Internationally renowned architect Frank Gehry was urged Wednesday to resign as a designer of a controversial construction project in what environmentalists claim is Los Angeles' last significant remaining wetlands area.
Protesters staged a 90-minute vigil outside Gehry's Santa Monica office after begging him in a private meeting to end his association with the Playa Vista project--the proposed huge development of residential and commercial buildings alongside Ballona Creek near Marina del Rey.
By designing office buildings for a 60-acre section of the overall 1,087-acre project, Gehry is giving the development undue credibility, asserted those taking part in the vigil.
"Frank Gehry has a tough decision to make," said protester Eric Lloyd Wright, an architect who is the grandson of legendary designer Frank Lloyd Wright. "I hope he makes the right decision.
"Architects, to be true to their profession, should be in the forefront of working with nature, not against it," he said.
Gehry was unavailable after the hourlong meeting with representatives of a dozen conservation groups. An official of his firm said he had a previously scheduled meeting with a Panamanian government official.
Architect Jim Glymph, who is Gehry's partner, stressed that the Gehry project would not harm wetlands because it would be on what has been a longtime industrial site, which includes an old aviation hangar.
"Their concern is that Frank, somehow by being involved in a project in the area of the wetlands, is endorsing the entire [Playa Vista] project. I don't think that's what we're doing. We're designing buildings to replace factory buildings on the site that have been zoned industrial for the last 80 years and have been in constant use as industrial for the last 80 years," Glymph said.
But protest leaders said they were encouraged when Gehry accepted their offer to lead him on a tour of the area. They said Gehry and developer Robert Maguire will meet with them again Monday.
"He actually said that if it was up to him he'd make the place a park," said Bruce Robertson, a Mar Vista resident who heads the Ballona Valley Preservation League.
Still, Gehry--who is widely considered the hottest architect in the world today with projects ranging from the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, to the Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles--did not commit to quitting Playa Vista.
"Mr. Gehry said he'd already fulfilled the majority of his contract and he might be sued for not completing the rest of it," Robertson said. "I suggested he say something about Playa Vista that would get him fired from the project and then he wouldn't be sued."
Longtime Santa Monica social activist Jerry Rubin distributed squeeze balls resembling a baseball-size Earth to Gehry and his staff at the meeting. He complained that developers were poised to use Gehry's name "to add an air of respectability" to a project that opponents contend will cause long-term harm to the environment.
Gehry's involvement with Maguire was disclosed earlier this month when it was announced that Maguire plans to spend $90 million to buy the onetime Howard Hughes aircraft plant acreage from Playa Capital Corp., the principal owner and developer of Playa Vista.
For Maguire, Gehry is designing four buildings with a combined space of 450,000 square feet. Their construction is targeted to begin in the fall of 2002 near a hangar Hughes once used to house his Spruce Goose, a huge troop-carrying seaplane constructed of wood that was flown only once in a 1947 test flight at Long Beach Harbor.
The hangar has recently been used as a movie sound stage and is to be preserved under Gehry's plan. Gehry's proposed buildings for the site have been described as hard-edged and orderly--unlike the complicated sets of billowy forms sported by recent projects in Los Angeles and elsewhere.