Did you know that an enormous sandstone building used to sit near the Long Beach shore?! If you weren’t in Long Beach in or before 1975, when the Municipal Auditorium was demolished, then you might not be aware of it’s existence at all. Today, the Convention Center and Pacific Terrance Theater stand in its place.
An incredible endeavor during the Great Depression, the Municipal Auditorium was built under a $2.8 million bond issue and completed in 1932 by J. Harold Macdowell and W. Horace Austin. Surrounding it was an eight-acre park and 32-acre still water lagoon that was enclosed by the 3,800 foot Rainbow Pier (a giant pier in the shape of a half circle, it’s another Long Beach structure that no longer exists). The building stood nine stories tall and was constructed in an Italian-Renaissance style with a sandstone exterior. The beautiful, monumental structure boasted a large Roman arch on the front facade and an outdoor promenade encircling the third floor. Imagine the city and ocean views!
Thanks to an 11 billion dollar program, the Work Projects Administration, initiated by Franklin Delano Roosevelt to provide employment from years 1935 to 1943 for those desperate for work, a mosaic mural entitled Long Beach Recreation was installed in the recess of the exterior arch in 1938. The title was apt, since the project actually created ‘recreation’ for people in Long Beach without jobs. The result was a large mosaic mural made of 462,000 colored, glazed semivitreous tiles set in waterproof cement depicting the recreational activities of residents along the shore of Long Beach. The 38 x 22 foot mural is one of the largest in the nation!!!
If you’re like us then you’re thinking: but they demolished the building! What a waste of a great artwork! However, the mural was not lost. At the time of demolition the mosaic was moved and today stands at the East 3rd Street terminus of the Downtown Promenade.
During the tough years following the Depression, the building was often offered to conventions for free in an effort to boost the economy, and actually hosted many famous performers including Judy Garland, Elvis and Bob Hope. According to a 1930s Press Telegram article, the building “was designed to meet all the requirements of social, educational, religious, industrial, and political functions of the city and to act as a magnet to draw in the outside world from the many convention groups.” In order to do this, the auditorium contained a convention hall, concert hall, and exhibit hall all in one! And although today the building is gone, our current Convention Center continues to invite organizations, like TED for example, in the same spirit of the original auditorium, to engage in a social dialogue with Long Beach and the rest of the world.
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