It’s been more than 90 years since the first image from a Shrine Auditorium event photographer brought the attention-getting interior of the popular landmark into public view. Its function as a venue for countless high-profile concerts, award shows and theatrical performances is legendary. It was the site of Elvis Presley’s first concert in Los Angeles, dozens of Grammy and Emmy awards shows, and a sought-after filming location dating back to the 1930s.
The public can experience the history of the Shrine Auditorium through event photography dating back to the early 20th century.
The Shrine Auditorium we know today was built in 1926, and it sought to mix the old world architecture of the Moorish Revival Style with the most modern functionality of the time. The artistic look of its exterior became a draw for the most important happenings of the day in a city of famous people and events that dominated news sources.
It began with the Shriners.
The site really became animated in 1906, when the fraternal society known as Shriners International constructed a temple. It’s said to be based on an ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine in the Middle East, but it’s North American roots stem from 1871 when William J. Florence of New York founded the organization.
Florence, an actor, returned to New York from a trip to Europe where he was so inspired by Oriental pageantry he witnessed through the Arabian Consul in Marseilles, France, that he incorporated it into the newly forming fraternity. He joined forces with Civil War physician Dr. Walter M. Fleming to create the elaborate ritual used by the Shriners today. A total of 13 men met on June 16, 1871, and proposed the formation of the new order, composed of Knights Templar and 32nd Degree Scottish Rites Masons.
It was in the fall of 1872 that these men launched the charter formally – Mecca Temple of the Shriners International, and Dr. Fleming served as Illustrious Grand Potentate. The second chapter, the Damascus Temple, was formed in 1876 in Rochester, New York, and 21 years later there were 37 Shrine Temples that included 4,398 members in North America.
The philanthropic organization today totals 193 temples and approximately 300,000 members, who are called “Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.” Their red fez is emblazoned with a crescent, scimitar, and shrine, symbolizing the spirit of the Masonry. These men and women stand for “wholesome companionship, clean fun and a welcome escape from the worry, carte and the drab routine of our daily lives,” says the website for the Al Malaikah Shriners.
Part of the organization’s rich history is the establishment of Shriners Hospitals for Children, formed to further the message of spreading happiness. The 22 “Temple of Mercy” hospitals have treated more than 800,000 children. They are funded by an annual fee of $5 paid by each Noble, added to income from endowment funds and proceeds from Shrine-sponsored fundraising events, as well as charitable bequests.
The hospitals are located in: Los Angeles; Lexington, Kentucky; Chicago, Illinois; Spokane, Wash.; Greenville, South Carolina; Winnipeg, Canada; Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota; Shreveport, Louisiana; Honolulu, Hawaii; Montreal, Canada; St. Louis, Missouri; Portland, Oregon; Salt Lake City, Utah; Springfield, Massachusetts; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Mexico City; Houston and Galveston, Texas; Cincinnati, Ohio; Boston, Massachusetts; Tampa, Florida; and Sacramento, California.
The temple is destroyed, and the Shrine Auditorium is born.
The Al Malaikah Temple burned to the ground in just 30 minutes, according to records, on January 11, 1920. In place of the destroyed building, they constructed the Shrine Auditorium & Expo Hall in 1926, which is owned and operated by the Al Malaikah Auditorium Company.
Though much of the recorded history of the Shrine includes concerts and live performances photography, the venue is more than the site of the theatre, award shows, and musical entertainers. In 1975 it was designated Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument Number 139. The City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Ordinance was enacted in 1962. There are more than 1,000 buildings designated as “Historic-Cultural Monuments” in L.A., which means they’re protected resources.
Because the Shrine Auditorium is significant to the history of Los Angeles, it receives a tax reduction and there is a lengthier process to successfully proceed with demolition of the structure. In large part, the existence of designated monuments like the Shrine “foster civic pride in neighborhoods and business districts and helps develop a sense of place and time.”
In 2002, the Shrine Auditorium opened after $12-$15 million in renovations. Now state-of-the-art, its historical style was maintained, but production capabilities were brought up to modern standards. The stage was upgraded, including lighting and rigging, air conditioning (in both the Auditorium and Expo Center) and new roofing, concession stands, more bathrooms, plus a new performance plaza and parking garage.
The stage has the following specifications:
- State-of-the-art sound and lighting
- Two follow spots
- Called the “biggest proscenium stage in North America,” it measures 195 feet wide by 69 feet deep
- Four opera boxes
- Orchestra pit
- Floor seating to accommodate 3,044 and balcony seating for 3,256 individuals
Adjacent to the Auditorium is the Shrine Expo Hall, which is a multi-use facility with two floors and 54,000 square feet of space. The floor level is 34,000 square feet and the mezzanine level is 20,000 square feet. The Expo Hall features:
- 5,000 standing capacity
- Seating for 2,200
- State-of-the-art lighting
- Adjacent parking lot for overflow
- Location next to auditorium stage
Numerous award ceremonies have been held at the Shrine Auditorium.
More than a dozen Grammy Awards shows have been hosted at the Shrine, as were the Emmy Awards before they moved next door to the Microsoft Theater. The 19th Annual Academy Awards was held at the Shrine Civic Auditorium for the first time on March 13, 1947, and a search of red carpet and PR photography brings you in for a closeup of the day’s hottest stars. Honoring the best films of 1946, it was where actor Ray Milland awarded Olivia de Havilland the “Best Actress” award for her role in “To Each His Own.” And not only does the work of a Shrine Auditorium event photographer make us all privy to images of winners from Fredric March (for best actor) to Samuel Goldwyn (winner of the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award), we can see shots of countless movie stars, including Elizabeth Taylor, host Jack Benny and Sir Laurence Olivier.
