Robert Frost Auditorium, Culver City High School
The Robert Frost Memorial Auditorium at Culver City High School is one of the most breathtaking Modern buildings ever designed. Its scale and ambition are such that its full beauty can really only be appreciated from above—an aerial view shows its massive roof draped over the auditorium like an enormous leaf, or a scalloped seashell.
Completed in 1964, the Organic Modern-style building was credited to architectural firm Flewelling & Moody, which executed many school designs during the postwar period. It was not until 2019 that reports identified structural engineer Andrew Nasser, then in his twenties and working at the firm Johnson & Neilson, as the auditorium’s lead designer.
The reinforced concrete roof, which is part dome and part folded plate, tops a circular brick building with little ornamentation. The dome is bisected by a huge wall of glass sitting atop and on either side of the circular volume, and is anchored to the ground by a single curved concrete leg arcing over the front entrance. This leg reminds some of those on the Theme Building at the Los Angeles International Airport, another demonstration of the architectural and artistic potential of reinforced concrete.
The Robert Frost Auditorium’s unusual design was inspired partially by the building’s irregularly-shaped triangular plot within the high school campus.
Although the building was beloved by generations of student performers, the space had not kept pace with changes in technology, and producing a show had become more challenging. Beginning in 2014, the project team worked to renovate the iconic auditorium over two phases.
A new catwalk was needed for stage lighting and motorized scenery equipment, elements which would bring the Frost into the twenty-first century and keep pace with contemporary audience expectations. The project team constructed a forty-foot high, steel proscenium arch to support the new catwalks and heavy equipment, a creative solution that allows for more flexibility in productions while not placing pressure on the building’s thin roof.
The team replaced the air conditioning system with a new, more efficient, and smaller system, which freed up space within the building. This allowed them to expand the scene shop and black box theatre. They also improved the acoustics in the main theatre space while still respecting the historic architecture of the iconic roof, made improvements to increase ADA accessibility throughout the building, and upgraded restrooms, ticket booth, and concession stand facilities.
The Frost is now equipped to host a wide range of performances and events. In addition to the high school’s theatre productions, the auditorium is the new home of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra, and it has hosted other public events, such as the Culver City Mayor’s State of the City address.
The Robert Frost Auditorium is truly a remarkable building, and by bringing it into the twenty-first century, it can continue to inspire generations of high school students and the surrounding community.
For event information and other requests, please visit the Culver City Unified School District website at ccusd.org or call (310) 842-4220.