Los Angeles Times story
The summer of 1958, Santa Monica inaugurated its
dazzling concrete, glass and steel Civic Auditor-
ium, an emblem of the mid-century modern Interna-
tional Style then popular throughout the world.
Two blocks from the ocean, the Civic played host
to the Academy Awards through much of the 1960s.
Comedians Bill Cosby and Bob Hope performed there,
and the exiled Dalai Lama led a “Wheel of Time”
initiation ceremony for thousands of Buddhists
The 3,000-seat venue became a musical mecca for
artists as varied as Eric Clapton, Frank Sinatra,
the Village People, Dave Brubeck, Laura Nyro,
Ella Fitzgerald, Prince and Bob Dylan. And it
was the scene of the mythic 1964 Teenage Awards
Music International concert, which showcased a
fiery James Brown, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys,
the Supremes, Marvin Gaye and the Rolling Stones,
all immortalized in a legendary film spotlighting
screaming fans and exuberant go-go dancers.
“Pretty much everybody saw their first rock con-
cert there,” said Jessica Cusick, the city’s cul-
tural affairs manager.
Over the years, larger, better-equipped facili-
ties opened in Southern California, and the
city-owned Civic lost its luster, fell into dis
epair and began losing money. On Sunday, 55
years after it its showy debut, the auditorium
will go dark. Its future is uncertain, but pre-
servation-minded residents have made it clear
that they want the venue to have one.
When it opened, the $2.9-million Civic Auditor-
ium was hailed in The Times as “the last word
in modern convention hall construction.”
Designed by Welton Becket, the celebrated archi-
tect behind the distinctive Capitol Records tower,
the building was made of reinforced concrete and
combined the finest elements of a theater, con-
cert hall, and trade show and convention audi-
torium. Parabolic pylons supported the exterior
grand cantilevered canopy fronting a glass curtain
wall and brise-soleil, a patterned wall that re-
duced the effects of the sun’s glare.
The most widely touted innovation was the audit-
orium’s main floor, which in a matter of seconds
could be tilted or lowered by a hydraulic mechan-
ism to form raked seating for theatrical produc-
tions or a flat surface for dancing or exhibits.
The main hall also featured metal acoustical panels
and wall sconces, attributed to Vern O. Knudsen,
an authority on architectural acoustics who also
served, briefly, as chancellor of UCLA.
In the 1980s and ’90s, punk artists such as Bad
Religion and Buzzcocks packed the Civic.
The city designated the building a landmark in 2001.
By then, big-name acts had begun favoring arenas
such as Staples Center. In recent years, other
performers gravitated to Santa Monica’s Broad Stage,
among other venues. Musical bookings all but ceased.
Lately, the Civic has been devoted to craft and
antiques fairs, photo and fashion expos, and trade
shows. The Santa Monica Symphony in May played a
Tchaikovsky concert to bid farewell to the venue.
The auditorium’s systems and performance technologies
are antiquated, and the building needs seismic up-
grades, according to a staff report prepared for the
City Council. It also has been operating at an annual
deficit of as much as $2 million, which the city has
had to cover.
Santa Monica began years ago to plan for a $51.9
-million renovation using redevelopment funds and
negotiated with the Nederlander Organization to
book events. That effort was suspended after Gov.
Jerry Brown dissolved community redevelopment
For a time, there was talk of razing the building
and putting in soccer fields and other amenities,
but preservationists mustered support for saving it
as a cultural facility.
“I don’t think anybody wants to knock it down,”
said Nina Fresco, a landmarks commissioner who heads
Save the Santa Monica Civic, a group that promotes
the formation of an expert task force to chart the
Cusick is in firm agreement. “I think the city has
made it clear it sees a future for this building,”
she said, “and the community has said they want that
to be a cultural future.” Cusick said she expected
that the working group, once assembled, would take
18 months to two years to develop a plan. Among uses
suggested so far are film screenings or film fest-
ivals, live theater productions and concerts, and
restaurants. Cusick said any plan would probably
require a combination of funding sources for reno-
vations and programming.
“I think all of those things are on the table,”
Mayor Pam O’Connor said. “But that can be done with-
in the wonderful exterior of the mid-century modern
In the meantime, the facility will be available for
rent for filming and sound-stage work or for community
The Civic, on Main Street at the southwestern edge
of the city’s Civic Center, has lost its oomph just
as the city is poised for big changes in the audi-
torium’s frontyard. The long-planned redevelopment
of the Civic Center area is underway. The new multi-
-acre Tongva Park is nearing completion, as are shops
and more than 300 condos and rental apartments at a
$350-million development. In 2015, the Expo Line
light rail will roll into town.
Other familiar sites are facing similar threats. Pre-
servation activists are rallying to save the Works
Progress Administration-era Post Office on 5th Street,
which the federal government plans to sell, and the
anti-nuclear-war “Chain Reaction” sculpture by Paul
Conrad, which has stood near the Civic Auditorium
since 1991 but is in need of repair and maintenance
that the city has said it cannot afford.
For Cusick, such community issues have become part of
the landscape. “To quote Bob Dylan,” she said, “the
times they are a-changin’.”