The Heart of Art

by Cynthia de Castro/AJPress

TIME Magazine praised it as “perhaps the most impressive display of virtuoso money-raising and civic citizenship in the history of US womanhood.” Newspapers around the world acclaim it as altering the cultural trajectory of Los Angeles. They’re referring to the exemplary efforts of Dorothy Buffum Chandler in giving birth to the Music Center of Los Angeles County.

As the wife of Norman Chandler, whose family published The Los Angeles Times since 1883, Dorothy Buffum Chandler became active in Los Angeles cultural circles. Seeing the importance of building a home for the arts in Los Angeles, Dorothy Chandler forever changed the city when she agreed in 1955 to head a citizen’s committee to build a permanent home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Chandler championed the cause and expanded the goal to include a performing arts center.

On March 17, 1955, Chandler, along with Mrs. Henry Salvatori and Mrs. Lemuel Bancroft, co-chaired a benefit concert at the Ambassador Hotel featuring Dinah Shore, Danny Kaye and Jack Benny. Known as the famous El Dorado party (named for the Cadillac El Dorado which was auctioned at the soiree), the $1,000-per person event raised $400,000, launching Mrs. Chandler’s historic Music Center fundraising crusade. This fundraiser began a nine-year crusade that raised some $20 million of the estimated $35 million total cost; the remainder was paid through private bond sales.

“Chandler… almost single handedly raised a staggering $18.5 million to build the Music Center, and organized a company to float another $13.7 million in bonds to finish the job,” TIME magazine reported when it featured Mrs. Chandler on the cover of its December 18, 1964 issue.

The County of Los Angeles provided the site and architect Welton Becket designed  the original complex. Construction began March 12,1962.

Chandler realized that one building would not be enough for the Center to showcase a rich array of performing genres. She determined the complex would be more culturally-relevant if it housed space not only for symphonic music and opera, but chamber music, and traditional and experimental theater. She soon found many donors for her expanded goal, among them Mark Taper who made the first $1 million donation in November 11, 1962 and Howard Ahmanson and the Ahmanson Foundation, the donors of $1.5 million in December 28, 1965.

The Los Angeles Music Center was dedicated on September 27, 1964 as “A Living Memorial to Peace,” becoming one of the most significant cultural accomplishments in the post-World War II history of Los Angeles.  It held its first performance on December 6, 1964.

The complex was completed in 1967, comprising three venues: the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre. The Chandler Pavilion served as the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 39 years, from 1964 until 2003. In that year, the Music Center celebrated another historic milestone: the debut of its fourth hall, the $274-million Walt Disney Concert Hall designed by Frank Gehry. This became the new home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Through the years, the Music Center has become an international performing arts venue and tourist destination. Today, more than forty years since its birth, the Center continues to celebrate its position as one of the world’s leading, iconic cultural centers for the performing arts.

The Resident Companies

Centrally located in downtown Los Angeles along Grand Avenue, the Music Center is home to four internationally acclaimed Resident Companies: The Los Angeles Philharmonic, Center Theatre Group, LA Opera and Los Angeles Master Chorale. Additionally, the Music Center offers the largest presentation of dance in Los Angeles, tours of all four venues, participatory arts activities, exciting programming for children and families throughout the year and nationally-recognized school education programs.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic

Founded in 1919, the Los Angeles Philharmonic is led by Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen (since 1992) and President Deborah Borda (since 2000). Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel was recently appointed to become Music Director in 2009.

The Philharmonic has won two Grammy awards and other honors.

Nearly 10 million people have been served by the Philharmonic’s educational and community programming. Each year 85,000 students and teachers participate in activities including the School Partners Program, the Kent Kresa Symphonies for Schools, Toyota Symphonies for Youth and Summer Sounds: Music for Kids at the Hollywood Bowl. In addition, the Philharmonic Association presents and produces more than 100 non-classical concerts at both venues, including jazz, world music, holiday concerts, and numerous others.

