Concert hall has small cast of big donors

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The numbers people are still crunching, but so far, leaders of the Music Center and the Los Angeles Philharmonic have at least 137.5 million reasons to call their shiny new building the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

That's the total you get if you tally $84.5 million in donations from Disney family members, about $28 million in interest, and another $25 million in gifts to the hall and the Music Center endowment campaign from the Walt Disney Co. With $10 million yet to be raised and a trio of opening galas scheduled for late October, those gifts and interest amount to half of the estimated $274-million cost of the steel-skinned hall on Grand Avenue.

Together, the gifts of the Disney clan and company amount to one of the boldest acts of cultural philanthropy in Southern California history. But if you look past the Ds on the list of big-ticket donors to this long-running civic melodrama, several other themes turn up between the lines.

The names and numbers suggest that the leaders of the Disney Hall fund-raising effort have waged their campaign despite scant support from the entertainment industry and a cold shoulder from most of Los Angeles County's billionaires. They also show that in the home stretch of the effort, the hall's boosters have sidestepped the gyrations of the stock market.

Spanning 16 years, involving several organizations and sustained through times of boom and bust, the campaign's complexities extend far beyond the mathematics of architect Frank Gehry's curvilinear design.

For instance, three major anonymous donations to the cause — one of $7.5 million and two of $1 million each — make generalizations about donors problematic, especially since fund-raising insiders (who request anonymity themselves) hint that the largest anonymous donor may be linked to the entertainment industry.

But this region's scores of famous performers are missing from the list of the performing-arts facility's biggest-known donors, as are 16 of this county's 18 Forbes 400 billionaires.

In fact, once the Disney clan, the anonymous contributor of $7.5 million, $1.1-million donor Ginny Mancini (the widow of composer Henry Mancini) and composer and $1-million donor John Williams are set aside, not one major entertainment industry company, executive, producer, director or star can be found at the million-dollar level.

The lion's share of non-Disney support, records show, has come from a loose coalition of local foundations, banks, oil companies, utilities and others, including two companies that have been swallowed up in mergers since making their gifts. At the head of the non-Disney donors' ranks stand longtime builder Eli Broad, supermarket mogul Ronald W. Burkle, former Mayor Richard Riordan and Music Center Chairwoman Emeritus Andrea Van de Kamp.

It was Broad, chairman of financial services company Sun America Inc. and founder-chairman of residential builder KB Home, who joined then-Mayor Riordan and Van de Kamp in a 30-month corporate arm-twisting campaign that rescued the hall from likely death in 1996.

In addition to prying loose more than $100 million from captains of industry and philanthropy, Broad and his wife, Edythe, donated $10 million of their own. Riordan and his wife, Nancy, contributed $5 million.

"I didn't do this because I'm a great symphony lover," Broad says. "I go a couple of times a year to the [Hollywood] Bowl and maybe a couple of times downtown. I did it because it was a great piece of architecture and we needed to show we could get something done."

Burkle, whose Yucaipa Cos. investment firm buys and sells supermarket companies, gave $7.5 million, and steered another $7.5 million to the cause from the Ralphs/Food 4 Less Foundation.

Van de Kamp, who oversaw the fund-raising while engineering an administrative reorganization at the Music Center in the late 1990s, is widely credited for orchestrating the Disney corporate contribution amid delicate company-family politics. She also contributed $100,000 of her own. (Earlier this year, Van de Kamp resigned her seat on the Disney board of directors following clashes with Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner.)

Through this period, scores of major nonprofit groups saw their fortunes rise and fall with their Wall Street portfolios. But tax disclosures and Music Center officials indicate that the campaign's money managers were parking contributions in high-grade corporate bonds. Those bonds have historically yielded more modest returns than stocks but fluctuate less and flourish when interest rates are low. Those investments were timed to mature as funds were needed to pay construction bills.

In all, records show, 61 individuals, foundations and companies have each contributed$1 million or more, as have the county, the city's Community Redevelopment Agency and the state (which gave $15 million in the late 1990s). Another 157 donors have handed over at least $100,000. (In many cases, the gifts have been combined contributions, with part going to the concert hall and part to endowment campaigns for the Music Center or Philharmonic.)

"They're the usual suspects. These foundations and individuals tend to step up and do important things for the community," says Gary Phillips, chairman of Westwood-based Phillips & Associates and a longtime fund-raising consultant. But the sheer number of them and the size of their commitments, Phillips adds, gives the Disney Hall campaign the edge over many big-ticket civic ventures in the U.S. in recent years.

For instance, Seattle's $118.1-million Benaroya Hall, which the Seattle Symphony opened in 1998, drew on 25 donors of $1 million or more, led by the Benaroya family, which gave $15 million. Philadelphia's $265-million Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, where the Philadelphia Orchestra first performed in 2001, drew on 43 $1-million-plus donors, led by Sidney Kimmel, who gave $35 million.

