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L.A. CENTRIC MARY McNAMARA

A steely, curvaceous type joins Hollywood's A-list

September 23, 2003|MARY McNAMARA

Since she did the spread in Vanity Fair, it's been hard to keep up with the phone messages. Now VIPs want to meet her, spend some time with her, really get to know her. People walk for blocks just to get a glimpse of her, and many find it impossible not to reach out and try to touch her as well. In the last few months, photographers have spent days and nights squinting into the sky, trying to figure out which light would be most flattering to her, camping out in hopes of catching her at an unguarded moment.

Not that long ago, many dismissed her aspirations as fantasy; now everyone wants access. They want to say they met her before she hit her stride, before she went interstellar.

They want to tell their friends that, weeks before its gala opening, they've already been through the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

From now until Oct. 23, its official debut, the most sought-after celebrity in town will be neither actress, director nor Grammy winner -- it will be a building. The national and international press, which has been keeping occasional track of the often tumultuous road to completion, is about to swarm the city like paparazzi awaiting the actual Ben-lo nuptials.

There will be magazine covers and photo spreads, there will be biographies and fashion commentary and, of course, there will be the critics, eyes peeled for moments of rhapsody and any visible flaw.

More significant, though, is the sudden desirability of The Tour. For many of the rich and the mighty, the status symbol du jour is the Disney Hall tour. Madonna and Guy Ritchie dropped out at the last minute -- scheduling conflicts, no doubt -- but Sting, Gov. Gray Davis, Debra Winger, Dennis Hopper and Zubin Mehta are a few of those who have requested, and received, advance tours.

Giorgio Armani and Manolo Blahnik recently had theirs, and Tom Hanks, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Steven Spielberg, who will all be part of the gala opening, plan to walk the Frank Gehry-designed green (and orange and plum-blue) carpet in the next few weeks.

"Now that articles have appeared in national magazines," said a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, "it's become real to people. And so more people, including celebrities, are calling to get a tour."

This town's major industry is, after all, access. Just as the residents of other cities might brag that they read Martin Amis' new book in page proofs, Angelenos want to see the starlet not chain-smoking Marlboros at the Four Seasons, but in the Hollywood Hills guesthouse she decorated herself for her two pugs. We want to call Scorsese "Marty" and have it stick, get the all-access concert pass to Springsteen, press the flesh with Jack and Shaq, have a regular table at Bastide.

Many buildings are monuments. From the pyramids to the Empire State Building to the Hollyhock House, there are forms as mesmerizing and familiar as the Mona Lisa, with the same sort of tourist attraction draw. But a celebrity building is different. A celebrity building is nascent, a living space still vibrant enough to be a trendsetter.

Structural celebrity has several prerequisites. The building must be public -- fabulous private homes have their own elitist draw, but celebrities, as we all know, must lay down the veil of privacy. A famous-personality-type architect must be involved, as well as some pretty rich and fancy supporters. Ideally, there should be some sort of conflict over the building -- budget is the usual suspect, although necessity and potential skyline blight work as well -- and, of course, a high-profile resident is de rigueur.

Last year's megawatt ingenue was the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. For months leading up to its consecration, tours were given to donors and press and visiting dignitaries; you knew you were somebody if, as a nonmember of the press or high-powered clergy, you got to trail behind Cardinal Roger M. Mahony.

A few years before that, it was the Getty Museum, where for almost a year Van Gogh and Van Dyck took a back seat to architect Richard Meier and a million bucks' worth of travertine.

Likewise, at Disney Hall, platinum club members would prefer to be led by architect Frank Gehry or the Philharmonic's music director, Esa-Pekka Salonen. And since the beginning of the year, Gehry has been showing off his tall ship to friends, fellow architects, VIPs and people important to the hall.

During this year's Oscars week, visiting East Coast heavyweights including S.I. Newhouse got a peek behind the scaffolding and tarps at an event held to mark the completion of the building's structural steel.

There's no way to know how many hundreds of folks will have toured the hall by the time it opens -- access is granted through myriad relationships and offices -- but the Philharmonic estimates that by the end of the galas, between 300 and 500 photojournalists will have shot the hall inside and out.

And so, like any star staring down her big moment, Disney Hall is entering the final primp stage. The carpets and floors are cleaned incessantly, but in early October the exterior will be washed and buffed like the Tin Man when he finally made it to Oz. This will temporarily take care of the mosaic of handprints already pressed onto the stainless steel skin at the more public areas of the building; after that, such public displays of affection will be a problem the hall will just have to cope with.

Then there will be lights and parties and champagne and of course music, sweet music. And for a matter of weeks or even months, the shining star on the hill will be, as they say in the biz, ready for her close-up.

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