Center Theatre Group (CTG)

The CTG is one of the largest and most active theatre companies in the nation, programming year-round to a total audience exceeding 750,000 yearly at the Mark Taper Forum, and the Ahmanson Theatre, and also at the new 317-seat Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City.

Founded in 1967, it is led by Artistic Director Michael Ritchie (since 2005) and Managing Director Charles Dillingham (since 1991). Gordon Davidson is the Founding Artistic Director.

CTG has won 34 Tony Awards and three Pulitzer Prizes, and numerous other local and national honors. A leader in the development of new plays and new voices in theatre, CTG has served more than one million Los Angeles County residents with programs for students and teachers. P.L.A.Y. (Performing for Los Angeles Youth) reaches more than 35,000 Los Angeles County students annually.

Los Angeles Opera

The Los Angeles Opera was established in 1986 and since then has become a world-renowned company with a repertoire of perennial favorites and rare masterpieces in innovative productions, starring internationally established performers and promising new artists. Celebrated tenor Plácido Domingo is the Eli and Edythe Broad General Director (since 2003) -and regularly performs with the Opera as both singer and conductor – and James Conlon is Music Director (since 2006). Most recently, Los Angeles Master Chorale Director Grant Gershon was named LA Opera’s new Associate Conductor / Chorus Master.

The company has served nearly one million students, senior citizens, and other audiences through its internationally recognized Education and Community Programs and maintains a talented roster of Resident Artists – young singers who perform regularly in main stage productions as well as the Company’s community programs.

The Los Angeles Master Chorale

Founded in 1964 by the legendary Roger Wagner, the Los Angeles Master Chorale is led by Music Director Grant Gershon (since 2001) and Executive Director Terry Knowles (since 2000). One of the nation’s largest independent choral organizations, the company is in residence at the Music Center’s Walt Disney Concert Hall and has released five recordings. The Chorale has presented educational programs to more than 700,000 Los Angeles County residents. Each year 14,000 students and teachers collaborate in educational programs including the High School Choir Festival, Master Chorale Chamber Singers performances Voices Within, and artists-in-residency songwriting program for fifth-grade classes.

Recognized as one of Los Angeles’ cultural treasures, the Chorale has received accolades for its innovative programming and its commitment to commissioning new works. In June 2003, the Master Chorale received the prestigious ASCAP/Chorus America Award for Adventurous Programming. The Master Chorale performs about fifteen times per year in its own season, as well as appearing with the Los Angeles Philharmonic from time to time.

Supporting The Arts

As a privately-funded, non-profit institution, the Music Center relies on the generosity of individuals, corporations and foundations to sustain its goal of providing the most diverse cultural experiences to the widest possible audience. There are various ways one can support the arts thru Music Center.

Individual Gifts

Individual gifts support the Music Center’s efforts to present educational and cultural programming of the highest quality. Unrestricted gifts are among the most valuable to the Music Center, because they allow the Center to allocate funds wherever the need is greatest. Designated gifts allow donors to direct their gift to a specific program or priority area that is personally meaningful to them.

Corporate Gifts

Corporate giving provides valuable support to Southern California’s premier cultural organization and includes many valuable benefits that businesses can pass on to their employees.

Planned Gifts

A planned gift, such as a trust or charitable gift annuity, helps to ensure the continued prosperity of the Music Center while providing donors with significant tax benefits.

Commemorative Gifts

A commemorative gift to the Music Center is a wonderful way to honor a family member or loved one.

Matching Gifts

The Matching Gift programs allow supporters to double or even triple their gift to the Music Center. They simply send their gift along with a completed matching gift form.

Gifts by Mail

Contributions may also be sent by check to The Music Center, 35 North Grand Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90012.

To remain at the forefront of artistic excellence, the Music Center continuously looks for innovative ways that are culturally relevant to the community. Perhaps Dorothy Chandler said it best in a 1964 Los Angeles Times article: “The Music Center will stand forever as a symbol of what creative man can accomplish when he sets high his standards and has a vision far beyond our present horizons.”


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