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The 2021 Academy Awards are heading back downtown.

By Maureen Lee Lenker
March 18, 2021 at 05:42 PM EDT
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Historic Oscar venues
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As Hollywood's biggest night, the Oscars are all about glitz, glamour, and celebrating the past year in movies.

When they began in 1929, they were far more of an insider affair, a celebratory banquet rather than a presentational ceremony. But as their allure grew — and they were broadcast, first via radio, then television — so did the trappings of their banquet hall.

Over a dozen different locations have played host to the Oscars, and the 2021 Academy Awards add a new space to the mix with the announcement that Union Station will play home to portions of the ceremony. Here, we look back at all the places they've rolled out the red carpet over the years.

Historic Oscar venues
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Roosevelt Hotel, Los Angeles

The Roosevelt Hotel, which still stands today and often plays host to premieres and glitzy Hollywood events, holds the honor of being the location of the very first Academy Awards (the nickname "Oscar" hadn't been coined yet). The banquet was held in the hotel's Blossom Ballroom and was open only to Academy members. Douglas Fairbanks was the host, and the ceremony was held three months after the winners were already announced! It was at this ceremony that Clara Bow war drama Wings became the first ever Best Picture winner, but the business of handing out the statues only took 15 minutes (a far cry from today's marathons).

Historic Oscar venues
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Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles

The Ambassador Hotel, demolished in 2005 and replaced by a school, was once a Hollywood hotspot and home to famed nightclub Cocoanut Grove where performers like Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland entertained. In 1930, the second ceremony was held within the Cocoanut Grove nightclub, and it was the first ceremony to be broadcast in a one-hour live special on a Los Angeles radio station. From 1930 to 1943, six Academy Awards banquets were held here, alternating with the Biltmore Hotel as a location. It was here that trailblazing screenwriter Frances Marion became the first writer to win two Academy Awards, and the Oscars had their first tie — between Wallace Beery and Fredric March for Best Actor — in 1932. The Ambassador was also where Gone With the Wind set records at the 1940 ceremony, which also saw the milestone of Hattie McDaniel's Oscar win. The 1940 ceremony also prompted the Academy to transition to secret sealed envelopes after the L.A. Times published the names of the winners before the event.

Historic Oscar venues
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Biltmore Hotel, Los Angeles

The Biltmore Bowl, a ballroom complete with a stage, was the site of the Academy Awards eight times from 1931 to 1942. The hotel, still famed for its art deco architecture, has multiple ballrooms with ties to Oscar history. The Crystal Ballroom was the site of a 1927 luncheon where the Academy was founded. It was also here that MGM art director Cedric Gibbons first sketched the design for the Oscar statuette on one of the hotel's linen napkins. Luise Rainer made Oscar history at the Biltmore, becoming the first actor to win back-to-back Oscars (a feat repeated only one year later by Spencer Tracy).

Historic Oscar venues
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Grauman's Chinese Theatre, Los Angeles

The Chinese, now known as the TCL Chinese, is a Hollywood icon, home to countless movie premieres and the famed forecourt where stars have immortalized their hands and footprints in cement. But it also played home to the Oscars from 1944 to 1946. The 1944 ceremony (the 16th Academy Awards) marked the first time the ceremony was held in a large public venue, pivoting away from the original banquet format. Beloved classic Casablanca won Best Picture at the 1944 ceremony. This was the first year the Oscars were covered by network radio, and also the beginning of the supporting actor and actress winners receiving full size statuettes. 1944 marked the last time there were 10 Best Picture nominees until 2009.

Historic Oscar venues
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Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles

The 1947 and 1948 Oscars took place in downtown Los Angeles at the Shrine Auditorium, a venue designed in the Moorish Revival style. The 1948 Awards got a redux (and the Shrine, which is still standing, a retro makeover) in 2020 when Ryan Murphy recreated the ceremony for his Netflix series Hollywood. Though the ceremony didn't need to be made any more groundbreaking, considering the impact of Best Picture winner Gentlemen's Agreement, which tackled anti-Semitism in new and unflinching ways.

Historic Oscar venues
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Marquis Theater, Los Angeles

For one year only, the Academy moved the ceremony to their own private theater on Melrose Avenue. The 21st Academy Awards were held here on March 24, 1949. It was a ceremony filled with firsts, including the first non-Hollywood produced Best Picture winner (Laurence Olivier's Hamlet) and the introduction of the Best Costume Design category.

