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Yes to more Gehry

July 19, 2005

The involvement of architect Frank Gehry in the sweeping Grand Avenue project in downtown Los Angeles seemed never to be a sure thing. His fights with philanthropist and former housing developer Eli Broad over the adjacent Disney Hall, for instance, were legendary. In the end, Gehry out-waited Broad and essentially got the daring design he wanted. But Gehry would no doubt have thought hard before getting involved in a bigger and more commercial project with Broad.

But with an announcement last week, Gehry became firmly part of the Grand Avenue project, as architect of at least one of its two major towers. His presence should extend to the commercial project some of the buzz and admiration generated by Disney Hall.

The better news, historians may argue, is that Gehry will be getting his chance at a larger idea that he and others once envisioned for Bunker Hill along with Disney Hall.

The part of the project likely to be under Gehry's wing (negotiations between the developers and the architect haven't concluded) would be anchored by his "signature" skyscraper, including a hotel and condos. The Related Cos. (the developer) and the Grand Avenue Committee, which is headed by Broad and oversees the project on behalf of the city, have yet to say who will build the second tower. If Gehry isn't chosen, it is expected that he will have something to say about that and other buildings in the mixed development (including a badly needed downtown grocery store).

This may be Gehry's first realized skyscraper, though not the first he has designed. Currently Southern California's favorite son, Gehry was spurned as the new financial-district spires of Los Angeles grew over several decades. He did his most acclaimed pre-Disney work for the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain (the building that put the sagging industrial city on the international tourism map).

Gehry's presence gives the new development international glamour and credibility that a commercial developer such as the Related Cos. would otherwise have trouble mustering. It also is a guarantee of an engaging process and high-flying imagination.

The Grand Avenue project now anchors Gehry to Los Angeles and its architectural future. Having taken so long to embrace him, the city now can't imagine letting him go.

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