A Landmark Reborn : Pan Pacific Auditorium to Get $22-Million Face-Lift

Times Film Writer

An ambitious national film and video center was announced Thursday as the centerpiece of the planned restoration of the Pan Pacific Auditorium, culminating a 13-year struggle to save the 50-year-old Los Angeles landmark.

The nonprofit American Cinematheque, along with a medium-sized hotel, retail and office space, will be part of the planned $22-million Pan Pacific Center, which is expected to open in early 1987. The cinematheque will house two film theaters, a video theater and multi-media performance lab.

The center will complete the development of Pan Pacific State Park, a 28-acre recreation area bought by the state, county and city in 1979 for $10.45 million.

County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ed Edelman unveiled the final plans for the center at a press conference adjacent to the neglected auditorium’s famous facade.


Designed in the Streamline Moderne style of the 1930s, the structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, and is believed to be the last large-scale example of the short-lived architectural style in the United States. The auditorium hosted exhibitions, ice shows, sporting events, symphony concerts and the 1957 West Coast premiere appearance of Elvis Presley before it was closed in 1972.

Edelman was joined in the renovation announcement by civic leaders such as Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, and cultural dignitaries including Olympic Arts Festival organizer Robert Fitzpatrick, president of the California Institute of the Arts and a member of the cinematheque’s board of directors.

“Los Angeles is a throwaway city,” Fitzpatrick said, as he stood before the crumbling and faded facade, which had flags flying on its graceful spires for the first time in more than a decade.

“For years, we have thrown away some of our best and most interesting buildings. We’ve also thrown away much of our film heritage,” Fitzpatrick said. “What’s taking place in the saving of this building with an ingenious mix of commercial and private development is a significant statement about the changing values of this city.”


The Pan Pacific Center represents an unusual example of government and private industry working together to preserve a landmark in an era of restricted government expenditures for public parks and cultural activities.

Ground breaking is expected to begin this summer on the Pan Pacific Hotel, which will have between 140 and 165 hotel rooms, and a new entrance off Beverly Boulevard. Its interior design will echo the structure’s Streamline Moderne exterior, and will feature an interior garden court, a 150-seat restaurant and a kosher deli.

Edelman said the hotel will be no higher than the existing auditorium. Among the expected tenants of the rental offices is a one-stop city-county-state film permit office, the supervisor added.

“We are saving an important building, and helping to upgrade this neighborhood,” Edelman said of the center, which is at the southwest corner of Beverly Boulevard and Gardner Street, three blocks east of Fairfax Avenue. The area has a large population of senior citizens, who have been given assurances that community meeting rooms and facilities in the center will be put at their disposal, Edelman confirmed.

The cinematheque, which must still raise $9 million for construction and an endowment fund, will have two film theaters, a video theater and multi-media performance lab, a cafe, bookstore and a large central lobby for gallery exhibitions. It will employ the restored western facade as its entrance.

Cinematheque Artistic Director Gary Essert said the facility will be the first in this country to concentrate equally on both world cinema and classic American movies. “It’s now time that film and video take their rightful place among the other arts,” Essert said.

In response to questions raised by Seymour Robinson, chairman of a citizens advisory commission that helped decide the future of the auditorium, Essert said that special low-price and free screenings will be held on weekdays for seniors, and the cinematheque’s theaters will also be available one night a week for fund-raising benefits.

The county invited private-sector proposals for restoration and reuse of the auditorium in 1981, and selected the Somerset Group of Companies in April, 1983, to develop and operate the facility.


Pan Pacific Ltd., a joint venture between Somerset, which operates three other hotels in renovated historic structures, and developer Jeffrey H. Tamkin Inc., was given a 43-year lease on the facility by the county.

The county will receive lease payments of $250,000 a year during the construction period, with annual increases in each of the first five years of operation. Pan Pacific Ltd. will subsequently pay the county percentages of its revenues, ranging from 7.5% of hotel room rentals to 10% of the rent paid by the tax-exempt cinematheque.

Thomas Childers, the managing partner for the Somerset Group, said in a separate interview that construction will have to be completed by the end of 1986 to receive tax benefits intended for renovation of historic structures.

The Pan Pacific Auditorium was built in 1935 in six weeks at a cost of $125,000 to temporarily house a Southern California exposition of home appliances and improvements.

The all-wood structure was designed by architects Walter Wurdeman and Welton Becket, who compared its 228-foot-long, 28-foot-deep facade to a “huge airplane wing.” It exemplified an American preoccupation in the 1930s with streamlined machinery and the illusion of speed.