For the first time, in answer to rumors of cost overruns and published reports pegging the price of the J. Paul Getty Center as high as $1 billion, Getty officials have revealed that the estimated cost of the center will be $733 million. In 1991, when architect Richard Meier's plans were unveiled, the Getty had estimated construction costs alone at $360 million, but declined to reveal the full price of the undertaking.
The price tag of the enormous structure that is becoming increasingly visible on the hilltop site above the San Diego Freeway includes $449 million for construction, $115 million for the land and site work, $30 million for fixtures and equipment, and $139 million for insurance, engineers' and architects' fees, permits and safety measures, according to Stephen D. Rountree, director of the Getty's building program and director of operations and planning for the trust, an endowment started by the oil baron and art collector, who died in 1976.
"That's a lot of money, but the budget has been held tight," Rountree said.
The building project has had a $1.4-billion impact on Los Angeles County's economy and created 12,900 jobs, according to a Getty-commissioned study completed by the Westwood-based Economics Research Associates.
Upon completion, scheduled for 1997, the new cultural complex is expected to attract about 1.5 million visitors a year, and 6,000 per day on weekends, Rountree said. (The Getty Museum in Malibu currently draws about 450,000 visitors annually.) But the new center seems already to have become a fact of life for Brentwood homeowners, who since 1984 have held more than 100 meetings with Getty officials and resolved many differences.
"We are still concerned about light shining into our homes, about traffic and landscaping, but they seem to be people of good will, as we are," Brentwood Homeowners president Michael Harris said. "They have been very good neighbors, and they are trying to address all legitimate concerns. We have a good-spirited relationship that will get us through the humps."
The Getty Center is the largest construction project in dimensions, cost and complexity currently under way in Los Angeles and probably in the western United States--with the possible exception of public works--Rountree said.
"It isn't a typical hole in the ground," construction executive Greg Cosko said of the massive project. Standing on a dusty vantage point overlooking the construction, he pointed out foundations of a 940,000-square-foot complex that will fill 24 acres of the 110-acre site. Upon completion, the center will house an art museum and five other programs administered by the trust, which the late oil baron endowed with a fortune now worth $4.1 billion.
Trust officials say they expected the project to be complicated, but they couldn't have foreseen all the pitfalls that would delay the planned opening date nearly a decade. The combination of constructing a six-building complex on a highly visible hill, appeasing neighbors, satisfying legal requirements, resolving geologic problems, dealing with environmental issues and accommodating exacting architectural plans--while building a public image for a wealthy upstart institution--has been a daunting experience.
"The site is geologically challenging," Cosko said, ticking off a list of obstacles he has encountered in his position as project executive for Dinwiddie Construction Co., the Getty's general contractor. Geological faults and the fact that conditions vary from one foundation to another have called for sudden changes in engineering plans, he said.
Another major complication has been that the city has required that not a single shovelful of dirt from the site can be removed. Conforming to that particular regulation in a 107-point conditional-use permit means that a great deal of time is spent moving the displaced earth around the hill. There would appear to be plenty of space for it, but the process of moving mounds of soil around the site has added to the congestion created by the 750 laborers who typically arrive each day to work on the six clusters of buildings in various stages of construction.
"Logistics is the hardest part of the job," chief superintendent Ronald V. Bayek said, threading his way between earth movers, cranes, foundations, roadways and piles of dirt. "I've had more space when I've worked on high-rises in crowded-in urban centers," he said.
But any talk of difficulty is tinged with pride at being part of a unique project. "Today, any construction job is a good job, but this is very desirable because of the prestige," Cosko said. "We were able to attract the best talent in the construction industry, and that includes all the work force and all the subcontractors."
No stranger to museum construction, Cosko worked with Dinwiddie on the Getty Museum in Malibu and an addition to the Huntington Library in San Marino. "These are not development jobs, motivated by cash flow," he said. "But I have never been so aware of building something that will span centuries."
There is nothing routine about the architecture, either. Each of the six building clusters has a different design, including curved walls and odd angles. While some workers are still involved with heavy earth moving, others have been sheathing walls with 180,000 squares of cleft-cut travertine, imported from Tivoli, Italy, near Hadrian's Villa.
An unusually sophisticated mixture of mechanical systems will be required to accommodate the activities of the museum, conservation laboratories, libraries, auditorium and offices. A giant ice-maker, for example, will do its work at night, when energy rates are cheaper than during the day. The ice will be melted to provide cold water for air conditioners.
Among other components that the public may not notice is an emergency helipad designed as a station for the Santa Monica Mountains. Tucked away behind the Getty Center's auditorium, the helipad will provide evacuation facilities and water hydrants for fire fighting.
Water will be conserved by a landscape of drought-resistant plants and a moisture-sensitive irrigation system that operates only when needed, Rountree said. Currently, every effort is being made to reforest the hill and preserve natural vegetation. Twenty mature California oaks had to be moved to make way for the buildings. Four died, but the 16 survivors will be replanted in areas where spreading foliage is particularly desirable, Rountree said. About 3,500 young trees, mostly California oaks, already have been planted on the site. When the complex opens, a total of 7,000 trees will have been planted, including 60 oaks saved from a housing development in Redlands and three towering pines that were removed from the site of the Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA, he said.
Visitors arriving at the Getty Center will park in a six-level, underground structure that provides spaces for 1,200 cars, 12 buses and various service vehicles. Taking a four-minute ride on a 90-seat electric shuttle, passengers pass three buildings--an auditorium, the home of trust offices and the Art History Information Program, and another structure that will house the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Center for Education and the Getty Grant Program. The entrance to the museum will lie immediately south of the tram station; on the west will be a restaurant and a large, circular facility for the Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities.
The new museum will house all the Getty's art collections except antiquities, which will remain at the existing museum in Malibu. Visitors will enter through a circular glass lobby, which will provide a clear view of five other two-story buildings arranged around a courtyard. The upper floor of each building will display paintings in natural light. Galleries on the lower floor will be devoted to objects that can't withstand the light, including decorative arts, drawings, photographs and manuscripts.
"The museum will be modest in scale," said its director, John Walsh. "There will be easy connections between the buildings. You will be encouraged to wander, to step outside and be refreshed by the views, to stroll on the terraces and have a cup of coffee. A visit here won't be an endurance test."
Four of the buildings will display works from the museum's permanent collection, including entire rooms of decorative arts that have languished in storage. The fifth building, which architect Meier rotated at an angle to set it apart, will be devoted to temporary exhibitions. "We will be joining the Los Angeles exhibition scene by presenting shows that otherwise might not come to Los Angeles and by generating exhibitions from our collection," said Walsh.
The Getty does not collect 20th-Century works, but contemporary art will be represented in Brentwood in outdoor commissioned site works by Robert Irwin and James Turrell, two internationally renowned leaders of Southern California's Light and Space movement. Both artists are under contract with the Getty, but firm plans for their projects have not been developed, Rountree said.
Turrell plans to provide three enclosed, underground spaces that will be open to the sky. Irwin's project, which will run through the center of the campus to a viewing deck, will incorporate water, trees and plants. "The whole idea is to bring an aesthetic experience into the gardens, not to use them as a backdrop," Rountree said.
Although the 1997 official opening may seem far away, some Getty staff--currently lodged in various Westside facilities--will be on site much sooner. The Getty Conservation Institute, temporarily located in Marina del Rey, is scheduled to move to Brentwood first, in the fall of 1995. Other programs, housed in Santa Monica, will follow in 1996. The museum building will be complete in 1996, but is not scheduled to open until the following year.