Architect Barbara Bestor looks proud and calm in the moments before hundreds of local musicians and New Orleans’ Rebirth Brass Band fill the atrium of her latest project, the new space for the Silverlake Conservatory of Music. While friends and students admire the blocky, fantastic forms that have taken shape under the original 1931 bowstring truss ceiling, Bestor talks about what drew her to the project.
“My office was only a block or two from the old location; my kids took classes there and I took classes there,” she says, sitting by the open windows in the new lobby. “It was a perfect match — it’s got a public street front, exciting architectural elements, and the conservatory is a huge resource for the community.”
Bestor has designed many spaces around Los Angeles, including the Beats by Dre headquarters in Culver City, the Blackbirds housing community in Echo Park and the Intelligentsia coffee shop located near SCM's original space in Sunset Junction. But this project has a special resonance for her.
“It’s an unusually boundaryless place for music, and that makes it a great match for the city. The lobby became a real hangout for kids and parents and musicians,” Bestor says of the old space.
The new building is about a mile away at 4652 Hollywood Boulevard, and maintains an open street presence, enhanced by the double-hung windows Bestor and her team installed in the oversized lobby. It houses 13 insulated lesson and practice rooms, plus a performance space/assembly room that can hold 150 guests, almost tripling the square footage of the well-loved but cramped space the conservatory had inhabited since 2001.
Bestor lights up when Flea, bassist for The Red Hot Chili Peppers and one of the founders of the conservatory, walks in and is visibly affected by the space. “Wow, Barbara, it looks so great!” he gushes, as well-wishers start to circle the musician and the architect.
“One of the cool things about this room is this rug,” he says, looking around the open lobby. “It used to be the rug from my house, 17 years ago, and when we opened the original school down the street, this was the rug in the waiting room. It’s been trod on by 10 million kids learning clarinet and violin and flute.” Flea laughs, and Bestor agrees. “It’s a magic carpet that makes us feel like we took the old lobby and moved it over here, some continuity with the old space,” she says.
Flea talks easily about the role music has played in his own life, keeping him in school when little else could. When school budget cuts eviscerated music programming, Flea, Keith Barry and Pete Weiss founded the conservatory to provide lessons, instruments and inspiration to school-age kids and then to people of all ages.
“Of the things I’ve done in my life,” Flea says, “the conservatory is the greatest thing I’ve ever been a part of. I’m not a unique person, there are lots of kids like me who are going to find a sense of self, discipline and just a sense of love and belonging through music.”
The conservatory gives more than 700 lessons per week, with more than 200 students on full scholarship, and looks to continue growing in its new permanent home. “It was a real lesson to me,” Flea says. “If you have a good idea, go with it, roll with it, give it everything you’ve got. It will gather momentum, other people who care about things that are important.”
Just before cutting a giant red ribbon and stepping off into the second line behind Rebirth, Flea stands with Bestor on the balcony overlooking the performance space, taking in the incredible vibe. “To nurture this through the last 15 years and bring it to this point, it’s unbelievable,” he says. “Seeing all the tears and laughter and triumphs that happen in those lesson rooms, it’s been the greatest gift for me. And this space now? Now we can put our choirs together, have a 200-person choir! It’s going to be the voice of the gods.”
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