(Site of) West Façade of Pan-Pacific Auditorium
1935 – Plummer, Wurdeman & Becket
7600 Beverly Boulevard – map
The architectural firm of Plummer, Wurdeman & Becket created the Pan-Pacific Auditorium as a temporary structure, initially serving the National Housing Exposition’s run for a few weeks during the summer of 1935. The big barn, however, went on to host all sorts of tradeshows, concerts, sporting events, circuses, horse shows, roller derbies, and political rallies, before being shuttered in 1972.
A massive (400' x 250' with eighteen 130-foot arch-rib trusses and 110,000 feet of floor space) wood-frame, stucco-covered building, the auditorium was the centerpiece of the twelve-and-a-half-acre exposition grounds off Beverly and Fairfax, just east of Gilmore Stadium. The outstanding feature of the Pan, of course, was the Streamline Moderne façade, with its four green and white pylons and soaring flagpoles. With Wurdeman in charge, the architects created one of Los Angeles’s most iconic landmarks in the Depression years. (Charles F. Plummer would die four years later. Walter C. Wurdeman and Welton D. Becket then teamed up to design buildings all over the southland. After Wurdeman's death, Becket worked on the Capitol Records Building and the Music Center downtown.)
Built in just fifty-six days, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium opened May 18, 1935, as “the largest of its sort in the West and one of the three largest in the nation.” The 500-member Tenth Olympiad Chorus sang at the dedication ceremonies that Saturday night.
In the 1940s, the Pan-Pacific became a permanent full-service auditorium. The concrete slab floor was claimed to be the “world's largest indoor ice rink.”
If you were a kid in Los Angeles in the 1960s, there’s a good chance you saw the Harlem Globetrotters, the Ice Capades, or a circus or two here. The Pan was also the site of Elvis Presley’s first west-coast concert. Q: How awesome would it have been to see Elvis with Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and D.J. Fontana and the Jordanaires perform here? A: Very awesome, indeed. And for $3.75 (cheap!), too. Click here for thorough coverage of his October 1957 visit.
A cafe in the auditorium.
Along with the Grand Olympic and Shrine auditoriums, the Pan-Pacific became one of Southern California’s major indoor sports facilities. Besides supporting college and two pro hockey teams, the Pan saw its share of home UCLA basketball games. It was also the home court of the USC men’s basketball team from 1949 through 1959.
The Southern California Chapter of the American Institute of Architects gave the Pan-Pacific an Honor Award in January 1947.
In 1959, the air-conditioned L.A. Memorial Sports Arena opened and the slow death knell began for the Pan. It continued on for another thirteen years, closing in 1972. The county purchased the property in 1979, a year after it was both declared a city landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and a year before it made an appearance with Olivia Newton-John in Xanadu.
In April 1988, the county of L.A. unveiled plans to incorporate the auditorium into a 116,700-square-foot retail and entertainment complex. Costing more than $14.5 million, the center would include a movie theater, food court, a couple of restaurants, an ice rink, gym facility, and office and retail space. However, a year later, on May 24, 1989, a little after 7:00 p.m., the dilapidated Pan-Pacific Auditorium burnt to the ground, the work of an arsonist. More than 200 firefighters battled the blaze, but the wooden structure went up fast, with the last of the four fin-shaped towers falling a little after 10:00 p.m. (see page 228 in McGrew and Julian’s Landmark of Los Angeles for a picture of the crumbled pylons.) Officials arrested a 42-year-old transient who, despite confessing to starting the fire, was released by the end of the month due to lack of evidence.
The remains of the façade stood until May 1992 when they were cleared away for the new elements to Pan Pacific Park, the Pan Pacific Recreation Center (with its single-towered homage to the old landmark) and, later, Renee’s Place, a universal-access playground dedicated this past spring to Renee Weitzer, Chief of Staff and Planning Deputy in Council District 4. The park falls under the jurisdiction of the city’s Recreation and Parks Department.
Today's Pan Pacific Recreation Center.
The black and white shots here, except for the top one, are from the Los Angeles Public Library. That first one is from the Library of Congress. For a trio of color shots of the Pan in 1980, click here to see Larry Gassan’s Flickr photographs.
“Huge Auditorium Construction” The Los Angeles Times; Apr 21, 1935, p. 15
“Great Exhibit Nearly Ready” The Los Angeles Times; May 12, 1935, p. D3
“Crews Rush Homes Show” The Los Angeles Times; May 12, 1935, p. 27
“House Show on Tonight” The Los Angeles Times; May 18, 1935, p. 4
Gollner, Philipp “Plan for Historic Pan Pacific Features Rink, Movie Theaters” The Los Angeles Times; Apr 30, 1988, p. Metro, 2
Stein, George and Nieson Himmel “fire Destorys Pan Pacific Auditorum” The Los Angeles Times; May 25, 1989, p. 1
Schrader, Esther and Patt Morrison “Like Debut in 1935, the Pan’s Finale Was a Spectacle” The Los Angeles Times; May 25, 1989, p. Metrco1
Gustkey, Earl “The Pan-Pacific Fire Post-Moderne Building Was Scene of Exciting Times for L.A. Sports Fans” The Los Angeles Times; May 26, 1989, p. Metro 1
Up next: Tower of Wooden Pallets