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The L.A. architecture landmark — abandoned, trashed and left to burn

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Pan Pacific in its glory days.
(Los Angeles Public Library)

In a city dominated by the car, the imposing streamlined elegance of the Pan Pacific Auditorium made the structure an instant Los Angeles icon.

The venue for decades was a top draw for shows and entertainment (“going to the Pan” was once a saying around L.A.) before gradually falling into disrepair.

Then, on May 24, 1989 — 30 years ago today — it burned in a fire.

For the auditorium, it was one more dramatic show.

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As The Times reported that day: “At times, flames from the dilapidated, boarded-up auditorium at 7600 Beverly Blvd. shot 200 feet into the night sky and could be seen from as far away as the Civic Center and the Silver Lake area. Streets were closed for four blocks in each direction from the blaze, but spectators by the hundreds walked to the scene, just east of CBS’ Television City, and watched flames write the final chapter in the auditorium’s uncertain recent history.”

Here’s the story of the auditorium from the pages of The Times.

Designed in the Streamline Moderne style of the 1930s, the structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and achieved iconic architectural status.

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The auditorium stood out against the backdrop of fields and oil wells that surrounded it when it was built in 1935. Later, the area became known as Gilmore Island, an entertainment destination with a go-cart racetrack and a baseball field where the Hollywood Stars once played.

The venue’s facade, illuminated against the night sky, drew California’s newly established car culture from miles around.

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A fire at the Pan Pacific in 1982
(Los Angeles Times)

Over 37 years, the Pan Pacific hosted car shows and concerts, ice skating and roller derbies. Presidential candidates held rallies there. It was even the site of Elvis Presley’s first West Coast appearance in 1957.

But the Pan Pacific closed in 1972 after venues such as the Forum started to take its share of entertainment events. Debates about restoring the building as a hotel and entertainment complex or a museum ensued as it suffered neglect, vandalism and periodic fires.

Before it was destroyed, there was talk of converting it into a hotel.

A 42-year-old transient was arrested in connection with setting the fire. But prosecutors declined to charge him, citing a lack of evidence.

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The Pan Pacific in the 1950s
(Los Angeles Times)
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