Pasadena's Ambassador Auditorium, 'Carnegie Hall of the West,' goes up for sale

The storied Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena, which was long considered one of the region’s top classical music venues, is for sale after being owned by a local church for the last two decades.

Harvest Rock Church is asking $45 million for the 1,200-seat auditorium near the Old Pasadena district that has also hosted jazz greats including Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck and Dizzy Gillespie. It has been called “the Carnegie Hall of the West” by fans.

The evangelical Christian Harvest Rock Church is based on the property and uses the auditorium for services. It also rents the venue to the Pasadena Symphony and the Colburn Orchestra as well as other performers that the church finds compatible with its religious mission.

The church recently paid off its mortgage on the property, Pastor Che Ahn said, and decided to sell it to make a move to a bigger facility somewhere in the Los Angeles region.

“We’re hoping that someone will buy it to really restore it to the original purpose and intent of that building,” he said.

The Ambassador Auditorium was intended to be a showplace for live performances when it opened in 1974. The Times called it “A new Taj Mahal for the arts.”

It was also the centerpiece for Ambassador College, operated by the Worldwide Church of God on a 40-acre campus near the intersection of Colorado and Orange Grove boulevards that has been largely redeveloped in recent years.

Harvest Rock Church and Maranatha High School bought a 13-acre portion of the campus site with five buildings including the auditorium from Worldwide Church of God in 2004 for an undisclosed amount. The auditorium controlled by Harvest Rock Church is assessed at $13.5 million, public records show.

Ambassador College founder Herbert W. Armstrong was a televangelist who set out to call attention to his ministry by building a lavish auditorium where he could broadcast services and host high-profile nonreligious events, including an opening performance by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra on April 7, 1974.

The auditorium made a big impression on local music aficionados, said Donna Perlmutter, who was a music critic at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner newspaper when it debuted.

“We were, at the time, bowled over by the presence of it,” she said. “It was to compare with any marvelous auditorium in Europe.”

That it had been created by a bombastic radio and television evangelist known for making dark end-times prophesies seemed unusual, she said.

“It was almost comical to think of who it was who erected this magnificent place,” Perlmutter said of Armstrong. “It was such a weird juxtaposition.”

The acoustics are “optimal,” she said. “It bears a bright, undistorted sound. No singer could want more.”

The hall’s design by the architectural firm Daniel, Mann, Johnson & Mendenhall (DMJM) strived for a mid-century version of glamour, with a main lobby chandelier composed of 100 custom bulbs and 1,390 crystals in three tiers of polished bronze.

Finishes include walls of Brazilian rosewood and rose onyx, African shedua wood railings and ceilings adorned with hand-rolled 24-carat gold leaf.

The auditorium is set in a 500,000-gallon water pond that holds a 37-foot solid bronze egret sculpture designed by British sculptor David Wynne, who also famously made a bronze sculpture of the Beatles’ busts in 1964 and is said to have introduced them to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

Potential buyers of the auditorium include the city of Pasadena, private investors, or a group of investors seeking “to acquire a landmark with profound historical significance,” said real estate agent Isidora Fridman of Compass, who has the listing with Lauren Rauschenberg. The property at 131 S. St. John Ave. will officially go on the market July 9, Compass said.

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