By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Photo by Ted Soqui
FRANK GEHRY WAS IN A LOUSY MOOD. THE ARCHITECTURAL LION, outfitted a bit like a schlep in gray corduroy pants and a blue sweater vest, was seated stage left at last week's Pacific Design Center forum, "The Role of Creativity in the Future of L.A."
The question that provoked the designer of Disney Hall: "What is the future of Los Angeles?"
"Hopeless," the master of undulating titanium replied, practically before Nathan Shapira, professor emeritus of UCLA's Department of Design, could finish asking. Gehry wasn't being funny. Nor was he trying to provoke the nine other panelists crammed onto the narrow platform at the Silver Screen Theater. He was serious.
"It may be just my experience, but a lot of stuff holds back doing things in L.A. I was involved in the street repair between Disney Hall and Moneo's Cathedral. We wanted to link MOCA, Disney Hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the new cathedral. We brought in Isozaki, who did MOCA. We brought in Laurie Olin, the landscape architect. We brought in Stuart Ketchum, who is well-known around downtown. We listened to everybody. We worked diligently. That was over a year ago, and we never heard from anybody. We did hear they [the county] hired another landscape architect. I thought it was just provincial L.A. Then I went to New York to work at Lincoln Center. I was there to give form to things, but there was Beverly Sills yelling at everyone.
"Grand Avenue curves in toward the Dorothy Chandler," Gehry continued, in his unaffected, flat voice. "The idea was to flip it, to create a wide park, and bring it down to the street level -- you know, that's always been one of the problems with the Chandler, it's above the street -- and it ain't goin' to happen. And you wonder, who's telling who, and why. And that's why it's hopeless."
Contrast the Los Angeles experience to Bilbao, Gehry said. When the downtrodden Spanish port decided to give itself a face-lift and become a global showcase for flashy modern buildings, the Basque government invited Santiago Calatrava, Spain's greatest living architect, to design a new airport, Michael Wilford to build the railway station, Norman Foster to do a new metro, and Gehry to do the Guggenheim. Gehry's glistening Guggenheim literally put Bilbao on the map. "It's a miracle that one building can do that," he said, "but it took will of the city's business leaders to do that. It took will."
Blunt fact: Nothing of the sort exists in Los Angeles.
Not that Gehry was too upset. He gave the bitter impression that he had all but given up trying to help remake Los Angeles -- and that he wasn't losing sleep over the failed effort. A man in the audience complained that the city is overrun by banners and billboards, that "The whole town has gone commercial. Why can't we give some room for the beautiful?" he cried out.
"You ain't gonna win that one," Gehry replied, dismissively. "Wait 10 or 20 years. It'll start to look like Tokyo. It gets better," he added with a facetious, knowing smile.
Gehry's blithe familiarity with Tokyo and his easy detachment from L.A. came off as the luxury of a jaded jet setter. His stature seemed to be getting the better of him. He peered at his watch and turned to the moderator to signal that the event was over. But not before Ed Ruscha, the Nebraska native who, perhaps better than any of his contemporaries, has revealed iconic L.A., got in a deflationary last word.
"All my gripes about modern society," Ruscha said directly, "come down to a $20 bill. The old one had Andrew Jackson on it. It had tradition, beauty, a hand engraving, dignity. The new guy they call Andrew Jackson is talking on a cell phone while standing in line at a Starbucks. I wonder where all this talk of design is taking us?"
Zap! Ruscha had delivered a crafty uppercut to Gehry's lofty impatience with his city and its inhabitants. L.A. was brought back into proper perspective. As Ruscha said, "I am a slave to this place. I love it and hate it."
--Greg Goldin Hollywoodland: Seeing Stars
It all started about three years ago in Runyon Canyon, where celebrity sightings are common. Early on, during one of my regular walks in the canyon, I was sure I recognized producer/director/actor Sydney Pollack strolling with his dog. He had that I'm-famous essence all over: immaculately ironed celebrity-quality blue jeans, hip baseball cap, well-groomed blond Labrador, posture that hints at a personal masseuse. His easygoing demeanor gave out the message "I'm comfortable knowing that you know who I am, and I'm so down-to-earth, I'll even make eye contact with you." He had to be Sydney Pollack. He looked exactly like Sydney Pollack.
And so, Sydney Pollack and I quietly began a friendly nodding-hello relationship. He was obviously a dog lover and would often stoop to pet other dogs, including mine (Guinness was also stroked by Jack Lemmon once, but that's another story). I told lots of people about this, and, after several months, we went from the silent nod to outright hellos and familiar quick smiles. We never really spoke, but as far as I was concerned I "knew" Sydney Pollack. Since I lived in Los Angeles, it was inevitable that I'd get to be somewhat chummy with a genuine Hollywood star. I was confident that if I ever ran into Sydney Pollack at a party, we'd laugh at the coincidence and catch up on doggy doings. He'd introduce me around and witnesses would see me graduate to "Sydney Pollack's bona fide acquaintance." It didn't matter that he didn't know my name. I'd seen almost all his movies.