The Shrine Auditorium, once home to the Academy Awards, hosted countless landmark concerts in its prime, but now is less in the spotlight than its rival up Figueroa — LA Live. Still, the Shrine has found a second life as a hub for raves.
Built in 1906 as an Al Malaikah Temple (L.A.’s headquarters for the Shriners), the original Shrine Auditorium stood 14 years before it went up in flames in 1920. The original building — which boasted the Titantic-esque quality of being “practically fireproof” — burned to the ground in under a half hour. (The cause is unknown.)
The second Shrine, designed by famed Los Angeles architects John C. Austin and G. Albert Lansburgh, was grander than the original. Best known for his work on the Griffith Observatory and City Hall, Austin harnessed the exotic qualities of the arabic and mystical history behind the “Al Malaikah Shriners Ancients Arabic Order Nobles of Mystic Shrine” (yes, that is the building’s full name) for his Moroccan palace exterior complete with arched hallways and gilded domes.
The interior is just as majestic thanks to Landsburgh’s flare for the luxurious, as seen in his other works: El Capitan, the Wiltern and the Orpheum. Landsburgh built upon Austin’s design with a stunningly ornate Moorish-revival-art-deco ceiling resembling the rich cloths of a Bedouin tent. The Shrine’s décor complimented its distinction of being the largest indoor auditorium in the world at the time, with the ability to hold 1,200 people on stage, 6,442 people in the audience. (It’s still one of the largest in the U.S.)
The rebuilt auditorium hosted frequent opera, classical and ballet performances. King Kong‘s iconic scene where the shackled beast is revealed to a stunned audience was filmed at the Shrine in 1933. Elvis Presley’s first Los Angeles performance was at the Shrine on June 8, 1956, and jumpstarted the venue’s reputation as a pop music venue. It later hosted Jimi Hendrix, Sly and the Family Stone, The Grateful Dead, and Whitney Houston.
In fact, it was at the Shrine that Michael Jackson’s hair caught on fire, during the shooting of a 1984 Pepsi commercial, which resulted in serious burns on his face and scalp.
In the ’80s and ’90s it was the go-to location for the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys, as well as the location for Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday celebration, which was his last television appearance.
The new millennium brought shiny new venues that edged out the Shrine. Hollywood gave the Oscars a facelift with the Kodak Dolby Theatre, and the Emmys and Grammys followed suit moving to LA Live, specifically the newly built Nokia Theater and Staples Center respectfully.
The Shrine occasionally attracts well-known acts these days — Jack White most recently — and its adjoining ballroom-turned-“Expo Center” frequently hosts huge events, catering primarily to the EDM scene by hosting the HARD Haunted Mansions until 2011 and “The Worlds Largest Paint Party”, as well as the convention circuit.
With its close proximity to USC and shows like Steve Aoki’s upcoming “Birthday Bash” on November 21 the Shrine’s target audience has shifted. While radio events and variety shows still fill the theater’s plush seats, its prestige days seem to be largely behind it. But if it’s a relic, it’s certainly a beautiful one.
Taken from LA Weekly’s music blog: West Coast Sound. Published November 6, 2012