Castro, Kennedy, and Chandler – How the Cuban Missile Crisis stole L.A.’s Big Moment

The L.A. Music Center is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season with a number of commemorative events–including a rededication ceremony on October 1st to “celebrate the transformative role of the performing arts center in Los Angeles.” [1] So what does this have to do with the Cuban Missile Crisis?

JFK-MC

Few people, if any, know that President Kennedy was scheduled to officiate at the dedication of the L.A. Music Center in October 1962. It would have been the only major non-political stop for the President and First Lady during a multi-state campaign trip just before the midterm elections. Dorothy Chandler personally invited Kennedy to preside over the ceremony. Her desire to have him officiate was likely driven by competition with New York’s recently opened Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts–President Eisenhower presided over the Lincoln Center’s groundbreaking in May 1959. [2] Chandler knew Kennedy’s appearance would have brought international attention to Los Angeles and helped cement the city’s growing cultural reputation. The L.A. Music Center would have become a national symbol for the Kennedy Administration’s Cold War cultural agenda as well; but alas, the Cuban Missile Crisis intervened, causing Kennedy to cancel his appearance. [3]

Kennedy sent Chandler a telegram on Oct. 26th to express his regret:

It is indeed with deep regret that I cannot join you…you are, of course, aware of the events which keep me in Washington but I would like to say that even in difficult times it is important that Americans continue to pay attention to all facets of our national life. You…have performed a notable service to the people of southern California in launching this great cultural project. Mrs. Kennedy joins me in sending warmest regards. [4]

Chandler still managed to garner support for the Music Center from President and Mrs. Kennedy by asking them to endow seats in the Music Center’s Pavilion. They chose to endow four chairs. In her thank you note to the Kennedys, Chandler wrote that the gift “helped to heal my personal disappointment” for their absence the previous October. [5]

I have often wondered if President Kennedy had already prepared some remarks for the occasion, and if so, whether they are floating around in some distant archive. My other unanswered question is why did Kennedy agree to do it in the first place? Was this about campaigning, or truly about his Cold War cultural agenda? Jacqueline Kennedy’s support for culture and the arts is well-documented, and I wonder to what extent her interests influenced her husband’s administration. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

[1] The actual dedication date was September 27, 1964. See: http://www.musiccenter.org/about/About-The-Music-Center/50th-Anniversary-Celebration/Rededication-Ceremony/

[2] Peter Kihss, “ Eisenhower Will Break Ground for Lincoln Arts Center Today: Eisenhower Due at Arts Center,“ New York Times, May 14, 1959, pg 1.

[3] “Kennedy to Officiate at Music Center Ceremony,“ Los Angeles Times, October 12, 1962. The dedication ceremony was originally planned for October 27, 1962.

[4] Telegram from John F. Kennedy to Dorothy Chandler, October 26, 1962. Dorothy Chandler Papers (Collection 1421), Box 11, F: Music Center Correspondence 1963, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles.

[5] Letter from Dorothy Chandler to John F. Kennedy, April 30, 1963. Dorothy Chandler Papers (Collection 1421), Box 11, F:Music Center Correspondence 1963, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, University of California, Los Angeles

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2 thoughts on “Castro, Kennedy, and Chandler – How the Cuban Missile Crisis stole L.A.’s Big Moment

  1. I also want to know more about Chandler’s correspondence/relationship with the Kennedys: did The Times endorse him? Were they friends? Why would the Kennedys agree to come in the first place?

    • Hi John, great questions! From my research in the Dorothy Chandler papers at UCLA, it appears the Kennedys and Chandlers did not have much of a relationship. The correspondence I highlighted is likely the only personal correspondence between Dorothy and JFK. They were certainly not friends. By this time, the L.A. Times offered more balanced coverage of politics, so there were no automatic endorsements for Republicans anymore, but during the 1960 election its coverage appeared to favor Nixon. Chandler’s son Otis was publisher of the Times in 1962 and he met with Kennedy in the White House in early 1963. As to why the Kennedys agreed to come, my sense is that it was a combination of convenience, campaigning, and a commitment to support for the arts.

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