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Walt Disney World Architecture in Real Life – The Pan Pacific Auditorium

By: Kendall Foreman

A photo of the entrance to Disney's Hollywood Studios which is where guests pass through the ticket plaza that was created to look like the Pan Pacific Auditorium that was in Los Angeles, CA.

The Gilded Age of the 1920s was a time of opulence following the strife of the first World War. Structures such as the Chrysler Building were dominated by the vertical and geometric lines of the extravagant Art Deco architectural style.

But the 1930s brought the Great Depression, and with it came struggle and change. Partially in an effort to stimulate consumer spending, Chicago hosted the 1933-34 World’s Fair where the latest in design and technology was on display. It was there that Americans were introduced to Art Deco’s cousin, Streamline Moderne. Influenced by the desire for functionality in the post-depression era, the new style utilized cost-effective materials and focused on horizontal and curvilinear lines which evoked various modes of transportation such as ocean liners, trains, airplanes, and automobiles.

Soon, the style was present across the country in the form of diners, gas stations, train terminals, and commercial buildings. But perhaps one of the most famous examples of Streamline Moderne was built in 1935 at the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Pan Pacific Auditorium was designed by Los Angeles architectural firm Wurdeman and Becket. (“Becket” as in Welton Becket, who would later work with Walt Disney on both the Ford and General Electric pavilions for the 1964 World’s Fair and whose architectural firm would design both Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort.) The structure’s smooth façade, curved corners, banding, and four pylons with flags atop all allude to the aerodynamics found in the vehicles of that time.

The 100,000-square-foot building was Los Angeles’ preeminent event center for several decades, hosting everything from the National Housing Exposition to the Ice Capades to Elvis Presley, but it was unable to survive the competition of the Los Angeles Convention Center and was eventually shut down in 1972. Sadly, it fell into disrepair and even its 1978 listing on the National Register of Historic Places was unable to bring about a revival.

In spite of its depressing state at the time, the auditorium’s architectural significance and iconic Hollywood history led to it being chosen to be featured in Walt Disney World’s third theme park. Disney-MGM Studios opened to the public on May 1, 1989, and just as the Pan Pacific Auditorium welcomed attendees to all manner of happenings, its re-creation welcomed park guests on opening day. Shockingly, the original survived just three more weeks until on May 24, 1989, the Pan Pacific Auditorium burned down.

Today, the identifiable curves and pylons still serve as the ticket plaza at the entrance to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (and can also be found re-created in Disney’s California Adventure Park). Those classic features are just a taste of the Streamline Moderne style that can be found in several places throughout the park where each structure stands as a tribute to the architectural history of Los Angeles.

Photos courtesy of Melanie Whitfield.

Kendall has been a member of the WDW Radio Team since 2013. Today, you can read her work on the WDW Radio Blog or hear her join Lou for a number of WDW Radio podcast episodes. Kendall’s affection for Walt Disney World began with her very first family visit in the 1990s and has continued with each magical vacation since. Follow her on Twitter @kl_foreman.