Two decades ago, the Oscars returned to Hollywood for the first time since the Academy Awards took place at the Pantages Theatre in 1960. The 74th Awards, held March 24, 2002, introduced the event’s new, permanent home, the freshly constructed Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland. It was the first Oscar ceremony since the 9/11 attacks. Tom Cruise opened the evening and Whoopi Goldberg hosted, as Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind became the first film to receive a best picture Oscar from its stage. The new 180,000-square-foot theater boasted an 86-foot ceiling and seating for 3,400.
Ten years later, the home of the Oscars got a new name and major upgrade when iconic sound company Dolby Laboratories took over naming rights from film company Kodak, which gave up the rights during a bankruptcy reorganization. Among the improvements, Dolby installed a full Atmos sound system, a new projection system, new screen and related technologies. As part of the Atmos installation, two 50-foot, 1,400-pound trusses carrying 22 speakers each were hung over the orchestra seating section of the auditorium a week before the unveiling. The site is “gigantic, so getting audio coverage is challenging,” David W. Gray, the Dolby exec who led the update, told THR at the time. (He has since retired, but in 2015 the Academy’s SciTech community presented him with the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for technical contributions.)
A lavish grand opening was held June 11, 2012, outside the theater on a crowded Hollywood Boulevard, with a red carpet, a grandstand and a performance by Cirque du Soleil. From its first ceremony in 2013, when Jennifer Lawrence tripped on her Dior Couture gown on her way to receiving her best actress statuette, to Envelopegate in 2017, the Dolby has had its own historic moments; a bit of history was also made in 2021, when the pandemic forced the ceremony to relocate temporarily to Union Station downtown. Now, after two years of relative darkness, the home of the Academy Awards will have the spotlight once again.
This story first appeared in the March 23 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.