Architect Christopher Coe hopes his restoration of the legendary Palladium will help inaugurate another golden age in Hollywood.
The Hollywood Palladium was built in 1940 on a stretch of Sunset Boulevard that was called Radio Row: NBC Radio and CBS Radio, the dominant broadcasters of the day, had their stations there. The building’s design embodied the optimism of a new industry, and a generation of listeners grew up hearing “Live from the Hollywood Palladium” before their favorite music shows played on their radios.
But then Hollywood fell into decay. Now that the area is in revival mode, the concert venue has been given a complete update by Culver City-based Coe Architecture International, and it’s new look was unveiled in October.
Coe’s first decision on the project was to restore the Palladium to its 1940s condition, instead of the 1962 remodel that was done to accommodate Lawrence Welk and his orchestra.
The project turned into a detective story that Coe called “architecture ‘CSI.'”
“It’s both a low-tech and a high-tech story,” he said. “We literally crawled around the roof trying to figure out what was original to the building. At the same time, we were scanning old photos into the computer and magnifying them 600 times to understand the size of elements.”
At one point, Coe used an X-Acto knife to peel off paint layers from the walls; he then sent the shavings to a lab to determine the original hues.
The building was designed by architect Gordon Kaufmann, who is well known and respected in the industry, so it was surprising that few historical records survived from the Palladium’s original design and construction. Peyton Hall was the historical consultant on the project, and he and Coe had just a few postcards and press photos for reference.
Coe and Hall could only find one vintage daytime exterior photo in color, and only one black-and-white photo shot at night that showed the exterior lighting. A newsreel clip of Marilyn Monroe stepping out of a limo provided the sequence of the marquee’s flashing neon lights in the background.
The goal of the detective work was to restore that original sense of 1940 optimism, not to build a nostalgic museum piece for Hollywood tourists. “The entertainment industry was booming, and that’s what we wanted to tap into,” Coe said.
The venue opened Oct. 15 with a concert by rapper Jay-Z. In the days that followed, there was a premier party for Disney’s “High School Musical 3” and a dinner for the Breeders’ Cup.
Concert operator Live Nation has a long-term lease to run the Palladium, which is owned by CFRI-NCA Palladium Venture LLC, a joint venture between Newport Beach-based developer NCA and CommonFund, a consortium of endowment funds at major universities.
The Palladium’s facade on Sunset will feature two 5,000-square-foot retail spaces. NCA hopes to put either food service or retailers into the space and has hired Timothy Bower of CB Richard Ellis as leasing agent. While putting retail next to a theater box office may sound like a 21st-century mixed-use concept, it was part of the Palladium’s original design
“In those old movie houses and performance venues, you have a narrow lobby and that frontage space on both sides devoted to retail,” said Hall, the consultant from Historic Resources Group who worked on the project. “Those spaces were designed for a variety of tenants and a variety of signage. It makes a lot of sense for a historical restoration.”
Rick Mueller, president of Live Nation California, said the Palladium name gets the attention of artists. “Everyone from Lawrence Welk to Led Zeppelin to the Ramones have played the room. It comes with a rock legacy.”
The Palladium’s size helps it fill a niche. L.A. has giant venues such as the large Nokia Theatre or the Hollywood Bowl, and plenty of nightclubs for a few hundred people, but not much in the midsize range.
The Palladium has a large dance floor that can handle 4,000 fans standing in front of the stage. Mueller is also looking to book corporate events, private parties, boxing matches, comedy shows and even trade shows for the 11,000 square feet of dance floor space. Wolfgang Puck’s organization will handle food and beverage services from a full kitchen on site.
Coe said the project costs went above $20 million. That figure includes restoration of the building’s electrical, lighting and plumbing systems by Live Nation. Los Angeles’ Community Redevelopment Agency loaned the concert promoter $2.5 million to help restore the building’s exterior to its past glory.
The spirit of the redesign maintains the tradition of the past in a way that carries into the future.
On the new Palladium’s opening night, Jay-Z name-checked Frank Sinatra, who sang with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra on the venue’s opening night 68 years ago.
“That’s what Hollywood is about it’s not one palette of entertainment or architecture,” said Coe. “The performers may change, but the building works the same way it did when it originally opened in 1940.”