The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was designed by Welton Becket and built by the City in 1958. Due to its distinctive architectural features, it was granted landmark status in 2002. Its rich history includes being the venue for the Academy Awards from 1961 through 1968. In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s many prominent musicians and singers performed there, including Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Tony Bennett, Elton John, Dave Brubeck, The Ramones, Led Zeppelin and Pete Seeger. These days, the auditorium is used for various purposes, including trade shows, performances by the Santa Monica Symphony and taping award shows.
On Wednesday, September 13, the community gathered at the Main Library to discuss cultural uses for the Civic Auditorium as part of Creative Capital, a community cultural plan being developed for Santa Monica.
Santa Monica’s Civic Center Specific Plan (CCSP), which was adopted by the City Council in June 2005, includes the auditorium. The plan calls for priority to be given “to cultural, educational and community-oriented activities while preserving opportunities for events that can contribute to the ongoing operation and upkeep of the facility.” The plan also calls for expanding the East Wing of the building and removing the current parking lot. Revenue from this lot has allowed the Civic to be self-sustaining.
Possible cultural uses were discussed in the context of four alternatives. The first was the concert alternative, where the current configuration would be maintained with approximately 3,000 seats, with upgrades. Community members felt retaining this configuration would provide a venue for major artists, symphonic concerts, a conference center and community gatherings. Some felt a museum “for the community and visitors” should be developed with the concert alternative.
Adaptive reuse was also an alternative, but would require reconfiguring the auditorium within the parameters of landmark restrictions. According to the City presentation, this alternative would provide “several small-scale performing venues, visual arts spaces and educational spaces.” Some who attended the workshop thought this alternative would “enliven the space,” allow it to be used frequently and permit local artists to be represented. Others mentioned this configuration “offers interesting possibilities for this type of use.”
The third alternative was using the auditorium as a conference center. The City’s presentation stated that this use would have the “least direct connection to the community’s cultural needs” but it would generate revenue for the auditorium’s “ongoing operation and upkeep” as requested in the CCSP. The community believes revenue from this use could also be used for the arts and to increase revenues the City receives from the TOT (Transient Occupancy Tax) from business travelers.
The consultant working on the School District’s Facilities Master Plan suggested the last alternative. The School District would partner with the City and Santa Monica College to have “either a small arts-oriented high school within the Civic Auditorium or arts facilities available for use by students and classes during school hours and after school.” The community felt “partnerships between other arts users and the School District would be valuable.”
A “consensus vision” was also arrived at during the workshop, which included upgrading the auditorium technologically, “adapting the East Wing for visual and performing arts uses,” having an educational component and expanding the outside areas.