Experiencing Disney Hall 

Photo by Jack Gould

The Looky-loos

On Saturday, under an unforgiving sun and a sky slowly filling with smoke from the fires that ringed the city, locals and foreign tourists paraded back and forth along Grand Avenue, checking out Disney Hall, the building Frank Gehry had munificently offered as “a living room for the city.” The crowd, lured by the ceaseless buildup for the opening, hoped to experience firsthand what the hoopla was all about. Unfortunately, the building was shuttered to the public. The First Street staircase leading to the state-owned, tree-shaded garden, with its delft-china fountain dedicated to Lillian Disney, was barricaded. The red carpet was closely guarded. The doors were sealed shut. The onlookers had to settle for cupping their hands to their temples and peering through the glass façade to catch a glimpse of the esteemed Douglas-fir interior — and even this view was mostly hidden by a temporary scrim. In the crabbed language of the studios, this was a closed set.

A sign halfway down the block informed: “IN RESPONSE TO PUBLIC INTEREST THE MUSIC CENTER IS PLEASED TO OFFER FREE PUBLIC TOURING OF WALT DISNEY CONCERT HALL.” Beginning November 1, that is. The small print read, “Due to a demanding rehearsal schedule the auditorium is not included in the public tour.” A young woman read the sign aloud and said, “Auditorium is not included. That’s the whole point.” Her friend joked, “So, what do you get? The escalators and restrooms.”

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That was the mood: a bit baffled that the hall was closed on the very days it was expected to be open. People seemed to be half looking for some kind of official welcome beyond the customary ribbon-cutting ceremony, which, of course, had been carried out on a weekday strictly to propitiate the city’s Plantagenets, movie moguls and big spenders. The hoi polloi, who showed up Saturday without engraved invitations, had to settle for ogling and fondling the stainless steel and snapping family portraits with Gehry’s famous curves as a backdrop. (The handprints left behind by one pioneer led others, in Grauman’s Chinese fashion, to superimpose their own. By midafternoon, one panel was a forensic puzzle.) There was no musical accompaniment, no docents, no speeches, no pushcart vendors plying hot dogs and Cokes. This might well be the crown jewel, the new center of a resurgent downtown L.A., but not yet it wasn’t.

Despite the heat and the closure, people seemed to like what they saw. One little boy, dressed in navy-blue shorts and matching shoes, sporting a nifty crewcut, commented to his father, “It looks like a spaceship.” Gehry certainly wouldn’t object to that characterization. David Fopp, a German studying philosophy in Berlin, and on a rendezvous with his girlfriend, Christine Paul, who is studying demography in Mexico City, said that the building is “smaller than I thought. It’s not that spectacular” — by which he meant that it didn’t pack as big a visual punch as he had expected. But he also wasn’t willing to accept the view of the German newspapers, which “are saying it’s just a copy of Bilbao. I haven’t been to Bilbao, so it isn’t fair to make a comparison.”

Dave Baran, who was seated in the shade across the street, in front of the Colburn School of Performing Arts, where his 15-year-old son was attending a clarinet lesson, had watched the building go up. He had no interest in joining the gawkers. “It looks like bent aluminum foil to me,” he said, adding, “Either you like what Gehry does or you don’t. There is no in-between.” But that won’t keep him away from the Los Angeles Philharmonic. “Just because the outside looks ugly,” he said while patiently awaiting his son’s return, “doesn’t mean it’s no good on the inside. I’ll attend concerts.”

At 2:30, security was scheduled to move in and close Grand altogether. No matter. The public had managed to squeeze in beforehand. They had come, they had seen, not all had been conquered.

—Greg Goldin

The Peanut Gallery

Unlike the clothing usually found on male L.A. Philharmonic subscribers, which ranges from Brooks Brothers all the way to, well, Brooks Brothers, there are an awful lot of Japanese suits tonight at Disney Hall — Japanese suits worn with the new short ties and Japanese suits worn tieless with dark shirts buttoned to the top, plus a scattering of $400 silk shirts open just far enough to reveal tattooed dragons concealed just underneath. What we have is a healthy sampling of those citizens of Los Angeles who attend MoMA rather more often than MOCA and BAM more often than the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

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