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Grauman’s Chinese Theatre changes hands

Landmark venue sold to Don Kushner and Elie Samaha

The Chinese is changing owners.

Hollywood’s landmark Grauman’s Chinese Theater is being sold to producers Don Kushner and Elie Samaha by a partnership between Warner Bros. and Viacom for an undisclosed price.

Reps for the buyers and sellers were not immediately available for comment, but a person familiar with the transaction said Thursday the deal is set to close May 20. Kushner and Samaha are buying the Grauman’s building — but not the land underneath — along with the business operations/lease of the adjacent Mann’s Chinese 6-plex at Hollywood & Highland.

The new owners plan to upgrade concessions and to continue to host studio premieres and screen current releases. The theater is booked for premieres through the end of this year.The Chinese, built by a partnership led by Sid Grauman, opened in 1927 with the premiere of Cecil B. DeMille’s “The King of Kings.” Grauman’s, known for nearly 200 footprints, handprints and autographs of celebrities in cement blocks, was declared a historic and cultural landmark in 1968.

The Chinese was owned by the Fox West Coast chain until 1973, when it was sold to the Mann chain. In 2000, the Warner-Viacom partnership acquired the theater as part of the purchase of Mann properties when the chain filed for bankruptcy.

The studios have been attempting to sell the Chinese for the past year.

Kushner’s an exec producer on the original “Tron” and on “Tron: Legacy.” Samaha’s best known in Hollywood for heading Franchise Pictures with credits on “The Whole Nine Yards” and “Battlefield Earth.”

Samaha has a long involvement in Hollywood nightlife — he was a partner in the original Roxbury club and is now a partner in several restaurants and clubs including a new incarnation of the Roxbury through Muse Lifestyle Group.

In 2006, German distrib Intertainment struck a $3 million settlement deal with Samaha and production shingle Sidonian Holdings in connection with a $122 million damage claim won in U.S. federal court in 2004 in which Franchise Pictures, Samaha, Sidonian and 15 other production companies were found guilty of defrauding Intertainment into paying wildly inflated budgets on a slate of films the companies had agreed to produce.

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