Shrine Auditorium
Los Angeles, CA


The first Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA - c.1906
Postcard courtesy ebay

The full name for the Shrine Auditorium is Al Malaikah Shriners Ancients Arabic Order Nobles of Mystic Shrine.1 It is part of the Shrine fraternity that was founded in 1872 as an adjunct of the Masonic fraternity, the oldest and largest fraternal organization in the world. Shriners are a social fraternity committed to fraternal fellowship and the organization sponsors the Shriners Hospitals for Children. The Al Malaikah Shrine was established in 1888 and is one of 191 Shrine Centers with nearly 500,000 Shriners nationwide. The original Shrine Auditorium, at 649 W. Jefferson Blvd. in Los Angeles, was completed in 1906.2


The first Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA - c.1906-1920
Photo courtesy USC Libraries Digital Archive


Aerial view looking east at the first Shrine Auditorium burning - Jan. 11, 1920
Photo courtesy USC Libraries Digital Archive

On January 11, 1920, the Auditorium burned to the ground. It took six years of planning and funding before the new Auditorium was completed. Once rebuilt, on the same site of the original Auditorium, the facility was unique among the theater structures because of its size, versatility and unique interior and exterior design.2


Construction of the new Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles - c. 1920s
Photo courtesy Shrine Auditorium


Construction of the new Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles - c. 1920s
Photo courtesy Shrine Auditorium

The new, $2.5 million, 6,500-seat Shrine Auditorium was designed by architect John C. Austin with a Moorish/Moroccan style. The interior was created by popular theatre designer G. Albert Lansburgh. It opened on January 23, 1926 as the world’s largest theatre with an adjacent ballroom that could hold about 6,000.1


SW corner of Shrine Auditorium - c. 1930
Photo courtesy USC Libraries Digital Archive


Shrine Auditorium - c.1956
Photo by Dick Whittington Studio courtesy USC Libraries Digital Archive


Interior of Shrine Auditorium showing stage - Feb. 1926
Photo courtesy USC Libraries Digital Archive

From the outside, the Shrine Auditorium resembles an exotic Arabian mosque from ages past, or some west coast Taj Mahal, replete with white Persian domes and Moorish arches. Inside, it is a lush, old-fashioned opera house, with red velvet seats and tiered balconies overlooking its cavernous interior.3 The Shrine Auditorium comprises the single largest proscenium style stage in North America with a free standing balcony.2


The Shrine Auditorium stage and chandelier from the balcony - c.1920s
Photo courtesy Shrine Auditorium


The Shrine Auditorium view from the stage - c.1920s
Photo courtesy Shrine Auditorium


The Shrine Auditorium stage view from the balcony - c.1920s
Photo courtesy Shrine Auditorium

When it opened, as the world's largest theater, the theatre’s crystal chandelier was also heralded as the world’s largest. It weighs four tons, measures twenty feet across, and consists of 500 red, white, blue, and amber bulbs.1 The auditorium's unusual architecture (inside and out) has made it a favorite movie location.2


King Kong as appeared on the stage of the Shrine Auditorium - 1933
Photo © Turner Home Entertainment Group

In 1933 the world saw the Shrine's stage in the RKO Pictures' production of King Kong.  Stop-action animator William Harold (Willis) O’Brien is still lauded as creating one of the most spectacular stop-action creatures in film history.  The actual stage and theater of the Shrine was used in filming to depict Kong in the story after his capture and presentation to the world at the Broadway Theater in New York.


Photo © Turner Home Entertainment Group

Inside the theater, a shot of a real audience filmed inside the Shrine Auditorium appears to be split-screened with a miniature curtain, which is then raised via animation to reveal the chained Kong, who is placed on the real Shrine stage via another split screen. The close-up shot of Kong grunting was filmed using the Big Head.  The side views of Kong becoming agitated were filmed on the miniature stage and then rear projected behind the actors playing the reporters in the wings. To film the shot of Kong jumping off his platform, the actors playing the reporters were filmed running off into the real wings of the Shrine Auditorium and then rear projected behind the miniature Kong as he drops down into the frame.4

The film won no awards though in later years it was deemed "culturally, historically and aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.  

