A Shrine To Entertainment And Service
When the original Shrine Auditorium opened in 1906, the movies that would make it internationally recognizable were in their infancy; the first dramatic film made entirely in Los Angeles was being filmed a few miles away, next to a Chinese laundry.
And the music whose performers would one day be honored on its stage was blaring forth from a gizmo called a Victrola.
The building recognized for its authentic Moorish roofline amid the palm trees is the second Shrine Auditorium here — a 1926 jewel box of memories of presidential speeches, break-through pop music, and the Academy Awards. It has been a movie backdrop, and a stage for entertainers from Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley to Judy Garland, King Kong, and the Grateful Dead.
Noble By Name, Noble In Purpose
Its full name is the "Al Malaikah Shriners Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of Mystic Shrine." Al Malaikah means "angels" in Arabic. The Shriners who own it are a civic-minded fraternal order that maintains 22 children's hospitals, including one in Los Angeles, all providing free care for children with burns or orthopedic problems. The public knows the Shriners for their tiny parade cars and their vivid red fezzes.
After the original 1906 auditorium
burned in a ferocious fire, the Shriners replaced it with a theater and exposition hall that could serve Los Angeles as well as the Shriners themselves. The new Shrine Auditorium, billed as the largest theatrical facility in America, opened in 1926. It quickly became Los Angeles' prime cultural center. Its exterior of domes, parapets and archways was striking, but the interior was astonishing: the ceiling's billowing plaster curves and canopy were meant to resemble a sheik's tent. The center chandelier, nearly three stories tall, glitters with 500 bulbs.
No theater facility in Los Angeles rivaled the Shrine's size — 6,300 seats — nor its acoustic or artistic versatility. Its stage could accommodate ballet companies, operatic troupes and vaudeville shows, circuses, concerts, a portable ice rink, a boxing ring, and a motion picture screen for the new "talkies."
The Shriners' Hollywood ties didn't stop with a movie screen. Comic actor Harold Lloyd held the rank of Imperial Potentate, the highest office in North America. Cowboy stars Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and John Wayne were members. Cartoon voice artist Mel Blanc was a Shriner, and comic Red Skelton belonged to the clown unit.
In the late 1930s, the auditorium became so popular for jitterbug contests that police had to control the crowds. All-star New Year's Eve shows throughout
World War II filled the hall with servicemen and their dates.
Political And Film Stars Shine At The Shrine
In 1960, just before the Democrats arrived for Los Angeles' first national political convention, more than 5000 film extras crowded into the Shrine, playing 1924 convention delegates for the movie biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt, "Sunrise at Campobello."
Once the film crews packed up, the real conventioneers descended. Actresses Janet Leigh and Judy Garland rallied the crowd for the nominee, future president John F. Kennedy. Garland packed the Shrine so tightly that Leigh had to make her way outside and stand atop a car to speak to the crowd.
But the Shrine remains best known for welcoming high-profile awards shows. The Grammys, the Emmys, the American Music Awards and the Soul Train Awards have been televised from its stage. On March 13, 1947, the Academy Awards first came to the Shrine. To fill the thousands of seats, the Motion Picture Academy sold tickets for the first time. The wartime-themed film "The Best Years of Our Lives" won the lion's share of honors, including best film, best director and best actor. The Shrine hosted nine more Oscar ceremonies, alternating with other venues.
The auditorium presently is completing an over $15 million makeover to make it once again the grand Cinderella
site among the city's stages.