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Downtown LA is hurting. Frank Gehry thinks arts can lead a revival

Roger Vincent, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Home and Consumer News

With two major expansions of downtown Los Angeles cultural institutions in the works, Bunker Hill is primed to elevate its status as the region's leading arts center even as the area around it struggles with persistent homelessness and post-pandemic losses of office tenants.

Bunker Hill will soon have the largest concentration of buildings designed by Frank Gehry in the world and promises to become a cultural center "like no other place," the architect told the Los Angeles Times.

The Broad recently announced a $100-million project that will increase gallery space at one of the city's most popular museums by 70%, and the Colburn School for performing arts just broke ground on a $335-million expansion that will include a midsize concert hall — designed by Gehry — that is expected to be in near-constant use for events put on by students, professional artists and academics.

Gehry has been a key player in the decades-long comeback of Bunker Hill, a former residential neighborhood that is now home to cultural institutions, office skyscrapers, apartment towers and hotels. With the coming additions, Gehry said, Bunker Hill stands to surpass the vision he, museum founder Eli Broad and other civic leaders had in the 1990s when work got underway on Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of the government-led Grand Avenue Project to revitalize the neighborhood.

Planners at the time hoped to build on the appeal of the Music Center, which was built in the 1960s and served as a popular destination for arts patrons who typically drove in and out without stepping outside its boundaries.

"We have come a long way since the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the other Music Center venues opened," Gehry said. "So much great energy has come to the fore."


Bunker Hill is still unlikely to feel similar to cultural centers in other big cities, he acknowledged, and laughed off a reminder that Broad had suggested Grand Avenue could become L.A.'s version of Paris' Champs-Elysees.

"Los Angeles cannot be compared to anywhere else in the world. It's different than other cities," Gehry said.

Bunker Hill is slightly removed from the homelessness and safety concerns that trouble the financial district just south of it, said John Sischo, who has worked in the real estate business downtown since the 1980s.

"Homelessness is a big problem that keeps office tenants from coming downtown," he said. Safety issues are both "real and perceived."


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