Whenever such comparisons are made, fund-raising veterans note, the Disneys stand in select company, alongside such donors as Qualcomm Chief Executive Irwin Jacobs and his wife, Joan, who last year earmarked $120 million to the San Diego Symphony; and Eli and Edythe Broad, who this year announced a $60-million gift to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Walt Disney's widow, Lillian, who died in 1997, set the enterprise in motion in 1987 with a $50-million gift that over time earned about $28 million in interest. In addition, the Walt and Lilly Disney Foundation gave another $25 million. The cartoon innovator's nephew, Roy E. Disney, and Roy's wife, Patricia, gave $5 million. Daughter Diane Disney Miller and her husband, Ron Miller, pitched in $500,000, and $4 million more came from the foundation of late daughter Sharon Disney Lund. The Disney company's $25-million gift, spread among the concert hall, the REDCAT performance space and CalArts, came in 1997.

The entertainment industry's role stands out also — as a conspicuous absence. Notable contributions to other causes include a $40-million Haim Saban gift to Childrens Hospital in June and a $200-million David Geffen gift to the UCLA Medical Center in 2002 (following earlier gifts of $5 million each to the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood and the Museum of Contemporary Art's Geffen Contemporary building downtown). But fund-raisers say the Hollywood community is seldom seen when civic and cultural campaigns in Los Angeles come calling.

With very few exceptions, "the entertainment industry just does not participate in the arts or the downtown community," says Yvonne Bell, director of development for Center Theatre Group, the producing umbrella for the Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson theaters.

Indeed, as Bell notes, the grand strategy that helped philanthropy doyenne Dorothy Buffum Chandler get the Music Center built 40 years ago — the uniting of old money from Pasadena and young money from Hollywood — isn't as clear in the Disney Hall numbers.

Of course, with hospitals and social service agencies scrambling for support amid a historic shortfall in the state budget, not everybody believes a better-sounding philharmonic and sparklier skyline should be top philanthropic priorities.

Concert hall contributions are "safe money," says Alice Callahan, an Episcopal priest and director of Las Familias del Pueblo, a downtown community center that focuses on sweatshop workers and their children.

"The big donors gain personally, so it's an easy gift to make. They will be the people who go to the Music Center....There are those out there who will benefit, but it won't be the poor.... People who give to groups like the Music Center need to understand that to a great extent they're giving to themselves."

Among those who do like the idea of a sleek new performing-arts facility, Phillips says, another discouraging factor could be "the blessing and curse" of a campaign that is so closely linked with a single big name. He says some philanthropists are less interested in causes that offer them only secondary billing.

Then again, many other donors do share responsibility. "Once we got one foundation among Keck, Ahmanson and Weingart, the others came along," Eli Broad recalls. "Once we got one bank [among Wells Fargo and Bank of America], the other came along." The foundations gave $5 million each; the banks, $5.25 million each.

Among other details between the lines of the Disney Hall donor list:

Six of the 13 Fortune 500 companies based in Los Angeles County (based on 2002 revenue) have pitched in $100,000 or more to the hall. Apart from Disney, big givers include Edison International of Rosemead ($1 million); Northrop Grumman of Los Angeles ($1 million); Avery Dennison of Pasadena ($500,000); Occidental Petroleum of Los Angeles ($500,000); and KB Home of Los Angeles ($150,000).

Among five L.A. County-based companies that made AdAge's last list of the 100 biggest media companies (based on 2001 revenues), Disney is the only one to contribute $10,000 or more to the hall.

Though many of the biggest movers and shakers in show business are absent from the hall's donor roles, some familiar names do crop up. Among them: Sherry Lansing, Paramount chairwoman and chief executive (who gave $10,000 and sits on the Music Center board of directors), and Jeff Berg, International Creative Management chairman and chief executive (who gave $100,000 and is a past member of the Music Center board). Other donors with show-business connections include film and television writer-director-producer Garry Marshall ($100,000), agent Bob Bookman ($100,000) and actor-producer Henry Winkler ($10,000).

Apart from Broad and Burkle, Disney Hall has received no publicly disclosed major gifts from any of the 16 other Los Angeles County billionaires listed among the Forbes 400 wealthiest individuals for 2002. Though sources say one of them is connected to the $7.5-million anonymous gift, the campaign's public records show no gifts of $10,000 or more from such big-money names as multimedia tycoons Rupert Murdoch and Geffen; television moguls Saban and A. Jerrold Perrenchio; movie luminary Steven Spielberg; nor from others whose wealth is drawn from real estate, finance and other ventures, such as Frederick W. Field, Marvin Davis, Steven Udvar-Hazy, Louis and Leslie Gonda, Alec and Tom Gores, Bradley W. Hughes, Franklin Booth, Charles Munger and David Murdock.

Meanwhile, another financial challenge looms, with no clear finish line. Music Center officials estimate the cost of operating Disney Hall will be about $5.5 million yearly, almost as much as the Music Center's three other venues combined. As part of their landlord-tenant relationship, the Music Center and Philharmonic will share principal responsibility for covering the cost.

They are counting on added ticket sales and concession revenues to cover much of those higher operating expenses, but leaders of the Music Center and Philharmonic are also quietly waging campaigns to boost their endowments so that more investment income will be available to cushion the blow of increased costs.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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