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Pan Pacific Languishes in the Planning Stage

January 05, 1986|MATHIS CHAZANOV | Times Staff Writer

One year ago, plans were unveiled for the rejuvenation of the Pan Pacific Auditorium, a historic building that had fallen on hard times.

Scorched by fires, the sprawling sea-green structure on Beverly Boulevard near Gardner Street had been abandoned since it closed its doors in 1972.

But on Jan. 17, 1985, Supervisor Ed Edelman called a news conference to reveal the details of a proposed hotel and cinematheque inside the 50-year-old structure.

Plans called for refurbishing the decayed facade and constructing more than 100 hotel rooms and several theaters that would show old and new movies in a sort of permanent film festival.

Ground-breaking was set for the summer, spokesmen for the developer, the Somerset Co., said at the time. But work has yet to begin on the $30-million project. The latest estimate calls for work to commence in July.

"A project like this takes a long time and although we've been working on it regularly, people in the neighborhood haven't been able to see any progress," said Edelman aide Susan Loewenkamp. "But there has been progress on the drawing boards. It's not a problem. It's just taking longer than anybody thought it would."

Don Zerfas, a partner in the Somerset Co., said design and financing of the project turned out to be "much more complicated than we originally anticipated."

The novelty of building a hotel inside a decrepit structure that has become a home to derelicts may have frightened some potential investors, he said.

They may also have been concerned about potential tax breaks for restoring a historic building. Benefits for projects completed by 1988 were retained in the House version of President Reagan's tax reform proposals, but there is no guarantee that the Senate will go along.

Zerfas said Somerset expects to reach agreement with one potential investor in the next two or three months. Once that is arranged, the company hopes to put together the rest of the financing in a combination of equity investment and long-term loans.

Once construction begins, completion can be expected in 15 or 16 months, Zerfas said.

"So it's behind schedule, but nothing has occurred that would present what we would consider an impossible problem of any kind," he said.

Somerset's architects have been proceeding with design work despite the delays.

Their preliminary plans are expected to be approved by county and state officials some time this month--a move that should help attract investors. The next step will be to prepare detailed working drawings, which should be completed and approved by June.

"We're expecting them to be able to break ground out there in July," said Curt Robertson, contract manager for the county parks department, which is coordinating the project for several state and local agencies that own the property.

Meanwhile, the site is surrounded by a wire fence that does not hide the piles of debris left from the demolition of a movie theater and bowling alley that were not considered to be historic structures.

Graffiti cover the auditorium like colorful weeds, as they do virtually every surface of a flood-control structure and playground equipment in the county park next door.

Erected in 1935 as a temporary structure to house an appliance show, the Pan Pacific Auditorium became the home of ice shows, political conventions and concerts, including Elvis Presley's West Coast premiere in 1957.

It was part of an entertainment complex that included a drive-in movie theater, a minor-league baseball stadium and the Farmers Market.

But with the success of newer and larger auditoriums, the Pan Pacific was eventually closed. The property was purchased in 1979 for $10.45 million with city, county, state and flood control district funds and the open space nearby was converted to a park and flood control basin.

Under an agreement designed to yield funds for maintenance of the park--one of the few open spaces in the heavily congested neighborhood--Somerset was selected to convert the auditorium to commercial use while maintaining its unique exterior.

The firm operates hotels within historic structures in New Mexico, Texas and Wyoming.

Its latest plans for the Pan Pacific call for a hotel with 125 to 188 rooms and an interior mirroring the 1930s architectural style known as Streamline Moderne. There will be shops, restaurants and an enclosed swimming pool for hotel guests.

Plans also call for the building to house the nonprofit American Cinematheque, which will offer two movie theaters, one with 500 seats and one with 250 seats, a 70-seat video room and a fourth performance space for avant-garde theatrical presentations.

Gary Abrahams, executive director of the Cinematheque, said fund-raising is proceeding 'like gang-busters," but declined to provide any figures pending an announcement at a dinner scheduled for a 20th-Century Fox sound stage on Feb. 28.

The Cinematheque is attempting to assemble $5 million for construction and another $5 million for an operating endowment, he said, adding that emphasis is now on the construction effort.

A 5,200-square-foot community room originally planned in the main building will be housed instead in a separate structure, Loewenkamp said.

Under another contract, the county has arranged for $928,000 worth of improvements to the Pan Pacific Park, including an amphitheater, picnic tables, a pavilion, paved pathways and lighting for the ball field.

The work will begin in February and be completed by October, Loewenkamp said.

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