Historic Structures

Pan Pacific Auditorium, Los Angeles California

Date added: June 8, 2022 Categories: California Stadium Art Deco

The Pan Pacific Auditorium was originally built for the National Housing Exposition to further and perpetuate the "New and Better Housing" movement in Los Angeles. The design for the structure was selected through an international competition and subsequently won an AIA award. The designs were from the office of Walter Wurdeman and Welton Becket, two young architects who were later to go on to some distinction in Los Angeles. This building, one of their first buildings, is the primary example of Streamline Moderne in California. The Streamline Moderne was an especially important style in the social history of architecture since it epitomized popular notions of twentieth century modernism. It borrowed its imagery from mechanical and induiBtrial objects and from the design of the century's major modes of transportation - the train, the automobile, the ship (especially the great luxury ocean liner), the various aircraft, including the blimp, and even from the then futuristic visions of "Buck Rogers" space ships. When one entered and experienced a "Streamline Moderne" building, such as the Pan Pacific, one was supposed to feel that one was somehow undergoing an exciting "modern" experience. The architectural critic Reyner Banham in his history of modern architecture, Age of the Masters, in discussing the 1930's architecture of "progressive industrialism" remarks that "...the sub-style known as Streamline Moderne has left a few popular monuments to grace the American scene, particularly in California where extravaganzas like the Pan Pacific Auditorium look entirely at home in the Hollywood ambiance."

The Pan Pacific was built to serve as a public exposition hall and from the time of its opening until the 1960's, it was the site of Los Angeles' public expositions, trade shows, performances such as circuses and conventions. Alden Becker of Adrian Ailson Associates, Los Angeles has noted that at the time it was built it was singular and well-designed for these purposes and served as a prototype for later buildings of this type.

In 1972, after its last public event in May, the building became vacant, no longer serving the original purposes. On May 25th, 1989, the building was destroyed by fire.

The history of the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles reflects the growing preoccupation with progress and technology which characterizes 20th century America. The distinctive design of the west facade symbolizes the national attraction to futuristic inventions such as the car, the plane, space travel, etc. Consumption is another nationwide pastime well manifested by the city of Los Angeles as a whole. The Pan Pacific Auditorium housed events which illustrated a developing culture designed for a mass audience.

Pop culture dominated the Pan Pacific, particularly during the 1950's. Its consumer-oriented entertainment appealed to a broad spectrum of Los Angeles' society. Annual car shows were featured in the Auditorium. Attended by many during the fifties, these shows exemplified the American love for technology and motion. The ice follies held in the building also illustrated the growing phenomena of the mass cultural event.

Last of the three old sport arenas in Los Angeles, the Pan Pacific also offered many sport events. Important basketball contests including those between USC and UCLA were held in the Auditorium. The Harlem Globetrotters also played frequently in the building,

The Pan Pacific Auditorium was certainly meaningful to countless Los Angeles inhabitants seeking entertainment. As a symbol of a specific type of entertainment very basic to American society--consumer-oriented, mass culture--the significance of Pan Pacific transcends its surroundings.

Building Description

The Pan Pacific Auditorium, located in the Fairfax area of the City of Los Angeles, approximately 8 miles west of the civic center, is a rectangular building organized in two parts: a large auditorium with adjoining two-story office quarters flanking the main entrance to the building which faces west. The structure is built of wood frame and stucco construction with ornamental plaster exterior, wood flooring, composition roofing and wood trusses. It is the primary California example of the Streamline Moderne architecture of the 30's which is described in David Gebhard and Robert Winter's A Guide to Architecture in Los Angeles and Southern California as "...an outgrowth of the machine aesthetic, the curved aerodynamic form of the airplane, and of an even more intensified influence of the International Style." The fundamental characteristics of the Streamline Moderne as noted by Gebhard and Winter are integral to the facade of the Pan Pacific Auditorium. It consists of a stucco box with rounded corners and details, a strong horizontal emphasis through banded sufraces, curved projecting wings highlighted with curved metal (ship) railing. The most striking feature of this public building is the ceremonial entrance: four rounded pylons pierce through a projecting curved overhang and emerge as four monumental towers holding aloft metal flag poles. These four towers, reminiscent of the inventive 1920's designs of the German Expressionist architect -- Erich Mendelsohn, characterized by the strong horizontal banding of the Streamline Moderne provide contrasting vertical emphasis. As Thomas S. Hines, Professor in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, UCLA, has noted, "...some of the power of the West Facade comes from the sense it conveys of some kind of great engine 'pulling' the rest of the building along."

The exterior of the Pan Pacific is virtually untouched, although in a state of disrepair, with the only significant modifications having been made to the interior of the structure. The building, with over 100,000 square feet of floor area is one of the major "moderne" structures ever built and was host to major public expositions and shows in the Southland. The building has remained unaltered through the years and is now on the site of a proposed park. Remodeling to bring it up to safety standards would restore it as a prominent and functioning feature of a public recreational space.

The Auditorium proper consists of a wood frame structure with a 3-span arched roof. The center span provides for a 130' x 400' area, 24.5' high. This section has a concrete floor slab containing refrigeration lines used to freeze water for the ice skating events once held in the Auditorium. With the two adjacent parallel 60' x 400' areas, 22.5' high, the total area of the exhibit hall is 100,000 square feet. This main structure is of warehouse type construction with no significant features other than the enormous size of enclosed space. Peripheral ancillary rooms are likewise insignificant with the exception of the aforementioned west facade. The condition of the west facade is fair to poor mainly due to non-use, neglect and a fire which took place in 1975. The fire damaged the second floor pressroom and lounge as well as part of the exterior of the building. No repairs were made; instead the area has been closed off and boarded. The wood frame structure has stucco exterior and plaster interior walls and ceilings. Executive offices have knotty-pine wood paneling and some interior partitions have plasterboard with knotty-pine paper veneer. The plumbing and electrical systems appear adequate but obsolete, requiring considerable work to be made operable again.

As mentioned above, it was almost completely destroyed by fire in 1989.