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Opinion, Santa Monica, Steve Stajich, Civic Center

Five Don’ts For The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium

Steve Stajich, Columnist
Santa Monica Mirror Archives
Steve Stajich, Columnist

Posted Jun. 8, 2013, 9:25 am

Steve Stajich / Mirror Columnist

While there was a healthy turnout and a tailwind of positive energy at the community meeting regarding the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on Tuesday night, there were also at least two distinct vibes in the room that might cause a fan of our historic Civic Auditorium some sleeplessness.

One was the sense that the future of the Civic Auditorium would always be vulnerable to uncertainty because not every plan for facilities of this sort – however well-intended – always works out.  

Take the Forum in Inglewood.  

To my knowledge, it thrived as the home of the Lakers and Kings. Then those teams needed something new and shiny, and the Forum fell silent although voices did fill it on Sundays when it was purchased by a church.  

Now the Forum has new owners, and all they have to do is figure out what to do with it.  

An LA Times article from almost a year ago flatly states that the new Forum owners face “entrenched competition from the region’s other entertainment hot spots amid a challenging climate in the concert business.”

Then there was this other vibe, which we might call “The Great Green Wail.”  

Green, like money.

When “the Wail” is sounded here in Santa Monica, the answer to funding for projects of merit in our city becomes a tightly focused proposal to make things bigger and get more commerce in there by adding restaurants and hotels and retail. But of course developers are going to move closer to any economic wound in Santa Monica and, smelling the blood in the water, start pitching construction and then added congestion for our city as the answer.

So while the momentum to keep the Civic Auditorium not just open but thriving is rich with possibilities, I’d like to offer five humble observations that I came home with after Tuesday’s meeting.  I’ll present them as a series of “Don’ts” regarding Civic Auditorium planning… as in please, do not do this.

One: Please DON’T insist that the only path for keeping the Civic Auditorium alive is to surround it with other new things. We’re already having some open space problems in Santa Monica. As former mayor Mike Feinstein correctly pointed out at the meeting, the records will show that each time the city yields to new construction, there’s a negotiation and compromise on open spaces and those deals will be null and void once we’re actually out of open space. That quickly gets me to the point…

Two: DON’T insist that something good is always coming when we start talking about adding hotels, restaurants, and retail to the ‘mix’ of a project. We know why you like to add those elements. And while it might be pleasant to enjoy a glass of wine in a plaza of some sort added to the site of the Civic Auditorium, I for one remain unconvinced that there is a restaurant and hotel shortage crisis currently crippling our city’s economy.   

Three: DON’T forget that not every citizen in our city has unlimited spendable income.  

There were a few mentions last Tuesday of keeping the programming at the Civic Auditorium open to all, but this column has long argued that the prices for the rides at the pier are prohibitive to even an average family of four.

It will be one thing to develop programming for the Civic Auditorium that accomplishes the singular goal of filling seats. It will be almost entirely another to make certain that the shows and concerts are accessible to all citizens, and that we don’t somehow turn the Civic Auditorium into the “Not Really for Everybody Center”… you know, with wine.   

Four: I’m officially nipping two ideas in the bud right now, changing DON’T to NEVER.  I have no authority here, but in place of authority imagine that I am wielding the Magic Wand of Good Taste.

While a public meeting will naturally cause a few wild ideas to take flight, there will never be digital advertising billboards on or around the Civic Auditorium. Driving past L.A. Live downtown at night will burn that ‘vision’ right out of your eyeballs.

And we’re not going to sell the naming rights to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.  Because that’s like having a doctor approach you at the hospital to explain that he can save your lovely wife but to do so, she’ll be required to wear a humiliating costume every day for the rest of her life.

If you’re still not with me on this, then let me pitch some options for corporate naming rights to the Civic Auditorium: Monsanto, BP Petroleum, Exxon, Dow Chemical, Pringles, Budweiser – you get the idea.

Five: DON’T forget that the entire point of any center for a community is to represent and include the entire community.

I can easily imagine a summer evening concert at the Civic Auditorium headlined by Jackson Browne and other kindred spirits. That’ll be great for Boomer music fans, ages 50 and up, to attend.

But then the next evening there should be an electronic dance/club music (EDM) event, featuring world-class DJ’s and some extra efforts from the facility to meet the energy that sort of event involves.

That’s because in looking at the future of the Civic Auditorium, everyone in that future needs to be included.

Post a comment


Jun. 8, 2013, 11:59:48 am

Jerry McCutcheon said...

First you need to understand your problem is not the building but people in charge. Second, you fire those in charge and obtain someone who can attract users.. In Anchorage we have five auditoriums of different sizes if we can keep them occupied so can Santa Monica. Third your auditorium is better than most of ours fourth, Again-- It is the people in charge that are failing not the building , If you haven't the gut to fire them , Santa Monica cannot win.

Jun. 8, 2013, 1:55:36 pm

Guido Lamell said...

As the Music Director of the Santa Monica Symphony (SMS) which is directly effected by the past, present, and future of Civic Auditorium, I'm happy to second almost every word in Steve Stajich's column. In fact, Steve has nearly repeated some of the thoughts I expressed in that community meeting on June 4th. My main points were that the Civic is"the Crown Jewel" of Santa Monica and it should be protected from any commercial encroachments. I stated that the city council has already approved thousands of new condos, office buildings, and commercial buildings in order to bring money to city coffers. Let us preserve this one last sanctuary of culture and community from any such "money" goals. I made the point that the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. doesn't bring one dollar in "income" and, fortunately, no one is suggesting that it should be turned into condos or Taco Bells or that it should be judged according to earnings record. (at least not yet....) Yes, the SMS has always performed FREE concerts for the public and will continue to do so. We agree... no digital billboards. I would however offer on one slight difference of opinion. In the matter of naming rights, Steve has suggested there should be no copporate names (Exxon, BP, Pringles). There was some discussion of this and there was general agreement on this point. However, there was general agreement that an individual's name would be welcome and in my opinion, that's is how this stalemate may eventually be broken. Think Disney Hall, Colburn School, Carnegie Hall, Kaufman Center, Juilliard School, Broad Stage. I would go further to say that some elements of the eventual total might in fact bear corporate names after the Disney Hall model. Many corporations donated and gave names to specific parts of the whole: Wells Fargo Stage (clever that one), Food for Less Auditorium (I didn't like the sound of that but, hey... it brought in about 4 mil), BP Hall (the front area used for pre-concert lectures). Certainly, we must learn from what has worked in other locations and be open to those ideas. Thaks Steve for your valuable points.

Jun. 15, 2013, 3:22:48 pm

Jill Kelly-Moore said...

I no longer live in SM but I have a long history with the Sm civic, from the free Sunday classical concerts to Bob Dylan and all that. I hope that the group can save this historic building. Thank you for your comments. I'll keep hope alive on this one!

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