Hollywood's Iconic Chinese Theatre Lays Off Staff Amid Virus Crisis

Getty
TCL Chinese Theatre in late March

The 932-seat movie palace has been closed for business since March 16.

Numerous furloughed workers at Hollywood's iconic TCL Chinese Theatre and adjoining multiplex were terminated on Wednesday amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which has led to unprecedented cinema closures across the U.S.

The historic movie palace, along with six smaller adjacent auditoriums, have been shut for business since March 16. At that time, workers were furloughed without pay and told every attempt would be made to protect their jobs.

Now, the situation has changed, according to a Wednesday memo obtained by The Hollywood Reporter that was signed by TCL Chinese Theatres principals Eli Samaha, Carol Braidi and Hina Rizvi.

"Now, with the updated stay-at-home directive, as predicted, the situation is expected to worsen before we see improvement. This will have a detrimental impact on the finances of TCL Chinese Theatres," states the memo. "It requires the business to make the extraordinarily difficult decision of terminating your employment, effective today, April 1, 2020. This is to ensure TCL Chinese Theatres remains a viable business during these difficult and unprecedented times."

When open, the complex employed roughly 40 to 50 workers, according to one source. Many of those have now been let go, although TCL Chinese Theatres declined to give a precise count.

"As with every other company in the entertainment business, and elsewhere, we have been forced to make temporary changes due to the universal suspension of business operations worldwide. This is a 93-year-old iconic business, so we’ll be there for the movie industry and fans when it’s prudent to restart business-as-usual, as deemed by the authorities," the company said in a statement to THR.

Late last month, Congress and the White House approved a $2.2 trillion emergency aid package — CARES — in response to the pandemic. Key provisions include increasing and extending unemployment benefits and providing loan packages for distressed businesses.

The National Association of Theatre Owners — which estimates that well more than 150,000 cinema workers have been furloughed or let go across the country since March 20 — was among those lobbying orgs pushing for the bill.

"I want to thank you for the time and effort you have devoted to TCL Chinese Theatres thus far. I hope that we can come back stronger than ever once these emergency procedures are lifted," the memo concluded. "Stay healthy and safe."

Famous movie palace entrepreneur Sid Grauman opened Grauman's Chinese Theatre in 1927. It has hosted numerous movie premieres over the years and is equally famous for its courtyard of celebrity handprints.

The theater was rebranded several times through the decades, including in 2013, when Chinese electronics manufacturer TCL Corporation purchased naming rights.

Also that year, the theater partnered with Imax to renovate the movie palace with one of the largest movie screens in the U.S. and 932 stadium seats.