In 1947 a yet to be explained accident reputedly occurred when a secret un-piloted Navy plane smashed into the Shrine's roof near its south west cupola and burned.  No one was injured.  1947 was also the year that the Academy Awards ceremony made its debut at the Shrine Auditorium, and back again in 1948.5


Judy Garland onstage at the Shrine in a scene from A Star Is Born - 1954
Photo/capture courtesy web

Years later, Academy Award winning director George Cukor took advantage of the vast stage and cavernous auditorium for the 1954 remake of A Star is Born featuring Judy Garland.  They spent six days shooting scenes at the Shrine taking full advantage of the use of  Cinemascope and Technicolor.  "It is in the Shrine Auditorium scenes that color really plays its big scene.  Nearly 800 extras in the theater are grouped in accordance with the color of the women's evening clothes. We put the women in yellow in one part of the auditorium, those in gray in another.  People formed blocks of color which blended into each other without that restless, dispersed look usually seen in crowd scenes... We tested the color of the theater program four separate times before we decided on the final phosphorescent pink."  The Shrine's adjacent 54,000 square foot exposition hall proved very advantageous for the shoot as well allowing them to comfortably accommodate several thousand people, dining tables, makeup cubicles, and costume racks; food could be prepared and served from the in-house kitchen.6


Elvis backstage at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net

Coincidentally, years later, Elvis would be approached to costar with Barbra Streisand in the 1976 remake of A Star is Born, but either on advice from the Colonel or by his own decision he would turn down the role much to the dismay of several of his friends and many of his fans.  The role instead would go to Kris Kristofferson.


L.A. Times - June 3, 1956

On June 3, 1956, the same day as Elvis, Scotty, Bill and D.J.'s second appearance on the Milton Berle Show, the L.A. Times ran a small blurb announcing Elvis' first public performance in Los Angeles to be held at the Shrine Auditorium on June 8th in a show presented by Eddie Granz that would include eight other acts.  His first appearance in California was two months earlier, in April, in San Diego at the time of his first Milton Berle show appearance which was broadcast from the deck of the U.S.S. Hancock.  The appearance at the Shrine, would be preceded by a return appearance to the San Diego Arena and a show in Long Beach at the Municipal Auditorium.


Elvis rehearses at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net


KPOL Newsman Lew Irwin - c.1960
Photo courtesy Marvin Collins and Earthsignals.com

Backstage at the Shrine Auditorium on the 8th, Elvis was interviewed by Lew Irwin.  Lew was a newsman for Los Angeles AM radio KPOL from 1955 to 1962.  The interview, as transcribed and published by Jerry Osborne in Elvis: Word for Word, went as follows:


Elvis rehearses at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net

Elvis, how does someone like you come out from Tennessee out here to Hollywood and break into this business the way you have?
That's a pretty tough question. I don't know. Like I said I’ve just had some good breaks.


Elvis rehearses at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net

How'd the breaks come?
I mean television and stuff like that. And records, I got an RCA Victor contract. Then I got on some of the big television shows and I got better known by the people and started sellin' my records more, and then I got a movie contract. And everything just...


Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net

Seemed to snap. .seemed to click?
Seemed to snap. Yes, that's exactly right.


Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net


Scotty, Elvis and D.J. at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net

What happens with rhythm and blues? Is this just a fad? Are you just a fad? What happens next?
You tell me (laughs). I wish I knew.


Elvis and D.J. at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net


Elvis and D.J. at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net

What is rhythm and blues?
Rhythm and blues is just rock and roll. It's a music. Rhythm and blues, it's a craze, but it's a very good craze in that there is some very beautiful songs recorded in rhythm and blues, if the people will just take time. ..some of the people that don't like it. .. would just take time out to listen to it. There's some very beautiful songs, for instance "Ivory Tower."


Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net


Elvis and D.J. at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net

How do you explain the controversy over your music?
Well it makes the crowd go wild. I mean, the people like it, they feel it. In other words, they cant sit still when they hear it.


Elvis and D.J. at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net


Elvis and Bill at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo courtesy Elvis Album

You’ve probably heard that rock and roll was outlawed just last week in a northern California city. People have been saying that it’s contributing to juvenile delinquency. I'm sure you don’t agree with that.
I don’t! I do not agree. Not only because I do it, but because its untrue. Rock and roll is a music. Why should a music contribute to rock and roll...I mean contribute to juvenile delinquency. If people are gonna be juvenile delinquents they’re gonna be delinquents if they hear Mother Goose rhymes. Rock and roll does not contribute to juvenile delinquency at all. The only thing about it is, in some of the auditoriums the kids get up and start dancin' in the aisles, and they start squealin’ and everything and kickin’ the seats. Now that's the only thing that I know of. And that doesn't happen all the time. It just happens in some cases.


Elvis and D.J. at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net


Elvis and Scotty at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net

Overall, how has the reaction been?
The reaction has been very well. I don't want to sound like I'm braggin’ or anything, but reaction has been very good and the people have accepted me very well.


Elvis and Bill at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net


Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo courtesy Elvis Album

Why do you think you didn't go over so well in Las Vegas?
There was no teenagers. I mean the reaction was as well as anybody could expect, but it was only my imagination because I was used to a bunch of howling, screaming teenagers, and in Las Vegas there's no teenagers. They're all elderly folks. . .they are all older.


