A New Life for the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium


Santa Monica’s Civic Auditorium is a cherished community landmark and cultural pride for the City. After years of inactivity due to the high cost of maintenance and operations and increasing competition from newer music venues, an appointed Civic Working Group was created, with support from HR&A and a team of subconsultants, which included John Kaliski Architects, Sam Schwartz Consulting, and the Cultural Planning Group. The team was tasked with creating a policy framework to repurpose the Civic Auditorium into the anchor of a new mixed-use arts, culture, and entertainment district in the heart of downtown Santa Monica. The framework provides guidelines and recommendations to rehabilitate, redefine, and reconnect the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, and its surrounding 10-acre site, to its adjacent community assets: the Civic Center, Santa Monica High School, the Ocean Park community and the City’s downtown core.


The Civic, as it is known, is a mid-twentieth century International Style auditorium designed by architect Welton Becket, and was designated a local historic landmark in 2002. In its prime, the Civic hosted glamorous events, such as the Academy Awards, and concerts headlined by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Dylan, and many others. To return the Civic to its cultural prestige, HR&A advised the Civic Working Group, and engaged City residents and stakeholders, to consider land use preferences, a range of development opportunities, financing implications, and priority initiatives that will promote the Civic’s rehabilitation, while ushering in a new era of activity and entertainment.


In one of the three well attended public workshops, HR&A introduced an interactive, participatory-planning tool, designed jointly by HR&A and software developer MetroQuest, that invited community members to create a feasible reuse program for the Civic site through a web-based “trade-off tool” application. The trade-off tool allowed participants to balance their respective cultural, recreational, and private land use preferences with the available land area, construction costs, parking requirements, and operating costs for their chosen development scenario. Nearly 1,700 people used the tool, which was also made available on the City’s website, giving the Civic Working Group valuable feedback on the community’s preferences for use in crafting its recommendations to the City Council.


The Civic Working Group incorporated HR&A’s analysis and research, community feedback from the public workshops, and results from 18 months of regular meetings into a set of guiding principles that seek to preserve the historic auditorium, create a cultural campus, provide public open space, and ensure a viable development project.


These guiding principles, and additional recommendations for City Council action, are included in the Civic Working Group’s Summary Report. The Civic Working Group will present these recommendations to the Santa Monica City Council in December 2015.