Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mambo, Gospel and a Little Bit of Shaun Cassidy

During grad school, I was lucky enough to spend 3 semesters living in a 1913 hotel that had been purchased by USC for student housing. "The Embassy" included an impressive rooftop dome where we held an open-air party to start my second year, a hotel check-in area which served as a student help desk, an old diner that we used for Sunday bagels and crossword puzzles, a small, dark sitting room for weekly pre-dinner cocktails with the dorm heads, and a huge theater with another dome, right in the middle of the building.

The theater took up over 3 floors of the building's center -- the feet of the dome actually came into the inside dorm rooms on the 4th floor, creating handy window seats but not much of a view. The theater was called the Trinity Auditorium, and for the most part, for us, it was just another interesting spot in an interesting building.

In 1919, the Trinity Auditorium hosted the inaugural season of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. From there, I don't know much about the theater's history. At some point, USC bought the hotel, and the theater -- by the time I arrived in 1992 -- was rarely used.

But it was used once in a while....

My first year at USC, I came down with pneumonia. During my recovery, I slipped into the balcony of the theater one evening when it was in use. For some reason, the ushers didn't question me about a ticket, so I must have looked like I was meant to be there. I sat there with my pack of cough drops, and watched Betty Buckley, Lucy Arnez, William Katt (sigh) and oh-my-god Shaun Cassidy (among many others) perform a benefit show packed full of Gershwin tunes. I still remember what Shaun sang -- he was goooood.

In the very first days of my second year, when I had arrived early to prepare for my new duties as an RA, there was new excitement at Embassy. There were Hollywood people there shooting a film in the theater. The film was Sister Act 2, Back in the Habit. I didn't see Whoopi Goldberg up close, or even Mary Wickes (which would have been so cool). But I still felt like a part of the movie, because they were filming in my theater. Here's the last big music number, which they filmed about a thousand times. I got to listen from outside the balcony. A lot. If you watch at the very end, when they show the theater and the balcony, you can just barely catch my shadow outside one of the balcony doors. No, not really.

Sadly, the Embassy got a bit twisted and bent by the 1994 Northridge earthquake. That's a story for another day. But suffice it to say that when the shaking stopped we were left with a theater that was red-tagged. The theater's dome had large ugly cracks in the feet, and it was uncertain the dome would withstand another quake. Shortly after, the rest of the building was deemed "less than optimal" and we all moved out. And that fun chapter in my Los Angeles life was finished.

If you want to see what Los Angeles looked like when the Embassy Hotel was first built, here's a good picture essay. Look for Trinity Auditorium at the corner of Grand and 9th.

Oh, and the building also had a great little nightclub-looking space, where we held our monthly coffee-house talent show gatherings. This room was called the Mambo Room. Here's why.


The Embassy from a distance (left side, with dome). That parking lot is where we spent our first few hours after the earthquake.

The Embassy when first built.

1 comment:

Daisy said...

I loved the music and the tour. I love finding out the history of old buildings.