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Amphitheatre to close, make room for Harry Potter attraction

First they put a lid on it, and now they’re pulling the plug.

Universal City’s Gibson Amphitheatre, a fixture on the Southern California live music scene for more than 40 years, will close in September and be demolished to make room for the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios theme park, officials announced Wednesday.

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The announcement came a day after Universal Studios Hollywood won approval from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to begin construction on its planned $1.6-billion expansion of the theme park.

The 6,200-seat facility perched atop the Cahuenga Pass has hosted most of the biggest names in pop music since it opened in 1972 as the open-air Universal Amphitheatre.

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Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and B.B. King played there, as did Jackson Browne, Donna Summer, Barry Manilow and Randy Newman. Comedians Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy were headliners. More recently, pop and rap acts such as No Doubt, Kanye West and Lil Wayne alternated with top Latin acts such as Norteno ace Vicente Fernandez and the late Jenni Rivera. Even Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama took the Universal stage.

“It’s an institution,” said Jim Guerinot, a veteran Southland concert promoter and record executive before he became the manager of No Doubt, the Offspring, Trent Reznor and Robbie Robertson.

Now those artists will give way to Voldemort and Dumbledore. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction is expected to open in 2016 at the earliest. (The counterpart at Universal’s theme park in Orlando, Fla., took four years to build.) Construction is set to begin this summer.

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Theme park executives hope the new attraction will boost attendance and sales, replicating the revenue surge Universal Orlando enjoyed since it opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in June 2010. Attendance jumped to 7.7 million in 2011, a 29% increase compared with the previous year, according to industry studies. The park also enjoyed a surge in sales of wands, butter beer, T-shirts and other souvenirs.

The hilltop music venue opened the year President Richard Nixon won his second term in the White House. For a decade, it was an open-air facility, offering pop music fans as many as 100 concerts a year under the stars during spring, summer and early fall, until nearby residents’ complaints about excessive noise led officials to install a roof in 1982.

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In 2005, Universal City signed a 10-year naming rights deal with Nashville company Gibson Guitar Corp., which rechristened it the Gibson Amphitheatre.

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The amphitheater, like its older cross-town competitor, Griffith Park’s Greek Theatre, filled a key role in the Southland’s concert scene, hosting acts on their way up to, or down from, arena headliner status. It was the site of many special engagements, including David Bowie’s weeklong stint in 1974 and Pearl Jam’s five-night run 2009.

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers played their celebrated “lawsuit tour” shows at Universal in the late ‘70s when the band was being sued by Universal subsidiary MCA Records. Riffing on the Village People’s then-current disco hit “YMCA,” Petty’s camp made T-shirts for the shows featuring the phrase “Why MCA?”

In recent years the Gibson has been a popular venue for touring Latin pop acts. Pepe Aguilar, Juan Gabriel, Marco Antonio Solis, Ramon Ayala, Celia Cruz, Rocio Ducal, Shalia Durcal, Ana Gabriel, and Selena. Vicente Fernandez holds the record for most consecutive sellouts with 14.

“We, like music lovers across Los Angeles, will miss Gibson Amphitheatre,” Bret Gallagher, president of North American Concerts, Southern California/Las Vegas for Live Nation — which has booked and operated the Gibson in recent years — said in a statement. “While a change like this is difficult, we look forward to putting together a series of great shows that will celebrate everything about this marvelous building.”

Live Nation’s announcement said the company plans to “assemble a very special lineup of shows as a fitting farewell,” with details still to be announced.

Live Nation’s main competitor, AEG Live, upped the competition among mid-size theaters in the L.A. area in 2007 when it opened the 7,000-capacity Nokia Theatre across the street from Staples Center, luring some acts that previously had played the Gibson.

It’s unclear whether Live Nation will continue booking amphitheater-level acts at other venues, try to build a new facility of its own or cede the bookings to AEG or the Nederlander Organization, which operates the Greek Theatre.

“At this point, it’s too soon to talk about future plans,” a Live Nation spokesman said Wednesday. “Los Angeles has a vibrant music community. Gibson was a big part of that. But, after its doors close in September we know that the community will continue to thrive.”

Across town at the Nederlander Organization, however, officials greeted the coming closure as a new opportunity.

“Having one less venue in the 5,000 to 7,000 range is very interesting to us,” said Alex Hodges, CEO of Nederlander Concerts, which also books the Pantages and several other venues in the Southland. “This change will give us more shows for the city of Los Angeles. It’ll have a pretty big benefit for us, and it certainly has a negative effect for the bottom-line dollar number of Live Nation.”

In addition to extra shows Nederlander is likely to book into the Greek because of the Gibson’s closing, Hodges noted a new exclusive booking deal his company has signed to bring a regular slate of concerts to USC’s Galen Center, which can handle events with a capacity of 5,000 to 11,000.

“This gives us an indoor place for those shows that need to be indoors,” Hodges said. “For the winter months this gives us the opportunity to replace some of the shows that would be at Gibson on a 12-month basis.

The Gibson’s closing also appeared to be good news for Harry Potter fans.

“I’ve followed the ‘Harry Potter’ books and movies religiously and have literally dreamed of being a wizard just like Hermione,” said Erin Stein, 27, a television producer from Brentwood. “It’s very sad that the Gibson Amphitheater is closing, but … if it means bringing Harry Potter live to Los Angeles then I am all for it.”

By building the Harry Potter attraction on the site of its amphitheater, Universal Studios officials may be able to draw guests from the CityWalk crowds, who will be able to see a re-creation of the Hogwarts Castle, said Robert Niles, author of “Theme Park Insider,” an online guide to the nation’s most popular theme parks.

“I think Harry Potter is going to be a draw no matter where they put it,” he said. “It’s definitely going to be a game changer for them and they don’t want to hide it.”

Not everyone was cheering.

Hours after Universal announced its plans to raze the amphitheater, a Facebook page — Save The Gibson (Universal) Amphitheater — had been created by those who want to preserve it. “Don’t tear us down you idiots!” one fan wrote.

“I’m very depressed, actually,” Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz said. “It’s been a wonderful relationship and a very productive marketing tool for us. So we’re very saddened.”

Juszkiewicz said his company might seek another venue.

“We definitely want to do something in the L.A. area, and I will start looking immediately,” he said. “But I know the venues, more or less, and it’s going to be tough to replace.”

randy.lewis@latimes.com | Twitter: @RandyLewis2

hugo.martin@latimes.com

Times staff writer Tiffany Hsu contributed to this report.

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