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A LOOK AHEAD * Angelenos from the Fairfax district to East L.A. have decided that the new art complex is a must-see attaction. The anticipation cuts across geographic and cultural boundaries, because, even though . . . : Not Yet Open, Getty Captures Attention of City

The NEW GETTY; First in an occasional series

November 24, 1997|DOUG SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At the dusty Universal City construction site where 20-foot-tall machines have just burrowed through the Santa Monica Mountains, there is big pride in big construction.

And that is why, despite his allegiance to the subway, Metro Rail engineer Ben Fardi finds himself bowing in homage to another Los Angeles opus that in so many ways dwarfs his own: the new Getty Center, that castle of steel and travertine that has risen like a medieval stronghold on a Brentwood mountaintop.

"It's so fantastic," Fardi said.

Although his view comes straight out of the Engineering News-Record rather than Architectural Digest, it bears a close resemblance to the widespread awe that is drawing trendsetters from around the world to the center's Dec. 16 public opening.

Fardi--who is educated, but by no means a cultural dilettante--is one of many Southern Californians who is not caught up in the hoopla over the region's new billion-dollar edifice to art, but will be in line once the glitter recedes.

From rubber-booted tunnel men to immigrant shop owners on the San Gabriel Valley's main drags, a recognition of the Getty and its portent for the future is seeping into everyday Los Angeles. The masses may not know that the opening of the center is expected to draw more than 700 journalists from around the world to Los Angeles. They may not know that it is being heralded as a cultural event of international significance. But they do sense that this promises to be a transcendent experience, and they want a piece of it.

"I have to go," said Stephanie Wang, manager of Americana Immigration Service in Alhambra, even though she has not seen the Getty and is not sure yet where it is. "I [am going to] go with my kids. They knew about it, probably from school."

Although it may never top Disneyland or Universal City in popularity among everyday people, the Getty has already been pegged by many of them as a must-see attraction.

"We've been talking it over, me and my wife, to take our kids there," said another Metro Rail engineer, Amarat Wipaghathagit.

The Getty Center, a 110-acre arts complex designed by architect Richard Meier, will house the Getty Museum, whose extensive and highly regarded art holdings were moved from the Roman-style villa in Malibu last summer. It will also house the Getty Trust's five other institutes, which foster scholarship and preservation of art worldwide.

You can see the actual Getty as you drive past a gantlet of Getty street banners on Beverly Boulevard in the Fairfax district. But far beyond, those same signs are also popping up in quarters not accustomed to being wooed by L.A.'s culturally connected.

On bustling Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard in East Los Angeles, their significance is being slowly grasped.

"A few days ago they started putting them up," said Jerry Cruz, a Garfield High School student who helps his family at the Botanica Guadalajara on weekends. "I was trying to figure out what they meant."

"Around here it's very rare that they know what that's about," Lety Aguirre said as she tended her family business, Aguirre Shoes.

But Aguirre knows.

"I care," she said. "I was an art major. I used to go to the Norton Simon Museum."

Aguirre has also heard that tours are booked for months and knows it's hard to get time off work.

"I'll just wait," she said. "I would love to go there."

There is a simple division in how Angelenos have discovered the Getty. Those who live in the San Fernando Valley and commute to the Westside, or vice versa, probably have seen it before they knew what it was, their curiosity roused by the huge escarpment cut into mountains, then the serpentine tramway--possibly wondering what Arab sheik was building a palace overlooking the San Diego Freeway.

Others who know about the Getty are more likely to have picked up the message on television or by reading about it in a newspaper. Those who don't can be quick to catch its significance.

George Chavez, the harried manager of Brooklyn Hardware on the street now renamed for Cesar Chavez, has already decided to take his daughters there, and will add it to the itinerary for the visits of his small-town relatives.

"Since we got a big city, people like us to take them and see the places," Chavez said.

That same range of attitudes can be found in Century City, where lawyers, stockbrokers and clerks in the high-rise buildings can boast the city's most splendid view of the Getty.

Some are enthralled; others hardly notice.

The receptionist at International Leasing Finance Corp., which occupies the entire 39th floor of the SunAmerica Tower, had never heard anyone discuss the view of the Getty.

Just one floor down, however, the offices of SunAmerica Inc. are aglow with civic pride over the Getty opening, said Sharon McQueen, executive assistant to chairman Eli Broad, the man now in charge of fund-raising for Los Angeles' other coming cultural attraction, the Disney Concert Hall.

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