Santa Monica Civic Auditorium

This Corporate International Style auditorium designed by Welton Becket & Associates was recognized by the American Institute of Architects with an Honor Award in 1960.

This Corporate International Style auditorium designed by Welton Becket & Associates was recognized by the American Institute of Architects with an Honor Award in 1960. 

Place Details


1855 Main Street,
Santa Monica, California 90401
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Photo by Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy


For years the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium has faced an uncertain future. The loss of community redevelopment funds in 2012 derailed the City’s original plans for a multi-million dollar renovation of the facility that called for seismic retrofits, heating/air conditioning upgrades, modern restrooms, and reconfiguration of the auditorium.

The building officially closed in its regular operating capacity on June 30, 2013. Under an interim plan adopted by the Santa Monica City Council on June 11, 2013, the facility is currently operating in a limited capacity. The east wing is used for events, and the main hall marketed for filming. The City and community are carefully examining options for the future of the historic venue.

In June 2018, the City of Santa Monica released a Request for Proposals seeking development teams that included an operator for the renovation, development, and operation of the Civic Auditorium. The City has not yet announced the next steps in the planning process. In light of recent budget cuts, we are concerned that the City will put proposals for the Civic Auditorium on hold.

About This Place

About This Place

The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium was inaugurated in June 1958 and quickly became one of the region’s most notable multi-purpose civic auditorium facilities, both for its technological innovations and its cultural associations. Designed by Welton Becket & Associates, the Civic Auditorium was recognized by the AIA with an Honor Award in 1960. The Corporate International Style structure is boldly sited at the south end of Santa Monica’s Civic Center, aligned on axis with Main Street and facing southbound traffic before the street veers to the west. The dramatic entrance features an unobstructed canopy supported by parabolic pylons rising 72 feet in height. The entire façade is shielded by a concrete brise soleil (sun screen) of interlocking geometric forms.

The Civic Auditorium was hailed for its technological innovations, including its unique hydraulic system that can transform the main floor from a flat surface for convention purposes to a raked floor for theater productions. At the time of its completion, it was the nation’s third, and largest, installation of a floating floor of this type. Internationally renowned acoustical engineer Vern O. Knutsen, who was a professor and Chancellor of UCLA, was responsible for the building’s remarkable acoustics. The venue’s versatility enabled it to function as a theater, concert hall, trade show and convention auditorium.

The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium functioned as a vibrant cultural and community hub for several decades, playing host to leading artists and events of the day. In the late 1950s, top performers headlining at the Civic Auditorium included Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra. From 1961 through 1968, the venue hosted the Academy Awards ceremonies, and from 1964 through the 1980s, rock concerts were part of the offerings, with singers including Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Elton John and David Bowie. Other events have included symphony concerts, live theater and film screenings, sporting events ranging from basketball to boxing, and exhibits and trade shows.

The Civic Working Group, a nine-member body appointed by the City Council, worked for almost two years to facilitate a community visioning process for the future of the Civic Auditorium and produced two reports in 2015 outlining the group’s recommendations.

The City commissioned the Urban Land Institute (ULI) to examine strategies to revitalize the Civic Center as a self-supporting venue. The ULI’s Technical Assistance Panel produced a recommendation report that determined that the City should save the Civic Auditorium even though it is not the most economical path. The report offered a vision that included a list of ways the 10-acre site could generate funds to support both the renovations and the operating subsidies.

In October 2022, the Civic Center was designated as surplus land by the City Council, which allowed for the City to accept proposals for the site from interested applicants. A public notice and request for letters of interest for the revitalization of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium as an entertainment, events and cultural arts venue was released in January 2023.

Our Position

The local advocacy group Save the Civic was founded in November 2012 as a coalition of concerned community members and local business leaders working towards the common goal of restoring and enhancing the Civic Auditorium’s place as a vibrant cultural and community hub.

Though built as a multi-purpose venue, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium has in recent years been unable to generate enough revenue to cover annual operating costs. The once state-of-the-art facility has lost competition to other regional venues with more modern production capabilities and amenities.

The Conservancy and its Modern Committee joined with local advocates in seeking local landmark designation for the Civic Auditorium in 2001-2002.


Santa Monica Civic Center, 2011 | Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy
Santa Monica Civic Center, 2011 | Adrian Scott Fine/L.A. Conservancy