A major victory for preservers and defenders of classic Hollywood occurred on Monday, as the TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly, and better, known as Grauman’s Chinese Theatre) acquiesced to a public outcry over souvenir peddlers setting up shop in front of the venue. The vendors, who have long camped on the front sidewalk area of the theatre, were set up directly over many of the famous handprints that take up real estate all around the theatre. A photo posted last Friday by Brian Donnelly showed the state of things, with racks filled with tacky hats and tourist-trap T-shirts sitting on top of handprints belonging to Hollywood legends like Jean Harlow and Lana Turner.
The post reads “How incredibly disrespectful. If Lucy and Ethel were to try and steal John Wayne’s footprints today, they couldn’t even find it!”
After the photo went semi-viral, a petition was set up and garnered more than 2,600 signatures in only a few days. The page not only pleaded with TCL, but asked for the help of the Los Angeles Historic Theatre Foundation and Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The former organization actually supported the theatre’s decision to cover the handprints, and its President Escott O. Norton made his opinion clear on Facebook when he said,
“I personally do not see it as the disaster that some are making it into. The Chinese Theatre is a business, not a museum, and whether one person or a million people walk into the Forecourt to take a selfie with their favorite star’s footprints, they make no money to pay for insurance, maintenance, upkeep or improvements.”
“Escott O. Norton” sounds like the name of a semi-evil corporate antagonist in a Disney movie from the 1970’s, so that opinion isn’t too much of a surprise. A location doesn’t necessarily have to be “a museum” just to deserve respect and preservation. A particularly convincing passage in the Change.org petition stated,
“Capsules of Hollywood history, the cement blocks are precious to film enthusiasts all around the globe, many of whom travel a great distance to visit the forecourt and have the opportunity to see their favorites’ blocks. The current situation of the vending carts directly on top of the blocks reduces all citizens’ enjoyment of the forecourt, and does not even allow many visitors to see some of the blocks, being entirely covered by carts. … Please don’t allow commerciality to overshadow the history contained there.”
While it is unknowable what part of the uproar specifically spurred action by TCL, something worked as it only took a few days for them to be removed and the handprints to be visible to the public once again. Maybe someone realized that the vendors will only have business as long as people are flocking there to check out the handprints and without those free to look at and take pictures with the overall customer base would diminish over time.
Neon and glittery souvenirs are just as “Hollywood” as those handprints but there are more appropriate places for the stalls to make their home. It has not yet been confirmed where the shifted vendors will end up, but The Hollywood Reporter posits that they may move to the Hollywood & Highland mall.
Alison Martino, of the Vintage Los Angeles Facebook page, posted a celebratory Instagram when she saw the clear forecourt. There were already people milling about and enjoying the handprints again, proving that the draw remains long after many of these stars have passed on and people become less familiar with their films.
What a #victory this is!!! The junk carts are gone in the courtyard of the Chinese Theatre!!!!! Thank you TCL (#ChineseTheater) for hearing our voices and removing them! This is how the forecourt should look. I am so overwhelmed by my feelings standing here right now. Knowing that my #VintageLosAngeles community made this happen is the most satisfying and rewarding outcome of my professional career. I may have been #relentless getting after them, (and I may have made a few enemies), but this was a #GroupEffort! The #historical #signatures, #handprints and #footprints are exposed again for everyone to enjoy! Lana Turner and Bette Davis can finally rest in peace. BRAVO EVERYONE! #Class and #dignity has returned to the greatest movie palace in the world. History prevails. That's why the #petition needed to happen! Thank you to all the news reporters and entertainment media sites including The #HollywoodReporter, #CurbedLA, The #NewYorkTimes and the @abcnews for supporting this crusade with me! #HollywoodHistory #Crusade #MoviePalace #SidGrauman #VintageLosAngeles #Preservation #HappyEnding! #HistoryPrevails
The Chinese Theatre is home to dozens upon dozens of unique and awesome handprints from all throughout Hollywood history, so it’s a pleasant sight to witness a public outcry instigate immediate change. Those handprints are in cement because they will last for many more years and it is only right that as long as they are in the ground they are able to be viewed by fans and visitors from around the world. Vendors can set up shop anywhere in Hollywood and make their money, but there is only one Chinese Theatre forecourt to visit.