Los Angeles has worked hard over the past 30 years to diversify its arts scene and develop a cultural world outside the film industry to as high a level as energy and money allow. As might be expected, the city’s cultural strong points are in performance and the visual arts. Downtown Los Angeles offers the most sophisticated in performance. The long established Performing Arts Centre now comprises 11 venues, including the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion which houses the LA Opera, the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre, presenting theatre acted and produced by some of the best actors the area can provide. And that’s a lot of actors.
The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the first and largest theatre of The Music Centre, was built in 1964 and designed by Welton Becket using a “Total Design” aesthetic. Everything from the building’s structure and engineering to its interior design — lighting fixtures, carpeting, typography, restaurant china and flatware — were designed by the firm for a unified and integrated look.
The interior of the theatre is an elegant five-story space draped in honey-toned onyx and features 78 crystal light fixtures including three stunning chandeliers each made with 24,000 individual pieces of hand-polished crystal from Munich.
The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion has been the site of unparalleled performances by stunning music luminaries and virtuosos. It was the home of the LA Philharmonic for decades and the site for more than 20 Academy Awards presentations between 1969 and 1999. It is now the home of the LA Opera, sharing its stage with Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Centre.
LA Opera has been under the artistic direction of Plácido Domingo since 2003 and, with impeccable taste, he and Music Director James Conlon have presented adventurous opera programming, lifting the company to international stature. Their program has them mounting new operas, such as the lovely Il Postino, composed by Mexican-born Daniel Catán, retrieving lost works, like those presented in the ongoing “Recovered Voices” series which presents operas by composers lost in the Holocaust, and developing educational and community programs. Domingo has done much to promote Spanish-speaking singers and music professionals, a logical choice for this city, where a whopping 47% of the population is Hispanic or Latino.
Little Puffles and Honey saw La Bohème at the LA Opera.
The Music Centre Plaza is a great outdoor venue. The Plaza has served as a location for many Music Centre arts events such as National Dance Day, LA Arts Month, festivals, live simulcasts and weekend activities for dance. It is also the site for many private and civic celebrations, special events and galas.
At the centre of The Plaza is one of the most iconic fountains in Los Angeles. With 280 jets systematically shooting water up into the air on a 14-minute cycle, The Music Centre Fountain invites visitors to watch its playful dance. At the centre of the fountain is “Peace on Earth” by Jacques Lipchitz. The sculpture portrays a dove descending to earth with the spirit of peace, symbolized by the Madonna standing inside a tear shaped canopy, supported by a base of reclining lambs.
The Dance Door, a bronze sculpture, was created in 1978 by Robert Graham. It consists of an ornamented life-size bronze door, hinged on a bronze frame and locked in an open position. Abstracted figures of dancers are cast in low relief on the door panels.
Across Grand Avenue from the Music Centre is Grand Park, officially opened to the public in July 2012. Dotted with fountains, picnic lawns, bright pink benches and plenty of nooks from which to sit and people-watch, Grand Park is a bright urban oasis. The park plays host to performances, gatherings and other community events.
The grand, white concrete tower that is Los Angeles City Hall has been a city icon since 1928, and today it’s the easiest way to take in an elevated view of Downtown and beyond. If you’re ever passing through the Civic Centre during public hours — weekdays 9am-5pm — you can visit the 27th floor observation deck.
The Arthur J. Will Memorial Fountain looks great at night!
Grand Park has a large central plaza surrounded by gardens from each of the world’s six Floristic Kingdoms, including Australia.
Sitting next door to LA Opera, and part of the Performing Arts Centre, is the stainless steel–surfaced Walt Disney Concert Hall and the REDCAT Theatre, designed by architect Frank Gehry in ultra-modern reflective glory. Both inside and out, this is a terrific venue. The concert hall features a 2,265-capacity auditorium with an open platform stage.
Chief acoustician Yasuhisa Toyota combined the best aspects of orchestral halls in Tokyo, Berlin, Amsterdam and Boston in a bid to provide aural warmth and clarity; the result of his endeavours is a virtually perfect acoustic that has been lauded by everyone from audience members to critics to musicians. The hall has a concert organ, also lavishly designed by Gehry in consultation with organ and tonal designer Manuel Rosales. The Concert Hall is now home to the LA Phil, currently led by Gustavo Dudamel. Composer John Adams is the Creative Chair of the Symphony, and Esa-Pekka Salonen is Conductor Laureate. More crème de la crème.
Little Puffles and Honey attended a performance of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
The concert hall has very colourful chairs!
The Blue Ribbon Garden is the Walt Disney Concert Hall’s rooftop garden.
Nearly an acre in size, the garden is enclosed by the dramatic, sweeping exterior of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and filled with lush landscaping that blooms throughout the year. The garden features a Frank Gehry designed fountain that pays tribute to the late Lillian Disney and her love for Delft porcelain and roses. The fountain is a large rose covered in thousands of broken pieces from Royal Delft porcelain vases and tiles creating a one-of-a-kind mosaic.
Next door to Walt Disney Concert Hall is LA’s newest contemporary art museum, the Broad, the public home for Eli and Edythe Broad’s collection of 2,000 post-war works. The free museum, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, has added yet another cultural anchor to Grand Avenue.
The building features an innovative “veil-and-vault” concept. It has a porous white exterior with a honeycomb pattern, which is considered the “veil”. Inside this diaphanous case is an opaque mass that hovers midway in the structure; its rounded underside shapes the lobby area, and its flat top surface is the floor of the third-level galleries. This “vault” holds portions of the collection that are not on display.
