$50-Million Disney Gift Offered to Music Center : Funds for New Home for Philharmonic Would Resolve Long Dispute Over Expansion Plans

Times Staff Writer

The widow of Walt Disney has offered $50 million to the Music Center to build a major concert hall as the new home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic on a county-owned parking lot across from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, it was announced Wednesday.

“I have always had a deep love and admiration for my husband, and I wanted to find a way to honor him, as well as give something to Los Angeles which would have lasting qualities,” Lillian B. Disney said in a statement. “Walt was active in the formation of the Music Center, and Los Angeles was always the heart and soul of his many businesses and philanthropic endeavors.

“The thought that a concert hall would be built that would entertain the public with the finest musical offerings would be enormously gratifying to him,” she said.

Died in 1966


Disney, the famous animator, movie producer and creator of Disneyland in Anaheim, died in 1966, two years after the Music Center opened.

Said Dorothy Chandler, chairman of the Music Center Foundation, about the development, “I am thrilled beyond words by the generosity of this gift.”

F. Daniel Frost, chairman of the Board of Governors of the Music Center, said Mrs. Disney’s proposed gift, which would be presented by her and the Lillian B. Disney Foundation, could ultimately grow to more than $60 million with investment income generated from the donation.

“The offer is subject to approval by the county, the Music Center and the Philharmonic Assn. within the next 30 days,” Frost said. “We are confident that all the organizations involved will move quickly to approve this offer within the required time period.”


Among the key provisions of the offer is a requirement that the new facilities be built on the 3.6-acre county-owned parking lot, known as Parcel K, across from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Both Music Center and county officials--who would make the ultimate decision on the expansion site--indicated their support for the parking lot location.

Frost, Mrs. Chandler’s son-in-law, said the new concert hall would eventually be occupied by the Philharmonic, which since 1964 has been playing at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The older facility, he added, would become available for more groups that have been unable to obtain desired playing dates in the past.

Among the many attractions competing for time in the 3,197-seat venue has been the annual Academy Awards ceremony.

“This gift comes at a time when the symphony faces new, exciting challenges,” said Michael Connell, president-elect of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn. “We know that these funds will contribute to the symphony’s ability to meet these challenges and to continue to provide the very best symphonic music to the people of Los Angeles.”

Mrs. Disney’s dramatic gesture would be among the largest single cash donations ever provided for local entertainment facilities. Both Music Center officials and Los Angeles County supervisors indicated that they would have little problem in approving the offer within a month.

Parcel K at 1st Street and Grand Avenue, south of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, has been at the center of an often-bitter dispute between county and Music Center officials for more than a year.

County Pledge

A number of county officials had tried since December, 1985, to persuade Music Center officials such as Frost to abandon an earlier county pledge, made in 1968, that the Music Center expansion would be built on the parking lot. Some of those county officials wanted all or part of the expansion to be constructed on the Civic Center Mall between the Los Angeles County Courthouse and the Hall of Administration so that Parcel K and two nearby county lots could be developed for commercial purposes.


Music Center officials balked at the mall site, contending that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to line up a key benefactor if the expansion were sited between the two government buildings.

That expansion location dispute, as well as the problem of attracting a major donor, apparently has been resolved with Mrs. Disney’s gift.

“It is an exciting offer that requires all parties to get behind it and bring to fruition,” said Supervisor Pete Schabarum, until Wednesday a strong advocate of the mall location.

Supervisor Ed Edelman, who has been trying to work out a compromise for several months, also warmly greeted the development.

‘Cultural Addition’

“I am personally elated at the magnificent generosity of Mrs. Disney,” Edelman said. “The new concert hall will be an extraordinary cultural addition, and I am sure the people of Los Angeles County will reap great benefits.”

Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Deane Dana also indicated in statements that they would help move the expansion proposal to fruition within a month. Music Center officials said that negotiations would continue with the county to reserve some of the parking lot for commercial development. County officials have said that a luxury hotel or high-rise office building, if built on Parcel K, could generate millions of dollars in revenues for the strapped county treasury.

Negotiations also will continue on key issues of maintenance and operation of the new facilities, which in addition to a 2,500- to 2,800-seat concert hall, would include office space for the Music Center, a new ticket office and rehearsal space. The county now provides the upkeep for the current Music Center theaters.


Pedestrian Bridge

The expansion is expected to be linked to the current Music Center complex by a pedestrian bridge spanning 1st Street. Besides the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Music Center includes the 2,071-seat Ahmanson Theater and the 742-seat Mark Taper Forum.

Still uncertain is whether two other facilities, a 1,500-seat proscenium theater and a 500-seat black-box experimental theater, originally proposed in 1982 as part of the expansion, will be built. Music Center leaders have said they are assessing whether the additional facilities are needed.

Frost said that Mrs. Disney’s “magnificent gift” would virtually finance the entire new structure, which could mean a ground-breaking within two years after details are worked out and an architect is hired. Frost said the Disney gift would probably finance nearly 90% or more of the ultimate cost.

A Music Center official who asked not to be identified said that talks have been held for nearly a month with Mrs. Disney and her family in an effort to finalize the gift offer.