The Pan-Pacific Auditorium, June 1981. Photo credit: Larry Welsh
The Pan-Pacific Auditorium was a landmark structure in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, California, that once stood at 7600 West Beverly Boulevard near the site of Gilmore Field, an early Los Angeles baseball venue predating Dodger Stadium. It was located within sight of both CBS Television City on the southeast corner of Beverly and Fairfax Avenue and the Farmers Market, on the northeast corner of Third Street and Fairfax.
A Streamline Moderne icon is born
Designed by the Los Angeles architectural firm of Wurdeman and Becket, a firm that would go on to design other L.A. landmarks such as the Music Center in Downtown and the space-age "Theme Building" at Los Angeles International Airport, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium opened to a fanfare of Boy Scout bugles on May 18, 1935 for a sixteen-day home show. Considered to be one of America's finest examples of Streamline Moderne architecture, the short-lived encore to Art Deco, the green and white western-facing facade perpendicular to the Beverly Boulevard entrance was 228 feet (69 m) long and featured four stylized towers and flagpoles meant to represent upswept aircraft fins above the entrance.
From indoor venue to empty shell
Over the years, the Pan-Pacific would host the Ice Capades and the Harlem Globetrotters, serve as the home of the Los Angeles Monarchs of the Pacific Coast Hockey League as well as UCLA ice hockey, UCLA men's basketball, professional tennis, car shows, political rallies, circuses and was even the venue for many televised professional wrestling shows in the 1950s. In short, virtually any major indoor event that was going on in Los Angeles was going on at the Pan-Pacific. Leopold Stokowski conducted there in 1936; General Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke to a beyond-capacity crowd of 10,000 in 1952 only one month before being elected President of the United States; Elvis Presley performed there in 1957 shortly before he entered the Army and Vice-president Richard Nixon addressed a national audience from the Pan-Pacific in November 1960.
Behind the remarkable facade was a large but modest rectilinear wooden structure resembling an overgrown gymnasium both inside and out. Covering 100,000 square feet (9,000 mē) and comfortably seating up to 6000, the Pan-Pacific was Los Angeles' primary indoor venue until the 1972 opening of the much larger Los Angeles Convention Center. The Pan-Pacific Auditorium then closed for good. It stood lonely, neglected and damaged by small fires accidentally started by transients for years afterward, but not forgotten. Almost immediately after the auditorium closed, much talk circulated throughout the surrounding Fairfax District about refurbishing the Pan-Pacific, possibly as an ice rink or cultural center, even though the parking lot would soon become the site of a park. Serious considerations remained, namely the sheer size of the building and its now-missing parking lot. Talks would drone for years while the Pan-Pacific continued its downward spiral.
Souvenir program from premiere of Xanadu
showing stylized image of the towers.
The Pan-Pacific goes to the movies
In 1975, the Pan-Pacific made a brief appearance as the entrance to the NBC Studios in New York in the movie Funny Lady starring Barbra Streisand. Later, interest in the building was rekindled somewhat with its 1978 inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. It would be the 1980 release of the movie musical, Xanadu starring Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly and Michael Beck that many hoped would be the driving force to save the building. In Xanadu, the auditorium's facade played a central role as a dilapidated building that would become a disco roller rink by the end. The movie was visually and musically outstanding but critically panned. The Pan-Pacific is probably the single most recognizable element in Xanadu. Still, even the attention the Pan-Pacific drew from its inclusion in two major motion pictures was not enough.
The auditorium continued to deteriorate for several years afterward mostly due a tremendous lack of security. A large loading door on the southeast corner was frequently forced open and left that way, allowing access by anyone who chose to enter. A fire in May 1983 damaged the northern end and on the evening of May 24, 1989, six days after the fifty-fourth anniversary of its heralded opening, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium was destroyed by one final and incredibly spectacular fire that was visible for miles.
Today, the site is home to the public facilities of Pan-Pacific Park, which are topped by a scaled-down replica of one of the famous towers. A nearly full-scale and stylized replica of the facade lives on in Florida as the main entrance to the Disney-MGM Studios theme park which, in an almost ironic twist, opened in Orlando on May 1, 1989, a little more than three weeks prior to the loss of the original.
- International Only Olivia Fan Club (http://www.onlyolivia.com)
- Historic Photos of the Pan-Pacific Auditorium - Bruce Torrence Collection (http://www.hollywoodphotographs.com/search.asp?im=-1&cat=30)
- Cerritos College "Pan-Pacific Portal" Library Entrance (http://cml.ci.cerritos.ca.us/perl/ms.pl?catid=122&prid=24)
- IMDb entry for Funny Lady (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0073026/)
- IMDb entry for Xanadu (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0081777/)
Note: All photos in this article are from OnlyOlivia.com, an Olivia Newton-John fansite with links to both Xanadu and the Los Angeles Times archived articles about the final fire, and are used with their kind permission.