Little Puffles and Honey thought the museum was a party place! 🙂
Visual arts are spread far and wide throughout the many museums of Los Angeles. From LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) on the Miracle Mile to the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), in its three locations across the city, including Downtown.
The mammoth structure with an equally mammoth name, Nancy Rubin’s Chas Stainless Steel, Mark Thompsons Airplane Parts, About 1000 Pounds of Stainless Steel Wire, Gagosians Beverly Hills Space at MOCA, was installed as an outdoor feature at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 2001. The sculpture, made of all the parts mentioned in its name including stainless steel wire, airplane parts and more, is one of Rubin’s largest sculptures made of repurposed, recycled, and found objects, spanning over 16.5 meters.
Within walking distance of the Performing Arts Centre is the Bradbury Building, the oldest commercial building (1893) remaining in the central city and one of Los Angeles’ unique treasures.
The Bradbury Building’s nondescript, brick exterior belies any sense of significance — a Sprint store and the lingering smell of Subway don’t exactly scream “architectural gem”. Walk through the archway entrance on Broadway, though, and you’re greeted with a stunning, light-flooded alley of wood, iron and brick. Movie buffs will recognize the zigzagging staircases from climax of Blade Runner.
The magical light-filled Victorian court rises 15 meters with open cage elevators, marble stairs, and ornate iron railings. The identity of the building’s final architect is a subject of debate. Lewis Bradbury, a mining and real estate millionaire, commissioned Sumner Hunt to create a spectacular office building. Hunt turned in completed designs but was replaced soon after by George H. Wyman, who supervised construction.
According to Wyman’s daughters, he was asked to take over because Bradbury felt that Wyman could understand his own vision for the building better than Hunt, although there is no evidence that Wyman changed the design. Wyman later designed other buildings in the Los Angeles area, but the Bradbury Building (if indeed it was designed by Wyman) was to be his only work of lasting significance, whereas Sumner Hunt went on to design many other notable buildings, including the Southwest Museum.
You’ll have to do all of your gawking from the ground floor (and half a flight of stairs) as the rest of the building is private office space.
Across the street from the Bradbury Building is the Million Dollar Theatre.
The Million Dollar Theatre was named for its then exorbitant price tag. In 1917 showman Sid Grauman commissioned architect Albert C. Martin Sr. to design a theatre for the ground floor of what would become the Edison building, a theatre worthy of a city that was the film capital of the world.
When the Million Dollar Theatre opened on 1 February, 1918, it was hailed as one of the first great motion picture “palaces”, a model for its future sister theatres, the Egyptian and fabled Chinese. Silent stars Mary Pickford, Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Charlie Chaplin walked under its ornate Churrigueresque terra-cotta arch to attend the opening night premiere, the Mack Sennett comedy, “The Silent Man”. Its success was instant and durable.
The building is designed in the Chicago style skyscraper and the exterior of the building exemplifies the elaborate Churrigueresque style, named after the 18th century Spanish church architect and sculptor Jose de Churriguera, whose designs favored this type of architectural embellishment.
Joseph Mora, son of the famous Spanish sculptor Domingo Mora, designed the theatre’s façade, which includes bison heads, longhorn steer skulls, allegorical figures representing the arts, and even girls perched on ledges strumming stringed instruments as their legs dangle above the street. The large, scalloped arch over the entrance once framed a stained-glass window, now plastered over.
Noted theatre architect William Lee Woollett designed the theatre itself. Many of the interior appointments were designed around the 1841 English fairy tale titled King of the Golden River by John Ruskin. The organ grilles, in particular, showcase images lifted from the book, including the evil brothers, the Golden Tankard, the South West Wind, and even the dog cited in the tale.
Hanging from the coffered dome ceiling is a chandelier that once hung in the lobby of the Woollett-designed Metropolitan Theatre (now demolished) on Sixth and Hill Streets.
The massive, 30 meters wide balcony in the auditorium was a feat of engineering. It was supported by the world’s first reinforced concrete girder, developed because of a shortage of structural steel during World War I. Permits were withheld pending a stress test of this new engineering technique. With 680 tonnes of sandbags piled across the span, the girder passed the test.
In the 1940s, the theatre hosted jazz and big band stars such as Billie Holiday, Artie Shaw, and Lionel Hampton. In the 1950s, the Million Dollar became the first theatre on Broadway to feature Spanish-language variety shows (variedades), including headline acts from Mexico City and Latin America. The theatre served as a leading Latino entertainment venue for decades, featuring variedades and Mexican film premieres.
The lobby has been dramatically altered; the ceiling was lowered, and its walls were covered. Yet much of the lobby’s orignal ceiling and murals (also depicting the King of the Golden River fairy tale) remain intact behind the drop ceiling and walls.
After serving as a church, the Million Dollar was closed to the public. It reopened for performances and special events in 2008, after a year-long refurbishment, and now serves as an event and filming location.
Next door to the Million Dollar Theatre is the Grand Central Market, an European-style food hall that has been operating on the ground floor of the iconic Homer Laughlin Building since 1917, making it Los Angeles’ oldest food market. Even if you’re not there for the food, it’s worth a trip; people from all corners of LA mix and mingle among rows of spices, produce and vintage neon signage.
The Homer Laughlin Building was the Los Angeles’s first fireproofed, steel-reinforced structure. The original six-story building was designed in 1896 by architect John B. Parkinson. In the 1920s the building served as an office for the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The Homer Laughlin Building also used reinforced concrete and the sandbag stress test (56 tonnes) was used to satisfy building inspectors that the floors were of adequate strength.