And also thanks to plentiful Shrine Auditorium event photographers, we know that among many others, the Shrine Auditorium hosted the MTV Video Music Awards in the 1980s and ‘90s, as well as the 2014 Teen Choice Awards.
Bringing together more “beautiful people,” the Shrine stage was the site of the 55th Annual Miss Universe Pageant on July 23, 2006, where 86 women vied for the crown won by Zuleyka Rivera of Puerto Rico. The first Miss Universe Pageant was held in Long Beach, California in 1952 and returned to the Los Angeles area after some years being held outside the United States at such locations as Thailand in 2005 and Ecuador in 2004. At the 2006 pageant, the previous winner, Natalie Glebova of Canada, placed the crown on the new pageant winner’s head at the end of the event and Zuleyka fainted, which was caught by a Shrine Auditorium event photographer and Los Angeles event videographers. Officials cited the burden of a heavy, beaded gown as the cause.
Galas, awards and fundraisers photography provides a record of the Shrine Auditorium’s strong connection to stage and screen.
Hours of film from the silver screen were shot at the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Center. Among the building’s most famous is when the world got a glimpse of the landmark in an iconic scene in the movie “King Kong” in 1933. The Shrine stage is where King Kong is revealed to an audience as part of the plotline. A host introduces character “John Driscoll,” recognizing him for saving “Ann Darrow” from Kong’s grasp, and when fictional Shrine Auditorium event photographers enter and shoot flash pictures of the title character, who’s chained onstage, Kong breaks out of the Shrine, terrorizing audience members as they flee the auditorium.
The Shrine was also the setting for the Judy Garland blockbuster “A Star is Born” released in 1954, and the site was used again for the 2018 remake as an homage to the original film.
The famous venue has been the site of red carpet and PR photography on many occasions as it played host to film premieres as well, including “Evita,” which starred Madonna and Antonio Banderas, opening there in 1996. “The Doors” also premiered at the Shrine, including lead actor Val Kilmer, in 1996, and the opening night of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was held there on December 9, 2017.
Sporting event photography and coverage of live music performances are a mainstay at the Shrine Auditorium.
It took an athletic Shrine Auditorium event photographer to adequately capture each of the 33 years of basketball home games for the University of Southern California Trojans. And the Lakers utilized the facility in the past, for playoff games.
But the majority of events in the auditorium are live music performances, which you can see from bands and musicians photography posted on social media from inside the venue.
The 1960s brought worldwide attention to the Shrine when Elvis Presley made his first appearance there. Jimi Hendrix & The Soft Machine with The Electric Flag and Blue Cheer held a concert at the Shrine on February 10, 1968.
And much of the world tuned in when a Shrine Auditorium event photographer and numerous news outlets covered Michael Jackson’s hair catching fire while he was filming a Pepsi commercial onstage in 1984.
Music professionals sometimes refer to Frank Sinatra’s setlist from his November 3, 1988 concert as a key part of history, when he sang such classics as “Ol’ Man River,” “The Lady is a Tramp,” and “New York, New York,” among others. “Ol’ Blue Eyes” made the last TV appearance of his life in 1992 on the stage of the Shrine Auditorium. And photos by a Shrine Auditorium event photographer of Sinatra onstage at his 80th birthday party on November 19, 1995, sometimes sell for hundreds of dollars. He died three years later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Thanks to the work of concerts and live performances photographers, fans can see images of their favorites onstage. You can see some of Fugazi’s two sold out concerts from 1995, and the many times the Shrine filled its seats for such artists as Ray Charles, Bruce Springsteen, and Radiohead. Concerts are held in both sections of the Shrine complex, including Grammy-winning duo The Chemical Brothers in the Expo Hall and Croatian sensation 2 Cellos in the Auditorium.
The extent of Shrine management’s values is revealed through more than concerts and live performances photography.
Shrine Auditorium event photographers have covered thousands of live performances produced by AEG Worldwide, including those at the Shrine, as AEG has been a big name in the entertainment industry for more than 20 years. Because of its partnership with AEG Worldwide, the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall have made a public commitment to reducing the facility’s environmental impact, which you can read about on its website. The Shrine’s leadership seeks to save energy and water and purchase environmentally-friendly products, as well as raise awareness of environmental issues.
The Los Angeles landmark participates in AEG 1EARTH, which is an environmentally-sustainable program practiced by the entertainment industry corporation. In addition to tracking its own success and spreading suggested “best practices” with other entertainment industry facilities, the venue makes recommendations to audience members, performers, and vendors such as Shrine Auditorium event photographers and distribution companies. These include:
- Consider public transit or walking, biking and carpooling in order to save gas and reduce your carbon footprint.
- Increase the recycling rate by placing all waste/recyclables into designated bins.
- Turn off faucets instead of letting water run. Report any leaks.
- Use only as many disposable items as you need.
During the month of April, which is Earth Month, the public is invited to turn in cell phones no longer in use. The facility works with the 911 Cell Phone Bank in support of the program.
The multi-faceted Los Angeles entertainment facility serves as a touchstone for residents through its historical significance – both through celebrity performances and its landmark status. It underscores the value of a Shrine Auditorium event photographer, whose final products can galvanize support for the facility’s preservation and place its history in the books for posterity.