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Why I Miss Frank Gehry’s Balls

I’d always been fond of Frank Gehry’s balls. Even before I knew they were those of the great architect I admired their playfulness, their perfect, alabaster roundness. They dangled, at times loomed above us — though that sounds a bit menacing — on warm summer nights, entertaining us between sips of Pinot Grigio. “Magnificent” is so hyperbolic, and yet... imagine my disappointment, then, when I attended a concert at the Hollywood Bowl only to find the balls gone! Where are you, old friends? For two short decades they adorned the concavity of the Bowl’s famous bandshell, taming the oft-problematic acoustics. They replaced, I’m told, large, erect, cardboard shafts called “sonotubes” — also by Gehry. (These columns served a similar purpose but could never hope to measure up, visually, to the fiberglass balls.) Gehry’s suspended orbs, it turns out, were dropped in 2004’s Bowl shell project. This renovation, by Hodgetts + Fung Design Associates and executive architects Gruen Associates, noticeably improved the acoustics at the Bowl as well as restored much of the appearance of Lloyd Wright’s 1928 design. But what became of the musical spheres? They were saved, some of them even going, in part or whole, to artists who then painted on them. A gallery displayed and sold them with profits going back to L.A. County. All of which makes the neutered structure more appealing, but to paraphrase: “Balls,” said the Bowl, “If I had them, I’d be perfect.”