Galen Center time flies when they have funds

Times Staff Writer

Earlier this week, a wheelbarrow rested on bare concrete where the court will be tonight.

In the stands, sparks flew from a welder.

The lavish but not-yet-finished Galen Center -- the 10,258-seat arena USC has plotted to build for decades -- is finally scheduled to open tonight with a women's volleyball match between No. 4-ranked USC and No. 6 Stanford.

An Al Green concert Oct. 21 will serve as the arena's grand opening as an entertainment venue, and the men's basketball team -- finally liberated from the Sports Arena -- will play its regular-season opener in the new building on Nov. 16 against South Carolina. The women's basketball and men's volleyball teams will also play in the Galen Center, which has an adjoining practice facility so large that all four teams eventually will be able to practice at the same time.

"It's a huge scramble," said Carol Dougherty, the USC senior associate athletic director in charge of the project.

Dougherty wore a hard hat on a tour this week of the facility at the corner of Jefferson and Figueroa, while construction continued nearly around the clock to finish the public part of the building.

The coaches' offices remain shells, only 11 of the 22 luxury suites are complete, the weight room has no weights and tonight's match will be played on a basketball court because the volleyball floor isn't ready yet, but those amount to small details to USC officials, who like to say an on-campus arena has been more than a century in the making.

It might not be built yet if not for Louis and Helene Galen, who have contributed $50 million to a project Dougherty said will come in at $125-$130 million, including the practice pavilion.

"It's been a dream for almost 100 years," said Louis Galen, who recalls watching USC play basketball on the stage of the Shrine Auditorium and at the old Pan Pacific Auditorium.

"When we broke ground, there was an older couple there, and a guy stood up. He was 6-5, and introduced himself and said, 'I was recruited by USC in 1935 and they said then they were going to build an arena.' "

Galen, 81, used $12,000 in World War II military pay to help found Lynwood Savings and Loan in 1946. It went on to become part of World Savings, merged with Golden West Savings in the 1970s and recently was acquired by Wachovia.

How he and his wife came to make three large gifts to the arena project is a study of the subtle persistence of Don Winston, USC's senior associate athletic director and longtime department fund-raiser.

"I don't remember Don ever actually asking," Helene Galen said in the living room of their Century City home. "You know what he needs. He doesn't have to ask. He's just a gentleman."

The Galens' initial pledge was $10 million. They added another $25 million in 2003 so that the building would be named in their honor.

Later, they quietly added $15 million more to fund the practice pavilion when they learned USC was looking for a naming-rights gift for the attached facility.

"I talked to Mrs. Galen at a party and she said, 'I don't think Lou really wants somebody else's name on his building,' " Dougherty said.

Winston, who sought private donations while Dougherty worked with corporate donors, isn't the vision of Hollywood glamour associated with USC in recent years as the football program won national championships and Heisman Trophies.

"He's very low key," said Louis Galen, a 1951 graduate of USC's law school who signaled his interest to Winston during a breakfast on a trip to New York when Carson Palmer won the 2002 Heisman. He made the largest donation the next fall.

"I was following the arena very closely with Don, and we got the idea maybe we could do something," he said. "This is something you can't sell. It was just a mutual interest. We recognized it was a one-time opportunity."

Dougherty, who, like Winston, has worked at USC more than 30 years, joined the athletic department in 1999 when Athletic Director Mike Garrett put her in charge of the arena project. She praised Winston's long relationships.

"He isn't a classic fund-raiser. He doesn't pressure you," she said. "He talks about our programs and our plans. When people reach a stage in life where they're able to donate or thinking about their estate, they remember Don."

Besides the arena, the Galens have contributed to an athletic dining facility, a ceramics studio and a fine arts multi-media center at USC.

In 1997, Galen suffered complications after heart surgery to replace a valve and was in a coma for 42 days.

"I should have died," he said.

This summer, he had health issues concerning a rapid heartbeat, but he visited the construction site as often as he could, awaiting the planned September opening even after weather delays and a steel strike put the project behind schedule.

"I was determined to make it," he said.

He'll be there tonight, and next week they'll gather with a family that includes five children and 11 grandchildren for the opening concert in Galens' honor.

"We tell them it's their building, they paid for it," joked Louis Galen, adding that while he has provided for his family he would like to give most of his money away before he dies.

The Galens are football fans and weren't often among the mere 3,300 or so who turned out for men's basketball last season. The school has sold 5,100 season tickets this year.

But the first beneficiaries of the Galens' gift will be volleyball players who will enjoy well-appointed locker rooms with handsome wood stalls and mirrors in each locker, along with a player lounge that Wednesday was still awaiting furniture and a large-screen TV.

"In my whole lifetime, I wished we could have this kind of setup," USC volleyball Coach Mick Haley said. "I'm very appreciative and I know the players will be.

"Being the first ones in the facility, holy cow. ... This is the ultimate for women's sports."

The Galens said they look forward to seeing the city lights shine tonight through the large bank of windows on one wall of an arena that feels rather intimate for its size.

"We're just going to go down for a 7 o'clock game," Helene Galen said.

Times staff writers Ben Bolch and Helene Elliott contributed to this report.

robyn.norwood@latimes.com

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