On Saturday, August 9th, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium — where rock legends Elton John, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and the Clash have all performed — turns 50.
At 6 p.m., the city will host a free celebration for the occasion with food, music by the Gary Mendell Quintet, tours of the auditorium, displays and other activities at the Civic Auditorium, 1855 Main St. in Santa Monica. Parking is free.
At 8 p.m., there will be a free outdoor screening of the classic surf film The Endless Summer, with an introduction and special appearance by filmmaker Bruce Brown, who wrote and directed the 1966 hit.
“We wanted to put something together where we could just invite the neighborhood, the community, and they would be able to take a look around,” said Louis Lind, the auditorium’s facilities superintendent. “Most of the Santa Monica community has attended an event at the Civic in the past. Everybody’s got memories here, and it’ll be fun [for locals] to just come down and enjoy the evening and remember the building and everything it’s meant to the community.”
Historic memorabilia from concerts and the Academy Awards will be on display from the Civic Auditorium’s archives as well.
The auditorium, a designated city landmark, was funded by a citizen-led bond act in 1956.
It was designed by renowned architect Welton Becket, who has designed many famous buildings in Los Angeles and Hollywood, such as the Capitol Records Building, the Cinerama Dome and the Los Angeles Music Center, including the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
“I’m very excited for the Civic,” said Mayor Pro Tem Richard Bloom. “The Civic has a special place in the hearts of people who live in Santa Monica.”
Mayor Herb Katz agreed.
“The city is proud of it,” he said of the auditorium.
Katz noted that he did not vote for the building to be a city landmark but thinks, nonetheless, that it’s a “good venue.”
“The building is not historic, but the venue is,” Katz says.
Since 1958 — with its inaugural concert by the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra — the auditorium has provided entertainment to many thousands.
Legends like the Rolling Stones, Elton John, the Clash, the Who, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Eric Clapton and Prince, among others, have brought huge crowds to the Civic.
“There’s lots of history here,” notes Lind.
The auditorium has also provided the stage for a wide range of other events — including sporting and school events, college fairs, banquets, film festivals, meetings, theatrical performances, award shows, exhibits, and trade shows, said Civic Auditorium manager Caroline Curtin.
The Academy Award ceremonies were hosted at the auditorium in the 1960s, including the historic 1964 event, when Sidney Poitier accepted the first Oscar ever given to an African American.
Since its opening half a century ago, the Civic Auditorium has featured technology that is ahead of its time, said Curtin.
It has always had a hydraulic floor, making the auditorium suitable for a variety of uses, as it can be quickly converted from a 3,000 seat theater to a 27,000-square-foot exhibit space, Curtin said.
Stage performances were frequently put on in the 1960s, and surf films were often shown at the auditorium then.
From the later part of the 1960s through the 1980s, rock concerts dominated the suditorium’s booking schedule.
“Concerts disappeared a lot in the later part of the ’80s and ’90s, but we have started to bring them back,” said Lind, who added that Bob Dylan would be playing Wednesday, September 3rd.
Bloom noted that, historically, the auditorium has been a performance venue, but in recent years has become more of a place where trade shows and conferences occur.
However, Bloom said he has heard “loud and clear that our residents really want to see the Civic returned to a focal point of music and performance to the city.”
“There are people who are interested in working with the city to restore the Civic Auditorium as a performance venue and I’m really intent on fostering that dialogue,” Bloom noted.
Adds Lind, “This building is something the city wants to hold on to. It will be a vibrant part of the Santa Monica community for the future.”