The Santa Monica City Council will decide whether to demolish or renovate the city’s 4,500-seat Civic Auditorium as part of a plan to develop the 11-acre auditorium site near City Hall.
The council Tuesday received a preliminary report containing four plans calling for various combinations of office buildings, a hotel, a museum, a conference center, a playhouse, parking garages and open space and, in two of the plans, demolition of the auditorium.
Council members said they were not completely satisfied with any of the four proposals and many expressed a desire to proceed slowly in their efforts to come up with a plan for one of the last large sites in the downtown area.
“The city ought not to be hot to trot to get it done just to get it done,” Councilman Dennis Zane said. “Anything that is built there will be there 50 years from now.”
And Mayor Christine E. Reed urged the city not to have too many major projects under way at one time.
“One concern is that the city not move into another big development-improvement project too quickly,” she said. “We have our hands full with getting the airport project under way, maintaining momentum on the (Santa Monica) Pier and getting the (Third Street) Mall improved. We need to give most of the staff’s time and energy to those things.”
The Civic Auditorium was the second-largest auditorium in the Los Angeles area when it opened in 1958. During the 1960s the Academy Awards ceremonies and performances of the Los Angeles Philharmonic were held there.
The hall lost money during the ‘60s but made a profit in the ‘70s after rock and roll groups began to play there. In the last several yeras it has fluctuated between moderate profits and losses.
In June, 1985, the council voted to have the city staff prepare a preliminary report exploring alternatives for the Civic Auditorium site.
The parcel includes the auditorium and surrounding land bounded on the north by the county building, on the west by Main Street, on the east by 4th Street and on the south by Pico Boulevard.
According to the report, money from the rental of ground space used for the construction of office buildings would pay for any city-owned development.
Under Plan A, the Civic Auditorium would be spruced up and used primarily for concerts. Three two-story office buildings would be built nearby. The plan includes a four-level parking garage for 750 cars, a grassy amphitheater in the middle of the project and a small museum near the corner of Pico Boulevard and Main Street.
Plan B would extensively renovate the Civic Auditorium for use as a 2,500-seat musical theater. A new 50,000-square-foot conference center and a six-story, 350-room hotel would be built east of the auditorium. The northern portion of the site would contain a six-story office building and a seven-level parking garage for 1,720 cars.
The museum is back in Plan C but the Civic Auditorium is only a memory, with a two-story conference center in its place. An L-shaped, six-story, 350-room hotel would be located at Pico Boulevard and 4th Street and a plaza would be built behind the hotel and conference center. North of that would be a six-story office block and a six-level, 1,260-space garage.
In Plan D, the auditorium would be demolished and replaced with a 500-seat theater that would be attached to a smaller 99-seat theater. A resident theater group in the larger theater would use the smaller hall for experimental theater or rehearsal space. As in plans A and C, a small museum is planned. Three six-story office buildings and a 7 1/2-level, 2,000-space parking garage would surround a courtyard in the middle of the project.
Also presented at Tuesday’s meeting were several less developed plans for a grassy plaza that would stretch several blocks from the front lawn of City Hall either northwest to the Santa Monica Pier or west through several residential blocks and a portion of the land owned by Rand Corp.
Under these plans, commercial development of the Civic Auditorium site would be heavier than in Plans A through D to help pay for the open space.
Rand Corp. occupies a 17-acre parcel west of Main Street between City Hall and the beach. The firm is considering building new offices, a hotel, theaters or retail stores on its land.
Rand may be induced to give up part of its site at no cost to the city as part of the open space the company is required to retain if it develops its land, said City Manager John Jalili.
But to create a grassy plaza between City Hall and the beach, the city would have to purchase several residential blocks in an area bordered by Ocean Avenue on the east, the beach on the west, Seaside Terrace on the north and a point south between Arcadia and Pacific terraces.
The plan for a grassy space from City Hall to the pier would not require the purchase of any residential property.
Councilman Alan Katz suggested an alternative plan for a plaza on part of the Rand Corp. site and excluding the residential area west of Ocean Avenue.
“The city can’t just plan for the 11 acres and ignore what is around it,” Katz said. “But no project I can imagine going forward would threaten housing. This city has made a very strong statement of interest in expanding housing and protecting housing stock.”