One month before the Colburn School of Performing Arts is scheduled to move from a 7,000-square-foot former warehouse near USC into its new $25-million, 55,000-square-foot Bunker Hill home, discussion of even more dramatic expansion is underway.
The institution, which provides afternoon and weekend music education to students ranging in age from 2 1/2 to 18, is making plans to create a tuition-free college-level conservatory. Among the models are Juilliard, the Eastman School of Music, in Rochester, N.Y., and--closest, in terms of size and spirit--Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music.
The conservatory, which may cost as much as $150 million to establish, will be financed by the school's longtime benefactor and namesake, Los Angeles businessman and arts patron Richard D. Colburn.
"This represents a decade of thought," said Toby Mayman, executive director of the Colburn School for the past 18 years. "At our May 8 board meeting, Dick committed at least $150 million to the construction and maintenance of a small conservatory that would enable us to keep our students longer. Dick loves L.A. and wants the city to be a magnet for the best."
"A conservatory is a logical step in the growth of the school," Colburn, 86, said on the phone from London, where he maintains a home. He will not confirm the exact amount he will give to build the conservatory, but, he says, "there is a firm commitment. I just haven't decided how to carry it out. [And whether] the donation will take the form of stock or cash, I don't know."
The 48-year-old Colburn School started construction on its about-to-open facility in November 1996. Located on Grand Avenue, next to the Museum of Contemporary Art and near the Los Angeles Music Center and the proposed Walt Disney Concert Hall, the site was leased from the Community Redevelopment Agency of Los Angeles for $1 a year for 86 years, with an option on property behind it extending to Olive Street. The conservatory will be built on that property.
According to Mayman, the college-level facility will be a four-year, degree-granting residential institution, with a student body of about 120--the size of a full orchestra. It will include a dormitory, and additional classrooms and practice rooms.
"My father's dream has been to create a small, select conservatory at which no one pays tuition," says Carol Colburn Hogel, president of the Colburn School board, speaking on the phone from Edinburgh, Scotland, where she has lived for the past 14 years. "He's not the wealthiest man in America; he's just committed to music."
Richard D. Colburn, a native of Illinois, was raised in San Diego. He has owned or run a number of businesses, including a foundry, electrical- and plumbing-equipment distributorships, and a holding company that dealt in uranium mining. At the age of 65, he started U.S. Rentals Inc., headquartered in Modesto and now the country's second-largest construction equipment rental company. U.S. Rentals went public last year; Colburn is the chairman and still owns two-thirds of the operation.
A co-founder of the L.A. Chamber Orchestra in 1968, Colburn has been interested in music since childhood, when he began taking violin lessons at 5. He now plays viola, and once was a member of the local musician's union. He served on the board of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the late '80s and early '90s, and is one of two honorary life directors of the orchestra.
His relationship with the school that bears his name dates back to the late 1970s. Then called the Community School of Performing Arts, it was a division of the USC School of Music. Because of mounting costs, Colburn says, the university was unable to continue financing it. He assumed its debt and, in 1980, the school became independent.
In addition to regular contributions that help to sustain the school's operating budget, Colburn paid the $25-million price tag for the Grand Avenue building and established a $20-million endowment in the mid-'90s.
According to Mayman, a construction start date has yet to be determined. Before architectural plans can be drawn up, she explains, the board must establish the conservatory's curriculum, how it will be accredited, faculty size and makeup, hiring practices and operating budget.
"Though the option on the site does not have to be exercised until June 2001, time is of the essence," she says. "We'd like Dick to be present at the opening. Though he intends to live forever, the rest of us are more realistic."
Ayahlushim Hammond, CRA project manager for Bunker Hill redevelopment, sees the addition of the Colburn conservatory as a boon to a burgeoning Los Angeles "culture corridor." "Grand Avenue is the avenue downtown--where the 'trophy' commercial buildings and best art facilities are located," she said. "By bringing in students--a live-in community--the conservatory will make the area a 24-hour destination and give it a sense of 'place.' '
Joseph Thayer, dean of the Colburn School since 1983, embraces an even grander vision. "I compare this culture strip to New York's Lincoln Center in which the Juilliard School, the opera, the Philharmonic and the theaters bounce off each other to create critical mass," he says. "In L.A., the conservatory will help to increase the energy level and strengthen the spine of the city."