Historic Oscar venues
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Pantages Theater, Los Angeles

Beginning in 1950, the Oscars kicked off an 11-year run at what was then known as the RKO Pantages Theater. This Art Deco marvel once part of the famous Pantages movie palace circuit has since been converted for theatrical productions and hosts national tours of productions like Hamilton. The first televised Oscars took place here in 1953 (with joint presentations from New York City) with Bob Hope — who hosted a record 19 times — presiding over the event. For their first time on TV, the Oscars came complete with an upset in the Best Picture category when Cecil B. DeMille's The Greatest Show on Earth beat heavy favorite High Noon. In 1960, it was here that Ben-Hur set the record for most Oscar wins ever, which has been met twice but never broken.

Historic Oscar venues
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NBC International Theatre, New York

In 1953, the Oscars offered their first ever bicoastal broadcast, airing live on television (for the first time) from both Los Angeles' Pantages Theater and New York's International Theater in Columbus Circle. Fredric March acted as emcee for the NYC proceedings, with many nominated Broadway actors going straight from their theaters to the broadcast since it didn't begin until 10 p.m. E.T. The theater, which was owned by NBC, was torn down not long after this.

Historic Oscar venues
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NBC Century Theatre, New York

The Oscars remained a bicoastal affair from 1954 to 1957, and it was this theater that served as the New York City hub for the broadcast. It was here that two of the biggest actresses of the 1950s accepted their Academy Awards. In 1954, newcomer Audrey Hepburn won for her gamine role as royalty playing hooky in Roman Holiday, while the 1955 awards honored an entirely different type of performance, Method actress Eva Marie Saint's hyper-realistic turn in On the Waterfront.

Historic Oscar venues
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Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, Santa Monica, Calif.

The Academy Awards reached their furthest West destination beginning in 1961 when they moved to Santa Monica. The newly built Civic Auditorium played host to the Oscars until 1968. The Apartment became the last black-and-white film to win Best Picture for over three decades here. In 1966, the ceremony was broadcast in color for the first time from sunny Santa Monica. This was also the site of the infamous 1963 Oscar spat between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis where Crawford upstaged Davis in the midst of her What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? nomination (this moment and all that led up to it was also recreated by Ryan Murphy on Feud: Bette and Joan). The 1968 awards were postponed from April 8 to April 10 due to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Historic Oscar venues
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Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles

Beginning in 1969, the Oscars found a new space at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, home to the LA Opera and one of the biggest stages in the world. The ceremony was held here every year through 1987, and then it alternated with the Shrine Auditorium for another dozen years from 1988-2001. The 41st Academy Awards in 1961 were the first to be broadcast internationally. That year also marked Stanley Kubrick's only Oscar win, for the visual effects of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and a rare tie (the only one in the Best Actress category) between Katharine Hepburn for The Lion in Winter and Barbra Streisand in Funny Girl. The 1999 ceremony was the final one to be held here, and it was at that Oscars where Shakespeare in Love famously upset Saving Private Ryan for Best Picture.

Historic Oscar venues
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Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles

The Oscars returned to the Shrine for the 1988 and 1989 ceremonies, before alternating between here and the Dorothy Chandler until 2001. During the Academy Awards' second stint at the Shrine, it served as host for the 70th Oscars in 1998 where Titanic won an epic 11 Oscars, tying with Ben-Hur for most wins ever (which would be matched once more by The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in 2003). Due to Titanic's immense box office popularity, that became the highest-rated broadcast in Oscar history.

Historic Oscar venues
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Dolby Theatre, Los Angeles

The Dolby Theatre, formerly known as the Kodak, was designed specifically with the Oscar ceremony in mind and has played home to the Academy Awards since it opened in 2001. The Dolby will share hosting duties with Los Angeles' Union Station in 2021, marking the first time in two decades that the ceremony has diverged from what has been dubbed the Oscars' permanent home. Numerous memorable modern Oscar moments have occurred here, including the Lord of the Rings record-tying 11 wins and the infamous envelope mix-up that led to La La Land being mistakenly named Best Picture before the record was corrected to honor MoonlightPresumably, after the COVID disruption, the Oscars will continue here for many years to come.

Check out more from EW's The Awardist, featuring exclusive interviews, analysis, and our podcast diving into all the highlights from the year's best films.

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