Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Disney's Hollywood: The Pan-Pacific Auditorium

I must admit I have a very strong sentimental attachment to the moniker Disney-MGM Studios. But I'm really warming up quickly to its new Hollywood identification.

Let's face it, there is a lot more Hollywood than MGM in the Disney Studios at Walt Disney World. Much of the theming of the resorts third gate is embodied in idealized architecture that is rooted in the southern California environment from which Disney entertainment emerged. When Walt Disney created a letterhead in 1923 that listed his uncle Robert Disney's Hollywood address at 4406 Kingswell Avenue, it was the genesis of a geographical dynamic that would inspire the elaborate design of a central Florida theme park nearly sixty-five years later.

As part of a new ongoing series here at 2719 Hyperion, we are going to show you the true Hollywood behind Disney's Hollywood Studios. And we are going to begin this parkeological expedition at the recently rechristened front entrance to the park.

The entrance area to Disney's Hollywood Studios and the architecture surrounding the ticket kiosks were inspired by the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, an arena-entertainment venue that served the Los Angeles area for close to forty years. The Studio's entrance facade recreates that building's own front entrance and its distinctive four towers. The towers reflected a sleek, aircraft-inspired look, and each was crowned with a high-reaching flagpole and corresponding flag or pennant. It opened on May 18, 1935 and was the first major commission for architecture partners Walter Wurdeman, Charles F. Plummer and Welton Becket. Three decades later, Becket would partner with United States Steel and Disney in creating the design for the Contemporary Resort at Walt Disney World.

The Pan-Pacific was one of the more famous examples of Steamline Moderne design, an extension of Art Deco that became prominent during the mid-1930s. The style proved especially popular for much of the architecture created for the 1939-1940 New York World's Fair. The style's influence could be seen in the art direction of films such as Lost Horizon and The Wizard of Oz, and also in the designs of consumers products including appliances, automobiles and trailers.

Up until the opening of the Los Angeles Convention Center in 1972, the Pan-Pacific Auditorium was the primary indoor venue for the city and its surrounding population. The interior itself encompassed 100,000 square feet and could seat close to 6,000 individuals. It played host to trade and consumer shows, circuses, concerts, ice shows and political functions, and was also a home for sporting events including basketball, hockey, tennis and wrestling. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley were among the many notable figures that appeared there.

Following its closing in 1972, the building sat vacant and neglected. It gained a temporary degree of notoriety in 1980 when it was featured in the film Xanadu, but quickly faded again from public notice shortly thereafter. Its deterioration continued nearly unchecked for almost another decade. Then on May 25, 1989, just three weeks after the debut of Disney-MGM Studios and its Pan-Pacific-inspired entrance, the once famous southern California landmark was destroyed in a spectacular fire. The location has since become the Pan-Pacific Park, administered by the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The architecture of the facilities recreation center recreates in part the auditorium's entrance design, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The Pan-Pacific Auditorium entrance design will be recreated again in the near future at Disney's California Adventure. The look of its front entrance area will soon emulate that of Disney's Hollywood Studios, in a re-imagining that is intended to evoke the setting of southern California in the 1920s and 1930s.

13 comments:

Disneyana World said...

Xanadu...ugh

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the informative article and photos. I love to learn about all the detailed little connections. My favorite posts are ones where you focus in on a theme park detail.

All that said, I'm still unsure how this design will play out in California Adventure. As a visitor to both parks, I've always been underwhelmed by the old Hollywood look of the former Disney-MGM. Not because it's not done well--it certainly is--but it's just kind of boring. My boyfriend and I both find MGM the least aesthetically interesting of all the Disney World areas (including the water parks). Because of it's roots in architectural styles that *actually* exist in Los Angeles, Miami, and elsewhere...it just doesn't feel magical.

This works *ok* in DHS...but in California Adventure, where the actual architecture is a short drive away.....I just wonder how well this approach will work. Part of the existing problem with the park is that it doesn't "transport" you to a foreign or magical place. I worry this new entrance--no matter how well executed--will fall to the same fate. I'll, of course, reserve judgement until it's complete :)

Ed South said...

I have to disagree with the first comment: Xanadu...Yeah! One of my favorite movies!

The funny thing is, everytime I watch Xanadu I somehow have felt that I'd been to that building before. As many times as I've seen Xanadu and as many times as I've been to the park I never put the two together.

Ahhh...to go roller skating through the park with Gene Kelly, that would be a magical moment!

Tannerman said...

Not to be overtly negative, but hasn't Yesterland been doing this exact same thing regarding comparisons lately?

Biblioadonis aka George said...

Wonderful article, Jeff!

Looking forward to all of the other details you can dig up!

Jeff Pepper said...

Tannerman--

Yes, Werner has a section on the buildings of Disney-MGM, and Matt Hochberg at Studios Central has also done similar articles. Neither, to my knowledge, has covered the Pan-Pacific Auditorium as yet. I admire and respect their efforts, but do not see why it should preclude me from covering similar subjects.

Andy said...

Excellent work as always! Can't wait to see more of the Hollywood parkeological reports coming up.

Anonymous said...

Yes! I knew I wasn't the only one who saw the connection between "Xanadu" and Disney's Hollywood Studios, the theme park formerly known as Disney-MGM Studios. I love the movie "Xanadu" and whenever I see the ABC theater when I visit, I often think of "Xanadu". I wonder if Disney will remake the movie featuring the Muses from "Hercules".

dean said...

Thanks for the great article. The Pan-Pacific was certainly a remarkable building. It's sad to see it destroyed. It's a great tribute that Disney used it for the D-MGM Studios park entrance but I really wish that we could see something unique for California Adventure. I'd hate to see DCA turned into a yet another clone, and I'm not so sure the art moderne design is a good compliment to Disneyland's entrance across the way. Can't they come up with something more early-California romantic??

davesablast said...

Jeff - Thanks for this great article and I look forward to future articles on the inspiration behind the Studios architecture and design. Keep up the great work on this blog! Most of us don't have the time visit the proliferation of Disney fan blogs but must pick 3 or 4. You have definitely risen to the top of my News Reader!

Anonymous said...

my favorite things! disney, xanadu and art deco all in one place.living in LA near the original location of the pan pacific it is sad that the city everlet the building get to such bad shape to begin with. hands down it was the most amazing streamline moderne building ever. it set the standard.at least we have the park entrance.

steve

Mrs S | A pocketful of pixie dust said...

Great idea for a series - I look forward to reading more. I agree there are a lot of Hollywood influences at the studios - I just worry that it will confuse people about which coat it's on... you know like the ones who say they're going to Florida to visit Disneyland??

Ken said...

My wife and I saw Xanadu when it first came out in 1980. We liked the movie (maybe Olivia Newton-John distracted me), and the club architecture in the movie (the Pan Pacific) was very memorable. On a trip to Disneyland in 82 from Washington state, we were driving in the area and out of the corner of my eye, down a sidestreet, as I recall - I caught a glimpse of the distinctive building. My wife and I looked at each other and said something like, "Xanadu!?" - and made the turn to take a look. It was obvious we had stumbled on the "Xanadu Club" building (we were not familiar with the Pan Pacific or had any idea from Xanadu that the place was even a real place). It was cool to make this discovery, but also sad because it was clear the place was deteriorating. Then of course we found out years later it burned down. It's just kind of surreal that the place went into such decline and was never saved, and that we even stumbled on it, as it was off the beaten path and neglected by the time we found it. It would be interesting to know the backstory regarding its choice for the movie and what went into using it for filming, etc. I really can't think of any other building that has made such an impression, and just from the exterior.