Scotty, Elvis and D.J. at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net


D.J. and Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net

So rock and roll is a music for teenagers, you would say?
No, I didn't mean it that way. It's just that I was used to the screamin’ teenagers and there was none out there.


Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net

 
Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net

It will be accepted, you think, more by older people soon?
I don't know about that either. But I just know that right now it's the biggest record-selling business there is... is rock and roll.


Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net


Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff's Long Lonely Highway

How many records have you sold?
You mean all totaled or on one. . .each individual record?


Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff's Long Lonely Highway


Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net

All totaled?
Oh, I guess I ’ve sold two and one-half million.


Elvis backstage at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net


Elvis backstage at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky © Mark Reshovsky courtesy MPTV.net

Two and one-half million. How do you explain your success?
I've had some very lucky and wonderful breaks, and the people have really been accepting me very well everywhere we've been. And a lot of different things.

The shows in San Diego and Long Beach were reviewed locally, the former being the typical less than stellar "kids liked it, adults didn't" variety.  The Shrine show though, unlike his next L.A. appearance the following year at the Pan-Pacific Auditorium, apparently received no reviews in the L.A. Papers at all.  One might wonder if this may have been attributed to the fact that his national appearance on the Milton Berle show earlier in the week had the press and more than a few viewers appalled. 


President Eisenhower at Shrine Auditorium - Oct. 20, 1958
L.A. Examiner Photo by Rustan courtesy USC Libraries Digital Archive

In October of 1958 while campaigning for Republicans in the home State of his Vice President, Richard M. Nixon, California, President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered a Radio and Television address from the Shrine Auditorium. Nixon's mother, among others was onstage with him. In his speech, among the other accomplishments he attributes to Republicans of that era and administration was "an America at peace."  By this time, the days of touring by Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ as a band were over.  Elvis had been inducted into Eisenhower's peacetime Army and had shipped to Germany almost a month before where he would remain until March of 1960.


"Jimi Hendrix Pinnacle Concert - Shrine Auditorium"
courtesy Rock Pop Gallery

The 1960s saw acts at the Shrine such as The Grateful Dead, The Velvet Underground, The Butterfield Blues Band and Sly & the Family Stone.  A Jimi Hendrix concert in 1968 was associated with the Pinnacle Production Company, which put on a series of highly-regarded concerts in the L.A. area, primarily at the Shrine Auditorium.  This show featured psychedelic visuals projected on huge screens set up on stage behind the band. One video sequence showed a mirror-imaged female – apparently naked – moving tastefully in an Oriental/Indian-style dance routine. According to some sources, while the fans at the show were mesmerized by this imagery, the owners of the auditorium – the Shriners – were somewhat miffed and therefore would not allow any more Pinnacle concerts in the Auditorium. They did, however, allow the Pinnacle folks to put on shows at the exhibition center next door.7

In a freak accident in 1984 Michael Jackson received second degree burns after special effects went wrong and his hair caught fire while filming a commercial for Pepsi Cola on the stage at the Shrine in front of 3,000 of his fans.8 

The Shrine Auditorium was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.1


Frank Sinatra at the Shrine Auditorium - Nov. 19, 1995
AP Photo by Mark Terrill courtesy Iconocast

On November 19, 1995 Frank Sinatra made his last televised appearance during the taping of a celebration of his 80th birthday from the Shrine Auditorium.  Produced by Dick Clark, "Sinatra: 80 Years My Way," featured a varied mixture of long time and contemporary performers such as Bob Dylan, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Tony Bennet, Natalie Cole, Julio and Enrique Inglesias, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Reba McEntyre, Garth Brooks, Michael Bolton, Janet Jackson, Puffy Daddy and Matchbox 20 among others, each paying tribute to Frank.


The Shrine in preparation for an Emmy Awards show
Photo courtesy Shrine Auditorium

The Academy Awards returned to the Shrine in 1988, 1989, 1991, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000 and lastly in 2001.  From 1998 through 2007 the Auditorium was home to the 50th through the 59th Annual Emmy Awards show hosted by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.  Coincidentally, in 2005, Jonathan Rhys Meyers was nominated for an Emmy in the category of Outstanding Lead Actor in Miniseries or a Movie for his portrayal of Elvis in the CBS Miniseries "Elvis." 


