By Michael Aushenker
The Cinerama Dome. The Capitol Records building. The Beverly Hilton Hotel. The Los Angeles Music Center. The now-gone Pan Pacific Auditorium.
What does the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium have in common with these iconic Los Angeles cultural destinations? One man: architect Welton Becket.
In his heyday during the 1950s and 1960s, Becket, who died in 1969, was arguably more significant to the architectural face of Los Angeles than Frank Gehry, having designed just about every recognizable city structure short of the Hollywood Bowl, the Hollywood sign and Graumann’s Chinese Theater. Becket’s firm also designed Parker Center, the Federal Building, what is now Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, and the Petersen Automotive Museum (formerly Orbach’s Department Store).
At a June 4 Virginia Avenue Park town hall meeting to brainstorm on saving the Civic from a portentous doom, one of Becket’s sons, Bruce Becket, silently looked on, with wife Sharon by his side.
Following the grander movements of the community discussion, Becket, himself an architect as the principal of the Westwood-based Bruce Becket and Associates, spoke to The Argonaut about saving the Civic and his father’s legacy.
“He was truly dedicated to the arts, the music and theater in particular,” remembered Becket, whose brother, Welton Becket II, is also an architect. “He wanted to create these opportunities for people to have these experiences. He was very entertainment-minded himself.”
Welton Becket, whose firm was once housed in a quirky building in Century City (the 20th Century Fox-adjacent business center that he also designed), eventually relocated his firm to Santa Monica. Although Bruce Becket was too young to recall any specifics about the creation of the Civic, he said “I do remember there were a lot of discussions on the Civic Auditorium.”
He has clearer recollections of his father dealing with the feisty Dorothy Chandler; how she was not shy about confronting people face-to-face at her parties about donating money toward the downtown L.A. Music Center in her name.
At the June 4 meeting, Becket refuted a comment that the city’s Jessica Cusick had made in her opening remarks about the Becket family having been approached for input on resurrecting the Civic.
“The city has not contacted me,” he told The Argonaut.
Bruce Becket is an accomplished architect in his own right, and his firm has worked on myriad projects throughout California and nationwide. Among those of local interest: Hornburg Jaguar on Wilshire Boulevard and Park Condominiums in Santa Monica, the Art Garden Gallery in Venice, Oasis Aviation in Marina del Rey, Mariposa Plaza in El Segundo, UCLA’s School of Dentistry in Westwood, and Pepperdine University’s Fine Arts complex in Malibu.
So would Becket be interested in joining a Civic advisory group if approached?
“Very much so. I’d love to contribute my thoughts,” he said, agreeing that a panel of experts will be crucial to advising smartly on the Civic’s future. “Otherwise,” he continued, “it’s just a center sitting on a hill.”
Naturally, Becket wants to see his father’s iconic gift to Bay City preserved. After all, Santa Monica was very dear to Becket’s father.
“His home was here, his headquarters were here,” Becket said. “He loved this community.”
Balancing the Becket legacy
By Michael Aushenker