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Residents Have Strong Ties to Santa Monica Civic's Past

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

June 6, 2013 -- For more than a decade, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium -- scheduled to close at the end of this month – has been a venue for little more than gem, antique and cat and dog shows.

But the 55-year-old 3,000-seat auditorium, which is in serious need of at least $50 million in upgrades and repairs, was once a Mecca for music fans and the face of the beachside city across the country.

“I have happy memories of being a young girl in Minnesota. My cousin and I would put on party dresses and arrange our special snacks and prepare to watch the Academy Awards,” said former Planning Commission chair Susan Cloke, a long-time Santa Monica resident.

“We were eight-year old girls. We knew about Santa Monica. We knew about the Civic, and we knew about the Academy Awards,” she said.

From 1961 to 1967, the Civic Auditorium’s streamline moderne facade was broadcast into living rooms around the country as the home of the Oscars, and its concerts into the 1980s achieved mythic status among pop music fans, who collected posters and bootleg recordings of the performances.

Now, the Civic is back in the public consciousness, thanks to the 2008 CD release of David Bowie’s legendary 1972 concert and the 2010 home video release of the landmark 1964 T.A.M.I. Show, starring James Brown, the Rolling Stones and more than a half dozen other Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.

Given it historic landmark status and storied past, many residents agree the City should revitalize the Santa Monica Civic, which still evokes a world of fond memories. Ask any longtime resident, and they’ll tell you about the time the saw…

“Bonnie Raitt perform with her father, John,” said former mayor Judy Abdo. “There were two generations of fabulous music at the Civic.”

“When I first arrived in California,” said Australian native and long-time Santa Monica resident Bruce Cameron, “I'd seen a band in Sydney called Roxy Music. I flew to California and on my second day here, Roxy Music appeared at the Civic. It made me feel right at home in California, and I've loved the Civic ever since.”

Cameron, a former member of the Santa Monica Convention and Visitors Bureau board, said that the Civic also hosted some boundary-pushing music, including a 1985 concert featuring Wendy O Williams, Motorhead and Megadeth. “It was a wonderful venue,” Cameron mused.

Music promoter Katherine King, who for years booked legendary acts for the Twilight Dance Series on the Pier, recalls the time she saw Emmylou Harris, Jackson Brown and Bonnie Raitt at the Civic.

For Recreation and Parks Commissioner Phil Brock, a talent agent, “The Guess Who and The Beach Boys” at the Civic was one of the first concerts he ever attended.

But the most famous Civic concert of all was the 1964 T.A.M.I. Show (Teenage Awards Music International or Teen Age Music International) starring not only the Rolling Stones and James Brown but the Beach Boys, Marvin Gay, Chuck Berry, the Supremes and Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, among other notable acts.

The two-day concert was deemed an event that was "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress in 2006 and preserved in the National Film Registry.

Decades after the legendary music at the Civic died, the auditorium a block from the beach has been eclipsed by larger venues, such as the Forum, the Hollywood Bowl and, more recently, the Staples Center, which last month hosted the much older Rolling Stones.

“It's a very tricky issue,” said King, pointing out that a venue with 3,000 seats is not attractive nowadays. “Three thousand is not a good number. It's an awkward number.”

Brock feels that the Civic will never regain its glory days but could be part of a larger cultural complex, including Barnum Hall and The Greek Theater at nearby Santa Monica High School. The new Civic Auditorium should be a flexible space, capable of hosting fundraisers and other large gatherings, Brock said.

But if it’s too small for classic acts, the Civic is one of the few venues on the Westside that can host major trade shows, said Landmarks Commissioner Roger Genser. “There isn't a place to do a major trade show anywhere on the Westside except Barker Hanger” at the Santa Monica Airport, Genser said.

A recent community meeting and a panel discussion by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) both have led to talk about possibly turning the area around the Civic Center into a cultural center that could include a museum, water gardens and even a small hotel to help subsidize the Auditorium, which the City has been operating at a loss of about $2 million a year since 2007.

City officials maintain that such plans are still far from being fleshed out. Still, many in the community are adamant about saving the old venue they so fondly recall.

“Now, looking at the Civic, I see it’s a necessity to the cultural and social and public image of the City as well as its meaning in each of our personal histories,” said Cloke, who also served as Chair of the Recreation and Parks Commission.

“When I moved to Santa Monica and started going to the Civic for Concerts and events, the Auditorium became a place that I understood in a way a person understands a building that is representative of the work and the aspirations of the community,” she said.

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