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ENCORE! CELEBRATING 25 YEARS OF THE MUSIC CENTER : YESTERDAY : THE EVOLVING YEARS : A Music Center chronology: from the travails of early aspirations to the triumph of tenacity. How Los Angeles built a cultural showplace

September 10, 1989|LORI E. PIKE

The story of the Music Center began long before its dedication on Dec. 6, 1964. By 1945, arts-conscious Los Angelenos decided that the time was ripe to build a sports arena convention hall and a smaller pair of auditoriums for musical performances. An organization called Greater Los Angeles Plans Inc. raised money to buy two parcels of land for the halls, one at the hub of the Santa Monica and Harbor freeways and the other on 6th Street bordering Lafayette Park. Construction funding would come through a bond issue to be voted on by the public in April, 1951.

GLAPI argued passionately about the need for a new music hall, since the existing 1,800-seat Embassy Auditorium was deemed unsuitable for music, and the Greek Theatre and Hollywood Bowl could only accommodate concerts in the summer. As the election approached, big-name endorsements poured in, ranging from hotel tycoon Hernando Court-wright and Father Charles Casassa, president of Loyola University, to Dinah Shore, Roy Rogers and Bob Hope. But Propositions A and B failed to receive the required votes to approve the halls. GLAPI pressed on, next envisioning an opera house, an auditorium and a sports arena together in a single giant edifice. Again, a bond issue proposing funding failed to win public support. In 1954, a group called Forward Los Angeles came up with another auditorium and exhibition hall plan. It, too, failed to win public approval.

Enter Dorothy Buffum Chandler. The wife of Norman Chandler, then-publisher of the Los Angeles Times, she had won her stripes as a fund-raiser in 1951 by helping to save the bankrupt Hollywood Bowl. Now Mrs. Chandler and her friends turned themselves toward a new challenge: financing a hall for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Their first fund-raising event in 1955 was the "Eldorado Party," named for the Cadillac raffled off. Composer John Green ("Body and Soul"), Jack Benny, Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore contributed their talents at the Ambassador Hotel soiree, and Christian Dior put on a fashion show. The $400,000 take was seed money for the $20 million in private financing eventually raised for the Music Center.

On June 19, 1956, the future of a music center in Los Angeles was assured when the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a $50 million civic auditorium and music hall complex. The proposed site was bounded by Olympic Boulevard, Flower, 8th and Hill streets.

J uly 27

The project is temporarily shelved because of a recession and rising interest rates.

1958

Dorothy Chandler is named president of the Southern California Symphony and Hollywood Bowl Assn. She promises the members that she will campaign for two things: a permanent musical director and a permanent home for the orchestra. By the end of the year, she has $600,000 in donations in the Music Center fund.

1959

March 19

In a meeting with the county supervisors, Mrs. Chandler pledges that the Civic Auditorium and Music Center Assn. will raise $4 million by private subscription to build a new home for the Philharmonic, toward a total cost then estimated at $10 million. She also proposes a new site for the concert hall: a parcel of land bounded by Grand Avenue, Hope, 1st and Temple streets.

July

A 70-member Music Center Building Fund Committee is formed, with Mrs. Chandler as chairwoman. She sets up fund-raising headquarters at The Pub, a former pool house behind the Chandler mansion.

S eptember 4

A crowd of 20,000 packs the Hollywood Bowl for a fund-raising "Cornerstone Concert" featuring pianist Van Cliburn and the L. A. Philharmonic, conducted by Edouard Van Remoortel. "Each of us who is interested in Los Angeles, in California, in the United States, wishes to contribute (to the Music Center)" Cliburn says to the audience, then plays Schumann's "Dedication" to drive the point home.

1960

January

After two performances of Handel's "Messiah," the Mormon Choir of Southern California donates a check for $25,000 to the Music Center Building Fund Committee.

July

Plans for the Music Center are presented to the Board of Supervisors by L.A. architect Welton Becket, already well-known for design of the Pan Pacific Auditorium. Sketches for his new project depict a single stately pavilion surrounded by fluted white columns. Mrs. Chandler has a bigger vision--to develop the top of Bunker Hill into a center for the performing arts with separate halls. Becket complies with additional renderings of a small 750-seat theater and another with a 2,100-seat capacity.

November

The Board of Supervisors unanimously approves financing plans to build the $15 million Music Center. The county will provide $9 million, with the remaining $6 million to be raised from private funds. Alluding to San Francisco's War Memorial Auditorium, Mrs. Chandler suggests that Southern California's new cultural center be known as "A Living Memorial to Peace."

1961

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