Happy Note : L.A. Architect Has Winning Design for Disney Concert Hall

Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles architect Frank O. Gehry said he was overwhelmed that “the local guy” won when he was named Monday to design the $100-million Walt Disney Concert Hall, the future home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Bunker Hill.

The commission went to the 59-year-old Venice-based architect 19 months after Lillian B. Disney gave the Music Center $50 million to build the hall in honor of her late husband, Walt Disney, and after an intensive international competition. Gehry is best known here for buildings that include the Temporary Contemporary art museum in Little Tokyo and the California Aerospace Museum and Theatre in Exposition Park, and for his use of such varied design materials as plywood, cardboard, corrugated metal and chain-link.

Until this week, however, landmark architectural commissions in Los Angeles had eluded him, although he has received important commissions in New York, Dallas and London.

“This is the biggest thing in my life, and something I have dreamed of,” Gehry said at a press conference in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The Toronto native who came to Los Angeles as a teen-ager said he was told of his selection less than an hour before the press conference and had to rush downtown with Berta, his wife.


The new Disney complex will be at Grand Avenue and 1st Street, across from the pavilion. It is scheduled to open for the fall season of 1993. It will contain a 2,500-seat concert hall, a 1,000-seat chamber music hall and 55,000 square feet of office space, as well as underground parking space for 2,500 to 3,500 cars.

Gehry was the unanimous choice of the 10-member Disney Hall Committee, according to Chairman Frederick M. Nicholas. He was also the first choice of each of the five members of the advisory architectural subcommittee, which consists of the directors of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the County Museum of Art, the J. Paul Getty Museum and the deans of the architectural schools at UCLA and USC.

Gehry outpaced his competitors with his vision of “a garden oasis nestled among a forest of soaring new office and residential towers,” a 75-foot glass-enclosed foyer, a “flower-like” main concert hall and terraced forms above the hall made of French limestone.

Besides Gehry, the finalists whose architectural design models were unveiled last Wednesday were Gottfried Boehm of Cologne, West Germany, Hans Hollein of Vienna and James Stirling of London.


According to Richard Koshalek, director of MOCA and chairman of the architectural subcommittee, Gehry was the only finalist who went so far as to design seats for the concert hall. He also won favor by being the only architect to “physically and visually connect” the existing pavilion and the Disney complex at Grand Avenue.

The Disney gift could appreciate to $65 million by the time construction begins, according to Nicholas. That, he indicated, could be in 1990 after “a symbolic ground breaking” in December, 1989. The occasion would mark the 25th anniversary of the opening of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and what would have been the 88th birthday of Walt Disney, who died in 1966 at age 65.

Lillian Disney, who had the right to veto any choice the Disney Hall committee made, told the group that she had chosen Gehry on Monday in a phone call from her home, Nicholas said.

Saying in a statement that she was “extremely pleased” with Gehry’s selection, Disney added that she was “deeply moved by the high level of interest and involvement of the extraordinary group of architects who have been involved with the selection process. . . .

“Walt deeply loved Los Angeles,” she said, noting that the concert hall is “an opportunity to honor him and to give something to Los Angeles which could be enjoyed by people of all walks of life.”

Gehry’s winning design, however, is not an exact blueprint. Music Center officials and Gehry point out that specific design details will change as work begins with a soon-to-be-designated acoustician and the Los Angeles architectural firm that will work with Gehry on design details.

Three acoustics experts--from New York, Japan and West Germany--have been selected as finalists. The final choice is expected before the end of the year and will be made by Gehry and the Disney committee.

The local architectural firm will be selected in a similar manner.


Although rumors had been circulating in recent days that Gehry would indeed be the winner, Disney seemed to signal her preference Sunday when she invited Gehry to her home and they discussed the project for two hours. “She asked me many questions . . .,” Gehry said.