The Shrine Auditorium stage view from the balcony - Nov. 4, 2002
Photo © Ken Roe London, UK


The Shrine Auditorium view from the stage - Nov. 4, 2002
Photo © Ken Roe London, UK


The Shrine Auditorium stage and chandelier from the balcony - Nov. 4, 2002
Photo © Ken Roe London, UK

Over the years, the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Center has also been selected as the West Coast location for the American Music Awards, the MTV Music Awards, BET Awards, the Grammys, Screen Actors Guild Awards, NAACP Image Awards, the Soul Train Music Awards, the American Comedy Awards, and others. And all of this is in addition to the Shrine's regular schedule of concerts, operas, TV specials, the Bolshoi Ballet and other special events.2


Interior of Shrine Auditorium showing stage - Nov. 4, 2002
Photo © Ken Roe London, UK


The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA - April 15, 2007
Photo © Bob Duhrke


The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA - May 3, 2008
Photo © Floyd B. Bariscale

As newer venues like the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood and the new Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles were built many of the award shows moved from the Shrine Auditorium. In 2002, they finished a $10 million restoration of the Shrine which has brought back a lot of the old Hollywood grandeur to the fading auditorium, replacing the seats, restoring the wood floors and making the interior once again a bright, colorful venue. The exterior of the building is now beige with gold domes.3


Actor Hugh Laurie (C) and cast accept the award for "House" - Jan 7, 2009
Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images North America

Today, with its state-of-the-art technology the Shrine Auditorium still prides itself on being the largest facility of its kind in North America. It is still home to many major awards shows, world class pageants and special events from around the globe, from world class symphony orchestras to live film and music multimedia productions.2 In 2007 and 2009 the Shrine Auditorium continued to shine as it hosted the 33rd and 35th Annual People's Choice Awards.


The Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, CA - c.1922
Postcard courtesy ebay

page added May 12, 2009

1 according to "Big Orange Landmarks: No. 139 - Shrine Auditorium by Floyd B. Bariscale
2 according to Shrine Auditorium website
3 courtesy Seeing Stars: Hollywood Landmarks - The Shrine Auditorium
4 excerpted from  King Kong: the history of a movie icon from Fay Wray to Peter Jackson By Ray Morton
5 according to Shrine Auditorium by Ken Roe courtesy Cinema Treasures
6 according to A Star Is Born: The Making of the 1954 Movie and Its 1983 Restoration by Ronald Haver
7 according to the Rock Pop Gallery
8 according to 1984: Michael Jackson burned in Pepsi ad courtesy BBC News


Reshovsky and the Shrine Revisited


Photo courtesy FECC/djc

Nineteen years ago this month RCA released the The King of Rock 'n' Roll: The Complete 50s Masters. This five-disc compilation comprised the complete known studio master recordings by Elvis from 1953 thru 1958.  The cover used for the set was an Ernest Reshovsky photo from the performance at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles on June 8, 1956.  When I first added this page about the Shrine (see above) two years ago with Reshovsky's photos, Ger Rijff, the illustrator, collector and renowned publisher of a multitude of photo books featuring Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ in the the '50s had this to say about the cover and Reshovsky's photos:

Sam Theaker found the Shrine pix, back in 77-78, in a little photo collectors shop, downtown Hollywood. He and I went back there a little later where I bought a set of approx 30 large prints. Sam ( aka Vic) used a bunch of the pix for his Rockin' Rebel LP cover and bonus photo booklet. Some years later, Ernst Jorgensen and his ex, Regitsa, visited my place to sort out photos for the 50s box set project. Regitsa picked out the one used on the cover of the box. Good choice !


Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo by Ernest Reshovsky courtesy FECC/Joern

All the Shrine images have been turning up just about everywhere in the last 30 years... But not the ones from photographer Reshovsky, as seen in the coverage here on the Shrine concert. Only half a dozen saw print in various 1950s / 60s publications such as Hep Cats and Moviescreen. The rest were stored away in the photographers archives... I have no idea when they turned up in recent years, but its great to see them now, some 53 (now 55) years after Reshovsky made them.

Since then several fans and members of the collector's club, FECC, have been locating and identifying more photos from that appearance in publications like those mentioned by Ger and elsewhere, several of which, if not all, are possibly by Reshovsky as well.  Since today is the the 55th anniversary of the LA appearance at the Shrine I thought I'd add a few of them here. 


Elvis and Hugh Jarrett and others at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo courtesy Cristi Dragomir


Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo courtesy eBay and FECC/thefunkyangel


Elvis backstage at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo courtesy FECC/Elvis_Lady1967


Elvis backstage at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo courtesy Cristi Dragomir


Gene Smith, Elvis and Scotty backstage at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo from Remembering Elvis Part 2 courtesy Cristi Dragomir


Elvis and fans backstage at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo from Ger Rijff's Shock Rattle and Roll courtesy Cristi Dragomir


Elvis and fans backstage at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo from Strictly Elvis 22 courtesy Cristi Dragomir


Elvis at the Shrine Auditorium - June 8, 1956
Photo courtesy FECC/Elvis_Lady1967

section added June 8, 2011

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