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Hail to the Hall From Some, but Not the Chief

Davis, Hahn offer best wishes, but Bush is silent. The president did send congratulations to similar galas elsewhere, though.

October 24, 2003|Mark Swed | Times Staff Writer

The lavish program book for the Los Angeles Philharmonic's three opening galas at the Walt Disney Concert Hall contains a proclamation from Los Angeles County, a letter of congratulations from the city signed by Mayor James K. Hahn and a welcoming letter from outgoing Gov. Gray Davis. What there is not is any communication from President Bush.

This is in stark contrast to the openings of major concert halls in Philadelphia and Detroit earlier in Bush's term. He supplied both with congratulatory messages.

"I am pleased to send warm greetings to all those gathered for the opening of Philadelphia's newest landmark, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts," the president wrote in a letter reproduced in a celebratory book on the center, which opened Dec. 14, 2001.

As recently as Oct. 11, when the Detroit Symphony performed for the gala opening of its newly restored concert hall, an emissary from the White House read a letter of congratulations from Bush on stage.

A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Philharmonic said the orchestra was mystified by the White House's attitude.

"A request was made through the White House Greetings Office in mid-July for a presidential greeting or message for the opening of Disney Hall," she said. "In late July, we received word that the request was denied and were told that reasons why are never given in these matters."

A White House official said Thursday that although the Philharmonic's request did not specifically mention fund-raising, it referred to the opening galas, whose high-priced tickets will benefit the orchestra and its endeavors. Administration policy is that the president not lend his name to fund-raising solicitations, other than political ones.

"If we had been contacted by the Walt Disney Concert Hall asking for a letter acknowledging the opening of the hall itself, outside of fund-raising," said the official, who would not agree to be identified, "we would have been happy -- and would still be happy -- to comply."

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a champion of Disney Hall, said Wednesday that, although he's not offended, he found the White House to be shortsighted.

"I would love to show off Disney Hall to the president," Yaroslavsky said, "and I'm sure the president would love the hall. This incident obviously doesn't reflect his view, but it does reflect on him. This must have been the decision of some lower-level staff person. But it's too bad. One hundred years from now, when they open the time capsule, he won't be in the book."

The White House had no comment on the letters Bush sent to the opening events of the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia and the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit. Those festivities were also fund-raising events, with tickets in Philadelphia priced as high as $5,000.

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Times staff writer Edwin Chen in Washington contributed to this report.

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