SMa.r.t.Column: THE ONCE AND FUTURE SANTA MONICA CIVIC AUDITORIUM
Reposted from the Santa Monica Mirror 9.21.23
This week SMa.r.t. is focusing on the historic Civic Center Auditorium and residents’ efforts to save it from a misdirected effort by the City Council to sell it to generate revenue. Revenue shortfalls are due in part to unwise city fiscal policy decisions, +/-$220 mil in settlements due to a city employee’s actions, and the impact of the Covid epidemic.
We, and others, have written about the physical condition of the Civic Auditorium, updated code requirements, and the associated costs that will be necessary to bring the structure back to the historically successful, world-class music venue it had been. We, and others, believe that once restored, it will pay for itself, be profitable, and will serve residents, the city, and the region well. But who might know better than those engaged in the music promotion business? Several music industry professionals were asked their opinion about the Civic and how they viewed its importance, both historically and in the future. Here they share their memories of good times past at the Civic, and with an eye towards an exciting future for a revived Civic Auditorium.
Mike Bone, resident and former President of Chrysalis, Island, and Mercury Records: “Some of the artists I worked with, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Motley Crue, and the Runaways ALL played the Santa Monica Civic. It was THE room on the west side of Los Angeles. It could be that again.
To call this venue “iconic” is an understatement, a gross understatement. Our industry is hungry to have a major venue on the Westside again. Why? The geographically closest notable pop venue is The Troubadour in West Hollywood, but it only seats 500. The venue that’s a comparable size (2,500-3,000 seats) is the Wiltern, but the Wiltern lacks what the Civic has: easy access from the Expo Line and a nearby playground of restaurants, hotels, the Pier, the Third Street Promenade, and the beach.”
One current professional notes that, architecturally, features like the Civic’s landmarked hydraulic floor system make possible exactly the kind of “scaling” that 21st-century concert producers and promoters seek out. If a venue allows, many contemporary concert experiences offer both “General Admission” and assigned seating. Younger concertgoers typically want to stand, dance, and mosh in the General Admission section (on the “floor”), while older concertgoers often prefer assigned seating. The ability to offer this type of customized accessibility gives concert producers the flexibility to design seating specifically with the anticipated mix of attendees in mind.
Gary Spivack, Senior Executive for talent at Save Live: “If I can set the scene. It was the late Fall of 1980. I was a teenager in love with Rock ’n Roll. My nights, post-homework, and/or little league games were usually spent in my bedroom glued to my favorite rock radio stations. These included the World Famous KROQ, the Mighty KMET, and of course, KLOS-FM. One fall evening, Thursday, November 8th, 1980 to be exact, KLOS was giving away two tickets to the sold-out Joe Jackson ‘I’m The Man’ tour at the Santa Monica Civic. My friends and I loved Joe Jackson. I knew I would be the envy of my West LA neighborhood if somehow I got to see Joe Jackson in concert. I didn’t have a phone in my bedroom, so needless to say, I didn’t have enough time to run to the kitchen and dial into KLOS to win those tickets. Instead, I called my buddy, another West LA local, Todd Slavkin, and said: ’Todd, why don’t we just take the 8 to the 12 (Bus lines) and go to the Santa Monica Civic and see Joe Jackson tomorrow night?’ Todd was all in. Remember, this show was sold out, and sure enough, two very innocent [but hopeful] teenagers strolled up to the Civic box office at 7:15 p.m. on November 9, 1980, with nothing to lose. And guess what? That nice lady at the box office said, ‘Well, you’re in luck….2 tickets have been left by the promoter. $7.50 each, please. We managed to string together $15 for 2 tickets, and would you believe it……these 2 tickets were in the FRONT ROW. Huh? Front row tickets for Joe Jackson? At the Santa Monica Civic? Dreams do come true. Well, that evening started my long love affair with the famed, historic, and iconic Westside venue by the beach that we all know and love. That one lucky night led to seeing any Santa Monica Civic concert I could get my hands on. This included Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Triumph, Mötley Crüe, Guns N’ Roses, and even Asia (yes, I admit it. I saw Asia at the Civic. Damn proud of it too). Fast forward to a short 28 years later, and I’m a 20+ year music business veteran, and I’m promoting my own show at my favorite venue in the world. Yes, I’m putting on a Heal The Bay benefit concert presented by KROQ-FM that featured So Cal hero’s Bad Religion, Tiger Army, and more. Yes, the show sold out. Yes, it was one of the best evenings of my life. How wonderfully full circle is that?!? No Santa Monica Civic……no Gary Spivack entering the world of the music industry…..period! This venue meant and still means SO much to me. It’s a piece of my past, but it’s always felt like it was a piece of my future too. A future that is not over yet. I, along with thousands upon thousands of Southern California diehards, long for a Westside venue we can call our own. And the Santa Monica Civic was and should be THAT venue. For now and forever.”
Peter Jay Philbin, resident and long-time A&R executive at Columbia Records and Elektra Entertainment: “I was raised in Santa Monica in the ‘50s and ‘60s when it was a sleepy seaside town, the home of the newlywed and the nearly dead.
The Santa Monica Civic was built in 1958. I was 10. And, despite hosting numerous car shows, civic events, and the Academy Awards, the Civic Auditorium basically was wallpaper in my life, which was spent on the beach: body surfing, volleyball, tanning in the sand. That perspective changed in 1965 when I saw Bob Dylan at the Civic. I remember who I was with, the clothes we wore, the language we spoke, the magic of Dylan, and the joy of seeing him perform in a wonderful auditorium. I spent my beach days thereafter, picturing being in Greenwich Village, where Bob Dylan found himself.
After college, I moved to New York City, where I found my life in the music business. Eventually, I moved back to Santa Monica, raised a family, and fortunately lived within the vicinity of the Santa Monica Civic, which changed my life. I can’t imagine a future in Santa Monica without an operating Civic Auditorium. We’ve put aside our City’s cultural soul for the past 10 years, and it’s time to bring it back. In a big way.”
Three very successful music industry pros know the Civic can once again be a successful operating music venue, and aside from their personal stories and the impact the Civic had on their lives, they know that this gem can shine once again and function as it was designed to do.
Seems like the pros know, eh? We thank Mike, Gary, and Peter for their support in saving the Civic, and urge you to write the Santa Monica City Council and tell them the Civic Auditorium, is “not for sale” and to listen to the pros. email@example.com SMa.r.t. Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow (With special thanks to Save the Civic)
Ron Goldman, Architect FAIA; Robert H Taylor, Architect AIA; Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building & Fire-Life Safety Commissioner; Thane Roberts, Architect; Mario Fonda-Bonardi, Architect AIA and ex-Planning Commissioner; Sam Tolkin, Architect, Planning Commissioner; Michael Jolly ARECRE For previous articles, see www.santamonicaarch.wordpress.com/writing.