Channeling Dorothy Chandler: Voices From the Past and the Future of Los Angeles


Dorothy Chandler (1922-1997) was arguably the most powerful woman in Los Angeles during the 1960s – presiding over the city’s most elite social circles, and appearing on the cover of Time Magazine in honor of her unprecedented cultural fundraising efforts. Yet, few Angelenos know who she is other than a name on a Music Center building downtown. So why has her voice remained so compelling whenever anyone talks about the future of Los Angeles?



Courtesy Time Magazine, December 1964

The answer: no one in Los Angeles has been able to achieve the same level of success when it came to civic collaboration and fundraising prowess.

Dorothy Chandler, wife of Los Angeles Times publisher Norman Chandler, irrevocably remade the cultural landscape of Los Angeles by raising an unprecedented $18.4 million to fund a downtown performing arts center. The L.A. Music Center was seen as a centerpiece of the city’s extensive downtown urban renewal plans, and Chandler’s efforts helped pave the way for future cultural development. She worked closely with city and county officials to achieve her goals, and she united old, WASP money with newly wealthy captains of industry and finance in the postwar years. But her commitment to culture was only one part of her vision for the future of Los Angeles. As she told the Washington Post in 1967:

The cultural life of the city…[matters] not so much for the culture itself ‘but in what cultural things can do for a community.’

Chandler believed civic pride was a necessary ingredient in helping to remake Los Angeles’s image, and cultural investment was one way to inspire such pride. The construction of the Music Center solidified the image of Los Angeles as a first class city of growing national importance, and served as a catalyst for other important civic and cultural plans.

Today Chandler’s voice is still relevant when it comes to discussing the future of Los Angeles. Here are a few examples:

Future of Cities: Leading in L.A. quotes Chandler in order to make the case that Los Angeles is a place of innovation and fresh ideas, a “place for people who want to build a new world.” (below)



Last September in a KCRW “Making LA” segment about Future Cities, host Madeleine Brand cites Chandler as an example of effective leadership in L.A. within a discussion about civic engagement, corporate giving, and volunteerism.[1]

And finally, C-Suite Quarterly published an article last October about Chandler’s role in reshaping the civic image of Los Angeles during the 1950s and 60s. In “Channeling the Spirit of Dorothy Buffum Chandler to Catalyze Change in Los Angeles,” (Oct 2015) author Michael Kelly argues that Chandler’s spirit “lives on in Los Angeles’ civic community.” Kelly concludes that there are still opportunities to reshape L.A.’s civic image, and he suggests the best way to achieve this is by strengthening the relationship between city government and L.A.’s “broad and diverse business and civic communities,” which he considers two of the city’s greatest resources. [2]

These examples show how Angelenos often look to the past to voice their hopes for the future because they are looking for inspiration, for proven examples on how to get things done in a place where the size and scope of Los Angeles can make new civic initiatives seem daunting.

As Chandler herself argued in her Time profile, “The most important thing…is not a formula but a person who will be a catalyst for the project—someone so dedicated to the purpose that he will stay with it until the job is completed.” Sure, she had an army of volunteers working diligently to accomplish her fundraising goals, but she also understood how important it was to have a clear vision, and strong leadership to see it through. It was why she was so widely admired during her reign over Los Angeles. It is why she is still quoted today. Her unfailing commitment to a vision for the future of Los Angeles resonates with those Angelenos looking for leadership – for people who envision a future L.A. built on civic engagement, collaboration, and community.


[1] Press Play with Madeleine Brand, September 2015:

[2] Michael Kelly, “Channeling the Spirit of Dorothy Buffum Chandler to Catalyze Change in Los Angeles,” in CSQ (Oct 2015).



The best photography collection in Los Angeles?

I was doing a little research on L.A.’s cultural history and came across a blog post about Dorothy Chandler’s cultural leadership. The highlight? The fantastic photos–all from Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) photo collection.

LAPL’s Central Library in downtown began collecting photographs prior to World War II, and since then has amassed millions–yes millions–of photographs that emphasize the history of L.A., Southern California, and California. Over 80,000 of these photos are searchable online. The two biggest photography archives in the collection are the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner photographs (2.2 million) spanning the 1920s through 1989; and the Security Pacific National Bank collection (250,000+), which holds historic photographs of Los Angeles and Southern California, including a collection of early L.A. Chamber of Commerce photographs.

Here are a few fun examples:

Photo of a Pacific Electric Red Car prior to its placement in Griffith Park’s Travel Town (1953)

A workout photo of Seabiscuit (on the left) at Santa Anita Racetrack (1940)

The newly constructed Hollywood freeway through the Cahuenga Pass (n.d.)

A protest by brunettes and redheads of Marilyn Monroe’s “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater (1953)

This online photo archive is one of the best places to begin researching ANY topic in L.A. history, whether you’re a student, teacher, history buff, or just an interested citizen. Plus, if you are anything like me, you will find that having visual evidence helps jump start a project because it brings the past to life in such a vivid way.

Below are a few links to the LAPL online photography archive. Go ahead and search the site. I dare you.

Photo Collection Overview

Search the catalog

A few amazing videos highlighting the collection

Photo Collection FAQs