By Jodi Summers
Oh, being pressed up against the stage of a concert hall with strangers sweating on you is such an intrinsic part of the general admission concert experience…you can still smell the press of headbangers as they squeezed around the stage as multi-platinum rockers Motley Crue performed at a benefit for Children of the Night at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. The experience is etched indelibly in our brain.
Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, David Bowie, the Academy Awards – and wow just steps from the ocean! The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium used to be on everyone’s list of favorite venues. The City is taking steps to make the Civic Auditorium a world class concert hall again. In late winter, the city council gave the green light for the Nederlander Organization to move forward with its plans to revitalize the Civic Auditorium as an “exclusive presenter/joint venture.”
Under the council’s directive, the Nederlander Producing Company of America, will deliver a full season of programming for a minimum of five years. Additionally, Nederlander will contribute to the Civic Auditorium’s first significant renovation this century.
“It has been sad to see what has happened to the Civic within the last 30 years or so as it stopped being a top concert venue,” Council member Kevin McKeown stated. “It’s beyond time to turn this around. The building is a landmark, the building is a classic. I think we have the capability to do this… and I think we have a great partner, the right partner, for this venue.”
The terms of the agreement have Nederlander earning a base management fee of $200,000, with the requirement of creating “at least $500,000 annually in net event-related revenue” for the fee to take effect.
Designed by Welton Beckett and built in 1958, the Civic Auditorium was state of the art. This property has been described as “an excellent example of the mid-20th century International Style.” It replaced the classically inspired Ocean Park Municipal Auditorium which had been located on Lick Pier. It was renowned for the unique engineering and landmark use of hydraulic technology for adapting an assembly space to accommodate a vast variety of stage performances, athletic events, and exhibitions.
It has been cited as a forerunner to the retractable domes and flexible seating of contemporary stadiums. Its acoustical design by UCLA Chancellor Vern O. Knutsen, was described as, “the most perfect and…(deserving)…a rating higher than that of the Royal Festival Hall in London” (Progressive Architecture, May 1959).
The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was constructed in response to the development of the Santa Monica Civic Center. It was the third of three major 20th century Civic Center structures, which includes City Hall (1938) and the Courthouse (1951). It’s International Style (Modern) of architecture dominated building design from the first decade of the 20th century until 1972.
Artists that have performed at the Civic Auditorium include Andre Previn, Dave Brubeck, Pete Seeger, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Bill Cosby, and Bob Hope, Beatnik poet Allen Ginsburg, Elton John, Ray Charles, Arlo Guthrie, the Beach Boys, the Carpenters, Motley Crue, White Zombie and Beck.
This public/private partnership will have both the City and Nederlander sharing the responsibilities of staffing, event scheduling, concessions, and promotions. The Civic would commit $45 million in funding to the project – an amount that was approved under the assumption redevelopment funds would still be available and well before Gov. Jerry Brown proposed eliminating redevelopment agency (RDA) funding.
“My concern here is the whole RDA process. My own take is that in the new world order, we have to consider things like (corporate naming rights),” noted City Council member Bobby Shriver, adding a venue such as Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles has revitalized an entire neighborhood of that city despite being named after a corporate entity. “I am open to the idea, actually, of private financing.”
The terms of the agreement call for some of the Civic Auditorium’s staff to be downsized. Community and city events at the venue may be limited, plus the City may be responsible for undisclosed overhead costs.
According to Community and Culture Affairs staff report, “the proposed operating model would reduce the operating subsidy required of the general fund from the ‘status quo’ range of $32.9 (million) over the 10 year term to a range of $8.7 (million) to $14.7 (million).”
There is also an option for a five-year extension of the exclusive presenter/joint venture agreement.