Sergei Rachmaninoff at the Trinity Auditiorium, LA Debut

Click on photos to enlarge.

Hard as it is to believe, you’d better not blink or you might miss it. The Trinity Auditorium Building in downtown Los Angeles is a glorious piece of architecture and history. But nobody seems to give a damn at the moment. Sure, there’s talk about renovating it, and, it would seem, a few folks are even trying to do something about it. However, for all that, as of September 2017, the building remains empty and abandoned. Who knows what fate awaits it? (See after the jump for some more details on this.) Similar other buildings are gone – such as the Philharmonic Auditorium where Igor Stravinsky made his Los Angeles debut. You can read all about that triumph in Keenan Reesor’s wonderful paper, “Rachmaninoff and Stravinsky in Los Angeles to 1943.” But you can’t go see the place where it happened anymore. It’s gone.
Thankfully for us, at least for now, we can still go and stand in front of the Trinity Auditorium Building at 855 S. Grand Avenue, where Sergei Rachmaninoff made his LA debut on February 2, 1923. It looks a bit forlorn these days. The wide, busy street right next to a metro hub looks too modern, too naked for this wonderful old building. It wants a cozier, more old-fashioned feel. It’s one of the things that makes me worry – I can imagine somebody with nothing but dollar signs in his or her eyes thinking the same thing, and having the ability to say, “Let’s modernize this block!” Everything else around it has been “updated,” why not do the same to the lot that somewhat incongruously still holds the old Trinity?
Here is what Reesor writes about Rachmaninoff’s LA debut: “In 1923, Rachmaninoff appeared in person for the first time in Los Angeles—not as composer but as pianist. His performance was greeted with ecstasy by Times critic Edwin Schallert. ‘Art and the personality in art assumed a new significance with the first piano concert of Sergei Rachmaninoff in this city,’ he wrote. ‘He played last night at Trinity Auditorium, and before a throng that had apparently long anticipated his appearance proved himself a giant of the keyboard.’ Rachmaninoff would offer in total twenty-eight performances in the greater Los Angeles area.
(I will remind the forgetful reader of this space that I have already written about one of those venues, Bridges Auditorium in my former hometown of Claremont, CA. You can look that up on this site.)
Imagine that: Los Angeles before and after Sergei Rachmaninoff! You don’t think about something like that very often, but there we have it: The Trinity stands as a landmark that divides Southern California into before-and-after. These walls witnessed life before Rachmaninoff brought his art into a world that John Barrymore, Clara Bow, Charlie Chaplin, Lilian Gish and hundreds of other pioneer film stars were quickly transforming from a backwater into a cultural mecca. (In fact, the Trinity was used as backdrops for scenes in films by Chaplin, Harold Lloyd and others.) Rachmaninoff was one of the first great international artists to bite and come ply his art in this little town that was on the verge of a major metamorphosis.
You even sense a little bit of that historical yearning for change in Edwin Schallert’s review, which specifically notes that the “throng” in attendance at Rachmaninoff’s recital “had apparently long anticipated his appearance.” It was a town just waiting for the pianist to bring his art to them, and here is the place where it happened.

The cost of real estate on S. Grand must be astronomical. Imagine how much money you could make by pulling this thing down and putting up a high rise hotel? Or, the other way around, imagine how much money you could save by not going to the hassle of preserving this extraordinary building that houses inside a famed concert house? A very cool blog site called Los Angeles Theatres actually tells us quite a bit about what has been going on – and what hasn’t – in regards to the Trinity. Apparently it was expected to open in 2016 as a new hotel complex. As of fall 2017 (precisely when I was there), the site claimed that elevators were being updated in preparation for a grand opening. But I must say, I saw no signs of life whatsoever when I visited the site on September 12, 2017, peering in windows and walking around corners.
Some bare facts on the auditorium thanks, again, to the Los Angeles Theatres site. Its grand opening took place in 1914 and, over the years, it was used as a concert hall (the first significant time that happened being 1919), a church and a hotel. Here is what the site has to say about the auditorium’s capacity: “Seating: 1,600 more or less. Some estimates go as high as 2,500. Originally the main floor was sloped and had fixed theatre seating. It got leveled out at some time in the past. The auditorium features balconies on three sides and a massive ceiling dome with a stained glass medallion at its center.”
Drop down toward the bottom of the post on the LA Theatres site to see some fabulous photos – period and contemporary – of the inside of the auditorium.
In any case, the Los Angeles Times’ critic left no doubt that Rachmaninoff’s LA debut was memorable. Here is some more of what he wrote: Rachmaninoff’s “recital will be remembered many a day as one of the great events of the present musical season, and perhaps, pianistically speaking, of many seasons.
On Rachmaninoff’s performance technique the reviewer wrote: “…brilliant to the very ultimate. In fact, it approached the dazzling…”; “…crashing chords, and madly racing notes. There were riotous moments In ‘The Beautiful Blue Danube’ waltz…”; and, finally, “Chopin was his leading offering, and he brought before his hearers all its rhythmical bigness, and its somber tonal fire.”
(Quotes are drawn from the Los Angeles Times website.)
Welcome to Los Angeles, Sergei Rachmaninoff! Welcome, Los Angeles, to the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff!

 

 

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