Sorry Olivia Newton-John, this building is the true star of Xandau.
When the Pan-Pacific Auditorium burned on May 24, 1989, the bright flames and thick plumes of dark smoke could be seen for miles, prompting gathering spectators to give their final farewells to the L.A. landmark. The spectacular fire that destroyed the massive streamline moderne icon wasn’t the Hollywood ending the building deserved, but after seventeen years of neglect and abandonment, its fiery demise seemed sadly unsurprising. Designed by local firm Plummer, Wurdeman, and Becket and constructed in just 60 days, the sprawling structure opened on May 18, 1935, just in time for a home exposition aimed at promoting the Roosevelt administration's new housing policies. Defined by its stuccoed curves, four nautical-like towers, and sea green color, the building stood as a machine in motion, a symbol of speed and American faith in the future. Behind the impressive streamlined façade, a more modest wood structure (not unlike a gymnasium) was really only remarkable for its 110,000 square feet that could seat 6,000 spectators. Commissioned by promoters Phillip and Clifford Henderson, the auditorium was Los Angeles' most ambitious modern event space, a landmark of leisure for the city's burgeoning middle class.
Over the next thirty-five years, the highly versatile Pan-Pacific Auditorium sponsored a range of events, including auto, boat, and home shows, hockey and basketball games, ice skating, even a young Elvis Presley. But when the new Los Angeles Convention Center opened in 1971, the auditorium’s popularity dwindled, the polish of its sophisticated moderne stylings faded with the passage of time. For the next two decades, the building would remain in limbo with a proposal to make the site a large public park never maturing past the planning stage. While city supervisors, preservationists, and developers squabbled over what to do with the site (the building was actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978), the auditorium sat empty and deteriorating, its walls marked with peeling paint and graffiti.
The auditorium’s appearance in the 1980 movie Xanadu (it played a dilapidated building- what range!) offered brief hope that the structure might be restored to its former glory, but its cult icon status didn’t ultimately change its sad condition. On the night of May 24, 1989, in a spectacle only Hollywood could create, the building burned to the ground, leaving little of the 1930s monument to salvage. Later, a new park building on the site would echo the design of the old auditorium, while a recreation of the streamlined façade now marks the entrance of Disney’s California Adventure theme park, a strangely fitting tribute to the moderne masterpiece.
I guess we'll always have Xanadu.
Have a great weekend!
All photographs (unless otherwise marked) are part of the Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress, available here.
Historic American Buildings Survey, Pan Pacific Auditorium, 1600 Beverly Boulevard, Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, ca0244.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.