The L.A. Music Center Turns 50!

 The Music Center is…both highly accessible and highly visible, giving Los Angeles a new visual axis….the center is recognized as a milestone in the city’s cultural aspirations….[making the city] a new center of culture that has passed Chicago and is getting ready to challenge New York. [1]  – Time Magazine, 1964

Los Angeles…is a center of artistic and musical activity, and spending money for their development is a prideful act. Besides, it tends to offset the image that the place is largely populated by kooks. [2]  – Edward Carter, 1964

When the L.A. Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion opened its doors in December 1964, an entire week of events celebrated the cultural arrival of Los Angeles with nothing less than a heavy dose of glitz and glamour. On opening night, Hollywood stars, internationally renowned musicians, and the region’s most prominent politicians and society types arrived “in a dazzle of diamonds and décolletage” to celebrate the opening of L.A.’s glittering cultural jewel located at the apex of Bunker Hill. [3] For the evening’s most honored guests, Dorothy Buffum Chandler arranged for a five-star, pre-concert dinner in the Pavilion’s richly decorated Founders Room. Chandler was resplendent in a white silk brocade dress with matching coat designed by Yves St. Laurent especially for the occasion with fabric imported from India, in honor of the L.A. Philharmonic’s conductor, Zubin Mehta. [4] For Chandler, it was a moment of personal triumph. With the help of an army of volunteers, she raised $18.5 million dollars in private funds toward the Music Center’s $34 million price tag. During the opening concert, Mehta asked the audience to applaud Chandler’s efforts—leading to a four-minute standing ovation that deeply embarrassed her. The Pavilion’s opening was lauded by national and international press, which praised the acoustics, the décor, the opening program, and the foresight of Angelenos in constructing this impressive temple of culture. New York Times reporter Harold Schonberg called the Pavilion “probably the most beautiful concert hall of its size ever erected in the United States…lavish without being vulgar,” and “a brilliant success.” [5]

Time magazine featured Chandler on its cover to coincide with the Music Center’s opening. Entitled “Brightness in the Air,” the article highlighted the significance of the new Center to the city’s cultural identity, calling it “only the most visible symbol of the steady upsurge of interest in matters cultural in a city that has felt itself too long dismissed as an uncouth poor relation of San Francisco.” But the article also acknowledged L.A. as only the latest city in a growing trend of cultural institution building taking place in U.S. cities like New York, Phoenix, Seattle, Houston, St. Paul, and San Francisco. [6]

Letter from Dorothy Chandler to the L.A. City Council, March 10, 1964. Courtesy of the L.A. City Archives, Council File 113122.

Letter from Dorothy Chandler to the L.A. City Council, March 10, 1964. Courtesy of the L.A. City Archives, Council File 113122.

For Dorothy Chandler, the Music Center was a means to an end. Without a doubt, Chandler truly appreciated symphonic music and had loved the performing arts since she was a child. She wanted to see the L.A. Philharmonic installed in a permanent home fitting for an orchestra of high artistic caliber. And she was a passionate and competitive person who wanted to make her mark on Los Angeles. Her commitment to the Music Center was unwavering. At times, she referred to the project as her baby. In a letter to a friend, she remarked, “My pride in the Pavilion is overwhelming. It far exceeds in every way what I had envisioned. I believe that its impact on our city of the future will more than justify every effort and each donation in its creation.”[7] Clearly, her total dedication to the Music Center project went far beyond her personal interests. Chandler knew what the Center’s construction would mean for downtown, and for Los Angeles as a whole—that Los Angeles indeed cultivated a vibrant musical and artistic community, and it was time the rest of the world recognized it.

Writing of the Los Angeles Music Center in 1975, journalist and author Leonard Gross wrote: “No single act has ever done more for a City…physically it provided a desperately needed centerpiece to the city, a statement of quality and identity and an inspiration for bold growth. Its impact on the Southern California psyche was fundamental; it gave pride to a city that, until recent years, had all but apologized for its existence.”[8] While his statement was an exaggeration, the author got it right that the Music Center gave pride to the city and its residents.

 

[1] “Brightness in the Air,” Time Magazine, December 18, 1964.

[2] Edward Carter quoted in ibid.

[3] “Brightness in the Air.”

[4] Marian Burke, interview with the author, March 12, April 1, 2010, Los Angeles, California.

[5] Harold C. Schonberg, “Worth What It Cost,” New York Times, December 13, 1964.

[6] “Brightness in the Air.”

[7] Thank you letter from Dorothy Buffum Chandler to William Pereira, January 11, 1965, Box 8, Dorothy Chandler Papers, UCLA Department of Special Collections, Young Research Library.

[8] Leonard Gross, “Soul of the Center,” Westways (February 1975). Quoted in Margaret Leslie Davis, The Culture Broker: Franklin D. Murphy and the Transformation of Los Angeles, 76.

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2 thoughts on “The L.A. Music Center Turns 50!

  1. Pingback: Is L.A. Designed to Work? | Remaking Los Angeles

  2. Pingback: The Impermanence of LA’s Built Environment? | Remaking Los Angeles

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