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13 ways of looking...

Poet Wallace Stevens found 'Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.' Now downtown residents and workers cast their gaze on Disney Hall.

October 19, 2003|Christopher Reynolds | Times Staff Writer

For more than a decade of his retirement, Louis Fletcher has lived in the same apartment complex on Olive Street downtown. But the view keeps changing.

These days, when Fletcher looks out past the chairs and plants on his north-facing 16th-story balcony, he sees the east end of the twisted, gleaming, metallic and nearly complete Walt Disney Concert Hall. Or, as some of his 1,300 neighbors in Angelus Plaza (average age: 80) prefer to call it, the Dead Aluminum Bird. Others like the Sparkling Artichoke, the Monster, the Steel Bastille.

His neighbor Lillian Harrow -- she's the one who came up with Steel Bastille -- calls it "a jumbled mass of steel" and suggests that "when the sun hits the building, the reflection will hit cars and drivers and cause an accident. It's too much in too little space. It should have been spread around. It doesn't fit here."

But Fletcher, a 73-year-old artist who came to Los Angeles from steel-friendly Pittsburgh, will have none of that.

"I liked it from the beginning," he says. "It breaks that perpendicular thing with the other buildings .... It's sprouting and it's telling you, this music is for everybody."

So goes the conversation as Angelenos behold the city's newest and perhaps least-rectangular landmark, Walt Disney Concert Hall. The opening galas don't begin until late October and the inside remains off-limits to the public, but onlookers from perspectives high and low have already begun to judge this book by its cover. Some wince, some giggle, some place palm on solar plexus and beam with pride. In unscientific polling of downtowners who see the site regularly, admirers outnumbered detractors about 4 to 1.

Intriguing fluidity

"I like it," huffs Ernie Sanchez, a 55-year-old deposition reporter who sits astride an exercise cycle on the second level of the Ketchum Downtown YMCA on South Hope Street. Before the hall went up, you could see the mountains from his cycle on a clear day. But Sanchez prefers the hall, especially its glint in the late light when he comes in after work.

"You look at it, and you look at the building to its left, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and you can see a change," he says. "A change in philosophy. And it's about time. The fluidity of it is intriguing."

A steely gleam

"Tell me," demands Marie Bustillos, standing at a third-story window in the city Department of Water and Power building. "Is that appealing?" Outside, beyond the DWP reflecting pool and the cars on Hope Street, the hall looms and gleams.

If you work in the DWP's headquarters, as Bustillos has for several years now, there's no getting around Disney Hall. You see it from the 15th-floor lobby, from the entrance plaza -- where the concert hall's silhouette lines up in a sort of visual rhyme with a 1988 metal work by Italian sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro -- and from the third-floor library, where Bustillos now stands.

"It's all stainless steel. No windows," she laments. "It looks very cold. Maybe if they had added some color .... It's as if someone hung pans out there."

"Yeah," says her colleague Kendrick Mah, who has mixed feelings about the concert hall. "But don't you want to put a tennis ball up there, and then see where it goes?"

Bustillos is unamused. It looks, she says disdainfully, "like something that came out from under the ground."

"Like quartz crystals," suggests Giovanna Rebagliati, another colleague and a fan of the building.

Rebagliati, 39, grew up in Peru amid stately Spanish colonial architecture. She worried at first that Gehry's nontraditional design would look silly as a civic landmark, "like something out of Toontown," she says. "But I love it now. It's this giant sculpture. The frustration is that I want to see it from every angle, and I can't."

Graded by the dean

Already, Julius Shulman has prowled Disney Hall inside and out, been whispered to by the designer, been planning to attend one of the opening galas. But about the building itself, he hasn't quite decided.

Shulman, 92, is the dean of Southern California architectural photographers, and has been looking at Frank Gehry buildings for about 32 years. He considers the Gehry's titanium-skinned Guggenheim museum at Bilbao "a masterpiece" and was happy to accept when the architect offered him a private tour of Disney Hall in early May. But

"With due respect for Gehry's use of metal materials as exterior forms, wouldn't it have been nice if he had stopped at Bilbao? He's done endless numbers of the buildings that I call pseudo-Bilbao. He's so skilled and flexible, there are other things in his vocabulary, I'm sure," Shulman says.

Yet he finds the interior "absolutely breathtaking .... One of these days, I'll probably wander around and get some pictures."

Lone Star stateliness

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