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Disney Hall Hailed as L.A. Cultural Jewel

Dedication of the new performance center brings the governor, a host of L.A. officials and music lovers to downtown.

October 21, 2003|Julie Tamaki | Times Staff Writer

Civic leaders and patrons of Walt Disney Concert Hall dedicated the $274-million, steel-and-glass fantasy designed by Frank Gehry as a cultural jewel that will bolster Los Angeles' image, unite its diverse citizenry and become a destination point for musicians as well as tourists.

At a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday as bright and visual as the gleaming steel walls that surrounded them, supporters took turns describing the challenges they faced getting the 2,265-seat Disney Hall built and predicted that it will become a world-class attraction in downtown Los Angeles. The hall opens to the public Nov. 1. Eli Broad, a billionaire businessman and champion of the arts who helped solicit donations to finance the project, noted Disney Hall's international significance.

"I think the musicians of the world will not have arrived until they play here," he said in an interview.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina said the building marks a new era in L.A.'s cultural history and will serve as a catalyst to bring residents together.

"This is everybody's hall," Molina said.

Los Angeles architect Gehry, however, explained how he designed a floral pattern that adorns Disney Hall's carpets and seats in homage to just one woman: the late Lillian Disney, whose $50-million gift in 1987 set the project in motion. The hall is also flower-like in form and is surrounded by lush gardens.

"I told her I'd make a flower garden for her," said Gehry, as he leaned into a clear podium with his hands clasped. Gehry described his role in the project as "a great experience, personally."

Former Mayor Richard Riordan, who also helped raise funds, predicted that Gehry, Disney and Broad would join Dorothy Chandler in becoming cultural icons. "Los Angeles has become a great cultural center," Riordan said. "We're no longer La-La Land."

In a light moment, Gov. Gray Davis joked, "One thing I can guarantee you is, they won't recall this day with anything" but pride and dignity.

Disney Hall joins Staples Center and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels as recent high-profile additions to the Los Angeles landscape. It is the hall, however, that fans predict will become as recognizable as the Sydney Opera House in Australia and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Disney Hall, anchored at 1st Street and Grand Avenue, may symbolize optimism, movement and upward mobility, but inside, it's "all about the music," said county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Davis said shivers ran down his spine when he heard an audio technician's voice ring through the auditorium during a tour of the facility with Gehry. The governor said he plans to attend Thursday's gala opening concert -- the first of three scheduled this week.

The hall, the Music Center's fourth venue, is the new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. It features more than 6,000 organ pipes and 22 million pounds of steel. The rectangular panels of steel made for a sleek, albeit hot, backdrop for Monday's ceremony.

"This place really gleams, doesn't it?" asked Mayor James K. Hahn. "I think it's got a UV factor of 100.

"I won't make my remarks long, in deference to the skin of the people sitting up here," he said to the hundreds who watched the ceremony from rows of white chairs or bleachers that faced the stage decorated with the "Lillian Disney pattern" designed by Gehry and erected on a set of limestone stairs that led to Disney Hall.

During the ceremony, a pair of ushers, dressed in teal green coats with gold trim, black bow ties and matching black vests and slacks, unveiled a list of names of supporters etched in stone near the stairs.

Dignitaries used scissors to snip a wide ribbon featuring the Lillian Disney pattern as music by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Brass Ensemble filled the air.

Next, a half-dozen Asian dancers in flowing red pants and sleeveless tops took to the stage, whipping about long strands of red and silver fabric as a trio of Japanese drummers pounded away.

Joining the dancers were dozens of children from San Jose Elementary School, dressed in green and purple T-shirts and carrying smaller strands of fabric. They were led by two performers on stilts wearing silver suits and hats shaped like miniature versions of Disney Hall.

More drummers and dancers filled out the stairs. As the performers swirled about, hundreds of strands of bright pink, orange and green paper burst into the air.

A select group of 600 state and local officials, civic leaders and music and arts figures were invited to Monday's ceremony and allowed to tour the building afterward.

"To me it's like a ship that has docked itself," said Linda Walker, house manager of the Mark Taper Forum, as she toured the hall. "It's so beautiful and mysterious."

"I've just come from musical events in Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.," said Janet Ciriello, whose husband, Nick, sits on the board of the Los Angeles Opera. "This is the most beautiful building that I've seen."

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