Santa Monica Civic Auditorium


Convention hall and performing arts center located a few hundred yards off the beach in Santa Monica, California; America's premier surf movie venue in the 1960s and 1970s, and site of the 1966 International Surfing Magazine Hall of Fame Awards ceremony. "The Civic stood alone," as the Surfer's Journal later noted, "as the premier venue of the 16mm surf movie."

The white-on-white pop-futuristic Santa Monica Civic opened in 1958, cost $2.9 million dollars, and was fronted by a row of distinctive Tomorrowland-style pylons. It was designed by Welton Becket, who also masterminded the now-iconic Capitol Records tower at Hollywood and Vine. The Civic featured a hydraulically controlled main floor which could be tilted down for theatrical productions, or made flat for exhibits and dances. At maximum capacity, the Civic sat 3,000.

From 1961 to 1968 the Civic was home to the Academy Awards ceremonies, and from the late '60s to the late '90s it was a popular midsize venue for rock acts: David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, the Clash, Prince, and U2 were among the artists to perform there. The Civic's most famous event was the 1964 T.A.M.I. Show, a  two-day concert featured James Brown, Chuck Berry, the Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, and the Rolling Stones, among others, and hosted by surf music hitmakers Jan and Dean. The T.A.M.I. Show movie was later selected for the National Film Registry.

John Severson's 1960 film Surf Safari was the first surf movie to play the Civic; a majority of California-made surf movies over the next 20 years also screened there, including Going My Wave (1962), Free and Easy (1967), Cosmic Children (1970), and Free Ride (1977). "The Civic was nestled a mere 12 miles from Malibu," former SURFER editor Paul Gross wrote in 2001, "and when the lights went down, and Mickey Dora came blazing across the screen on a perfect Malibu wall, the roar that erupted was so deafening you couldn't hear the soundtrack. It was a cross between a riot and a revival meeting."

Surfing's biggest and most-anticipated surf movie premiere took place at the Civic March 24, 1972, with the showing of Greg MacGillivray and Jim Freeman's long-awaited Five Summer Stories. Surfboard display booths were set up in the lobby, Laguna Beach country-surf band Honk played before the screening, and at least 500 counterfeit tickets were sold. "People were seated in the aisles, on the stairs, standing along the back," MacGillivray later recalled. "Every nook and cranny was filled—no one could move." Surf movie bookings at the Civic began tapering off in the late '70s and dried up altogether in the mid-'80s as the surf movie was replaced by surf video.

The Los Angeles Surf Fair, trade show precursor to the Action Surf Retailer and Surf Expo events, was held at the Civic from 1962 to 1964. Duke Kahanamoku, Pete Peterson, Greg Noll, Joyce Hoffman, Mickey Dora, Dewey Weber, Bruce Brown, and Phil Edwards were among the 2,000 attendees to the 1966 International Surfing Hall of Fame formal-dress invitation-only gala, also held at the Civic.

The Civic was designated a Santa Monica city landmark in 2001. Unfortunately, the venue by that time was badly in need of repairs and upgrades, and its long-standing annual deficit (picked up by the city of Santa Monica) was heading for $2-million. In 2013, the Civic was closed. As of 2016, the building still stands, but renovation plans have not been approved.