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The Pasadena Civic Auditorium opened in February 1932, designed by the team of George Bergstrom, Cyril Bennett and Fitch Haskell. The huge auditorium seats 2,997. During the 1930s and 1940s the Pasadena Civic hosted numerous community events and radio broadcasts, helping to spread Pasadena’s name throughout California and across the US.
The Civic Auditorium was the last of three major civic center projects for Pasadena, following construction of the city’s library and City Hall. Funding came from the city’s Water & Power Department.
The exterior building is an Italian Renaissance style with the main façade set well back from Green St to allow for a large civic plaza. The interior decoration scheme is by Jess Stanton (Stanton also designed the exterior tiling), executed in a Mediterranean Revival style with Greek influences and even heraldic themes on the side walls. The auditorium’s intricately painted ceiling design is by Giovanni Smeraldi. The wide panels flanking the proscenium arch are Grecco-Roman with, in our humble opinion, a suggestion of Escher!
The theatre is arguably best known for being the home for the Emmy Awards from 1977 until 1997. To this day it continues to be a popular venue for TV specials and is regularly used for America’s Got Talent auditions.
The Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever TV special was taped at the Pasadena Civic on March 25, 1983 and is best remembered for Michael Jackson’s performance of “Billie Jean” in which he debuted his signature dance move – the Moonwalk.
In 1979 the Pasadena Civic was gifted a Möller theatre organ (Opus 6690). The organ has a storied past, having been commissioned in the late 1930s by ex-BBC Organist Reginald Foort, to fulfill his desire to tour a full size organ all around the UK to educate and entertain those who wouldn’t normally have access to such an experience. The organ was originally a 5-manual, 27-rank instrument, and weighed-in at 30 tons. It was transported around the UK in four large trucks by a staff of 15. Early in World War II, the BBC’s Compton theatre organ was destroyed in an air raid; Foort, upon hearing the news, loaned the Möller organ to the BBC. Post-war, with many UK theatres closed, Foort recognized that further organ tours were impractical and so he sold the organ to the BBC, who acquired a church in Hoxton, just north of Shoreditch in London, as a new BBC Studio to house the organ. The organ was heard broadcasting on the BBC for almost 20 years. In 1963 the organ was sold to Radio Netherlands Worldwide and moved to a church in Hilversum. The organist, Cor Steyn, largely responsible for its installation, passed away soon after installation and the organ remained silent for most of its time in Europe. Ten years later the organ was purchased for installation into Organ Power Pizza of Pacific Beach in San Diego, where it was dedicated in 1975 after a comprehensive rehabilitation at the Möller factory, including addition of a Trumpet en chamade taking the organ up to 28 ranks. In 1979 the organ came up for sale again, at which point J.B. Nethercutt, co-founder of Merle Norman Cosmetics and a collector of organs and similar musical instruments, formulated a plan to purchase the organ and donate it to the city of Pasadena.
The Pasadena Civic has hosted the New York Philharmonic, the London Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pasadena Symphony (their home for some time), and MUSE/IQUE, a counter-conventional orchestra. A Wenger Orchestra Shell is installed. The theatre was host to the dance program for the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival in addition to repeated engagements by the American Ballet Theatre, Dance Theatre of Harlem, and the San Francisco Ballet.
In addition to the theatre space the building also houses the Gold Room, a Georgian-style ballroom located in front of the Mezzanine lobby, above the entrance lobby, which can cater to a crowd of 300. The Gold Room has a small stage and can be used for move projection.
Bill Clinton appeared in conversation at the Pasadena Civic in 2009. Artists who have appeared at the Pasadena Civic include Victor Borge, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Hope, Luciano Pavarotti, Josh Groban, Marian Anderson, Eric Clapton, David Copperfield, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Hal Holbrook, Arthur Rubenstein and Carlos Santana. Broadway productions include Cats, Les Misérables, Riverdance, Beauty and the Beast, and Evita.
The Pasadena Civic does not currently offer tours however they host many events which are available to book online at the theatre’s website .
Another way of getting into the Pasadena Civic is to audition for America’s Got Talent . AGT generally holds their auditions every February/March at the theatre. Free audience tickets are usually available as well, most commonly from the On Camera Audiences ticketing agency.
|Total Linesets||58 (House Curtain permanent on L/S 1), with 2 additional lines for SR and SL Ladders|
|Available Counterweights||45,000 lbs|
|Individual Arbor Capacity||Max 1,000 lbs|
|Lines per Lineset||4|
|System Type||Single Purchase Counterweight system operated Stage Right|
|Seating Capacity||Total 2,997 (Orchestra 1,978 seats, of which 98 are removeable over the Orchestra Pit; Loge 560 seats; Balcony 459 seats)|
|Balcony Overhang||Row P of Orchestra seats|
|Followspots||2 @ Strong Gladiator II (2.5kW Xenon)|
|Followspot Booth Throw||120ft to Proscenium|
|Depth of Stage||43ft from Plaster Line to Rear Wall|
|Stage Left Wing||25ft wide|
|Stage Right Wing||23ft wide|
|Organ Type||Moller Organ: 5 manual, 28 rank Theatre Organ|
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Text copyright © 2017-2019 Mike Hume/historictheatrephotos.com.
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