Saturday, May 28, 2011

 Saturday at the Archives: Disney's Hollywood-The Pan-Pacific Auditorium
Disney's Hollywood: The Pan-Pacific Auditorium
By Jeffrey Pepper
Originally published February 20, 2008

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.


Allen said...

Great article, thanks!

Snow White Archive said...

Wonderful post! Love the details.

It so cool how the Disney theme parks serve--in the name of entertainment--as a quasi-historical repository for a bygone era.

Charles Kenny said...

I coincidentally discovered/read about the Pan-Pacific Auditorium just last week!

As a fan of Art Deco, I can say that it is a shame that such a building was left to rot, but it is a testament to the architecture that it lives on as an example of the Golden Age of Hollywood.

Thanks for posting Jeff :)