Imbibing California’s History: Pan Pacific Cooler

Here’s a question: What do California Adventure (the theme park), Xanadu (the movie), and Fish Heads (the song) all have in common?

Here’s the answer: The Pan Pacific Auditorium!

Old School Pan Pacific Auditorium

The original Pan Pacific Auditorium… truly a work of art…

There it is. Ain’t it beautiful? Even if you aren’t familiar with this particular building, I’m sure you’re familiar with Streamline Moderne design in general. It features “emphasized curving forms, long horizontal lines, and, sometimes, nautical elements.” In fact, there’s even a building made in this style on the smelly shores of the Salton Sea! The North Shore Beach and Yacht Club! It’s a really fun architectural style and the Pan Pacific Auditorium is probably the most famous example of it.

Before we get into its tragic history, let’s have a look at a few of its many appearances in popular culture. First up, we’ve got the super weird Fish Heads video (Pan Pacific appearance is 19 seconds in and doesn’t last long) and a very 80’s music video for She’s My Girl by The Babys.

Goofy stuff. Next up is more goofy stuff! First is another music video. This time, it’s The Producers singing their kinda-sorta hit song, She Sheila. Right after that is a short clip from one of my favorite movies of all time, Xanadu!

The last pop culture reference is at my favorite place in the world! Disneyland! Or… well… technically, it’s at the Disneyland Resort. Specifically, it’s at Disney California Adventure. And the cool thing is, you don’t even have to go in to see it. The entrance of the park is themed to look like the Pan Pacific entrance.

Disney California Adventure Pan Pacific Turnstiles

The Pan Pacific themed entrance to Disney California Adventure

Okie dokie. You’ve seen what the auditorium looks like as well as just a small fraction of its impact in pop culture, so now let’s dig into its history.

The History…

The Pan Pacific’s life can be split into five stages: Origin. Use. Disuse. Death. Rebirth.

Stage One: Origin.

In the early 1930s, Clifford and Phillip Henderson commissioned the architectural firm of Wurdeman and Becket to design an auditorium for them with the design emphasis being on the exterior look of the building. Apparently, the interior was not meant to match the exterior in grandeur and class as the auditorium itself ended up being massive (100,000 square feet and seating for up to 6,000) but quite boring and uninspired. Some have compared it to a high school gymnasium.

The Pan Pacific opened on May 18, 1935 with a massive home show. It sounds pretty boring, but back then home shows were actually a really big deal.

Stage Two: Use.

Once opened, the auditorium was used all the time! Because it was so big, it was able to accommodate a wide variety of events. It was used for all kinds of sporting events, concerts (Elvis played there!), political rallies, auto shows, boat shows, home shows, conventions, etc.

Pan Pacific Auditorium Political Rally

Political Rally for Dwight D. Eisenhower at the Pan Pacific (Los Angeles Times)

Unfortunately, the city of Los Angeles decided it needed a bigger and better venue for conventions and events. The construction of the LA Convention Center was the beginning of the end for the Pan Pacific. A year after the new convention center opened, the Pan Pacific Auditorium closed.

Stage Three: Disuse.

After its closure, there were lots of plans to reopen the auditorium. None gained too much traction. In the mid-70’s, there was a big push to tear it down and turn it into a sprawling, multi-use park for the community. Unfortunately, plans fell through and the land continued to sit stagnant.

In 1978, the newly formed Los Angeles Conservancy got the Pan Pacific Auditorium listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Even with this new designation, the Pan Pacific continued to suffer from non-stop vandalism and small fires caused by the homeless who had pretty much claimed the auditorium for themselves.

Even though the place was completely rundown and in terrible shape, its iconic facade was still being used in pop culture quite often as I have shown up above. Sadly, none of the publicity was ever enough to help kickstart a real push for renovation.

Not even Xanadu could save the Pan Pacific!

Stage Four: Death.

On May 24, 1989, the Pan Pacific Auditorium caught on fire and burned down.


Stage Five: Rebirth.

For over a decade after the fire, the land that held the ashes of Pan Pacific went unused.

And then… in 2002… the Pan Pacific was reborn.

Pan Pacific Park

Pan Pacific Park in sunny Hollywood, California!

Instead of an auditorium, a recreation center and park was built.

Well… technically, there is an auditorium, but it’s tiny compared to the original.

Boom! Pan Pacific Park was born!

Artsy Pan Pacific Park Picture

A lovely homage to its former glory…

While the building constructed is not an exact replica of the original, it was definitely designed as a tribute. Instead of the original four spires, the park’s building now has one. The color scheme is the same and the streamline moderne design is carried on into the rec center. While it is a bummer that we won’t ever get to see the Real McCoy, the new design is truly fantastic.

Some of the walls feature tiles that honor many important Los Angeles area architectural feats of design. Of course… the Pan Pacific Auditorium is included. Very nice. Very subtle.

Pan Pacific Park Historical Tile

There she is… what a beauty…

As for the park itself, according to its website, it features “an auditorium, barbecue pits, baseball diamond (lighted), basketball courts (lighted/indoor/outdoor), children’s play area, indoor gym (without weights), picnic tables, restrooms.” I’ve visited the park, and I can attest to the fact that it really was a great use of the land. I saw tons of kids playing and having fun as well as many adults reading and just enjoying the park.

Really great to know that the memory of such an important Los Angeles icon was not lost and is now being used as a real force for good in its community.

The Cocktail…

And now it is time to raise a glass in honor of the Pan Pacific Auditorium.

Pan Pacific Cooler Cocktail

Pan Pacific Auditorium. Pan Pacific Park. Pan Pacific Cooler!

May I introduce you to my newest California cocktail… the Pan Pacific Cooler. It’s nothing fancy, but it fits with what I think of when I think about the Pan Pacific Auditorium.

I wanted a drink that was light, refreshing, interesting, and tropical. Also… the color had to be somewhere in the vicinity of the Pan Pacific’s original paint color. What I threw together isn’t a perfect match, but it’s some kind of a match and that’s good enough for me!

Pan Pacific Cooler


Pan Pacific Cooler

1 1/2 oz White Rum
1 oz Midori
1 oz Blue Curacao
1/4 oz Galliano
3 oz Pineapple Juice

Shake all ingredients (with ice. duh.) together and then strain over ice in a highball glass.

Again… not exactly sure why I chose a tiki drink for the Pan Pacific, but I did and I am happy with my choice. Actually… I just figured it out. Okay. Here’s how it relates. The Pan Pacific Auditorium was mostly boring (the big, boring auditorium part) but with a dash of interesting awesomeness (the iconic entrance). The Pan Pacific Cooler is mostly boring (typical fruity tiki drink base) but with a dash of a truly intriguing liqueur (Galliano… vanilla and anise make a very unique combo). Is that a stretch? Yeah. Did I plan it? Nope. It is what it is.

Please enjoy your booze responsibly. Also… don’t set any historical landmarks on fire.


This is just one post in our Imbibing California’s History series. Read the rest!

About Adam Willis

I'm just a guy who really likes California. I live in Arizona for now, but will be moving over there as soon as possible. Also. I love you. Smile!

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