrity Cleaners — and several nightclubs, including a stake in the original Roxbury in Hollywood. Though he has produced films such as Heist, The Whole Nine Yards and The In-Laws, Samaha is best known for his high-profile legal battle with Intertainment Licensing over allegations that he committed fraud by distorting the budgets of films made by his Franchise Pictures.
Intertainment, a German company, accused Samaha of defrauding it out of $75 million, arguing that he kept multiple sets of books for his films. The years-long case was settled in 2006, with Samaha paying $3 million to Intertainment.
Samaha did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
Preservationists will be watching the new owners closely. Though the Chinese Theatre’s placement on historic registries offers some protection, it is possible that the new owners could attempt to make changes to the property.
“Any renovation would need to comply with nationally recognized preservation standards. That’s our primary concern — the proper treatment of the historic building — though it’s always ideal to maintain a landmark’s intended use,” said Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the Los Angeles Conservancy, a nonprofit preservation watchdog organization.
The Chinese Theatre has been on the market since August 2009. Located at 6925 Hollywood Blvd., the theater, which opened in 1927, includes a concrete forecourt in which the hand and footprints of dozens of movie stars are preserved. The property is next door to the Hollywood & Highland Center — where the Mann 6 is housed — and is a key stop for tourists who frequent the boulevard. It will host the TCM Classic Film Festival, which kicks off Thursday night.
The sale does not include the land on which the Chinese Theatre is situated; real estate developer and investment firm CIM Group, owner of Hollywood & Highland, owns the land, having purchased it in 2008.
Warner and Viacom had been leasing the space that houses the Mann 6 theaters from CIM; Samaha and Kushner will assume that lease.
Warner and CIM declined to comment. Viacom and Mann did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The Los Angeles Times first reported news of the sale.
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