In Memory of the Pan-Pacific Auditorium

The venue that hosted Elvis and the Ice Capades was demolished in 1992. For Alison Martino, the loss was personal

The Streamline Moderne structure during the 1970s. Photograph courtesy jahsonic.com

I fell in love at first sight on a trip to the Farmer’s Market during the ‘70s. The object of my affection: The Pan-Pacific Auditorium built by Clifford W. Henderson and his brother Phillip in the Fairfax District by Gilmore Field (now CBS Television City). The streamlined marvel, designed by Los Angeles architectural firm Wurdeman and Becket, opened at 7600 West Beverly Boulevard on May 18, 1935. The building sat at the southeast corner of Beverly and Fairfax Ave. and it had four stylized towers, each with their own flagpole.

The 100,000-square-foot masterpiece was used as a sports arena, for political events, car shows, circuses, conventions, and concerts. Elvis Presley performed there at the height of his career, in October of 1957. The King of Rock ‘n Roll was so determined to win over his celebrity-studded audience that he played 19 songs in front of 9,000 lucky guests, and closed with an encore of “Hound Dog.”

Elvis Presley, DJ Fontana and Scotty Moore rock the Pan Pacific Auditorium 1957.

“Queen for a Day” also broadcasted from the venue, and it once housed the largest ice rink in the world. The auditorium held the Ice Capades and the annual Motorama car show, where a futuristic looking car key was once given out as a souvenir. Pan-Pacific is also where Dwight Eisenhower spoke to an audience of 10,000 just one month before he was elected President of the United States.

Los Angeles International Auto Show at Pan-Pacific Auditorium in 1952. Photograph courtesy UCLA Digital Archives.

When the Los Angeles Convention Center opened in 1972, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium closed. Despite being added to the National Register of Historic Places., the venue was neglected and suffered damage during the years that followed. Thankfully it is preserved on celluloid thanks to the 1980 film Xanadu. I remember roller skating in front of the Pan-Pacific at 10 years old; with a recording of Olivia Newton John playing on my Sony Walkman, I fantasized I was about to perform inside.

Then, in 1989, I watched alongside other Angelenos as my favorite building in Los Angeles went up in flames. The fire was visible for miles. I remember seeing a cloud of black smoke as far as Century City. I raced to the auditorium to see what was happening and when I got there I realized I would be forced to say goodbye to my old friend.  It was pitiful seeing the terribly charred structure before it was demolished three years later, in 1992. By that time it had become a shell of its former self, humiliated by graffiti and decay. Too bad it never got its happy Xanadu ending in real life.

Today you can see a recreation of the Pan-Pacific Auditorium at Disney’s California Adventure theme park.  There is also a smaller recreation of it featuring one single art deco arch in its original location at Pan Pacific Park, a place that makes me feel melancholy and nostalgic every time I pass it. Some lost loves are harder than others to get over.

Pan Pacific Recreation Center today featuring one arch to honor the original structure. Photograph courtesy Design-Bid-Build.

 


Alison Martino is a writer, television producer and personality, and L.A. pop culture historian. She founded the Facebook page Vintage Los Angeles in 2010. In addition to CityThink and VLA, Martino muses on L.A’s. past and present on Twitter and Instagram.

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