DTLA – In a way, the $41 million renovation of the Music Center Plaza that was unveiled last month is understated. Much of the work involved simply flattening out a large expanse between the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Mark Taper Forum, moving a large sculpture and planting some trees. Some may wonder why the big celebration.
That viewpoint misses the magnitude of what has been accomplished. With the completion of the 20-month project, the Music Center and the County government (which operates the campus) have made a publicly owned property far more accessible to the public. If all goes as intended, the Music Center will function less like a fortress on a hill and fit better with an evolving Downtown Los Angeles, and in the process become a sort of front porch for the performing arts, a place where crowds gather for events and entertainment.
Los Angeles Downtown News last month wrote about the project, which was the first major overhaul for the Music Center since Dorothy Buffum Chandler powered its opening in 1964. Back then it was a $33.5 million statement about an emerging city’s cultural heft, and the campus would go on to host the Academy Awards and serve as the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Center Theatre Group, L.A. Opera and other performing arts organizations. There have been hundreds of notable productions over the decades, but visitors frequently parked underground, saw a show or concert and then immediately drove back home. The Music Center never maximized its potential to activate the greater Downtown area.
The new project team, which involves design firm Rios Clementi Hale Studios, deserves credit for improving visibility and access along Grand Avenue, and for adding a collection of restaurants at various price points and with different cuisines. If the Music Center is to become a complete destination, it needs to draw in people during the day and on evenings when the theaters are dark. Eating and drinking options are a prime way to achieve that, and if people can be convinced to walk over or take public transportation from points in Downtown, all the better.
As with many public spaces, a key to the project’s ultimate success will involve activating the plaza. Flattening out the expanse has doubled capacity from 2,500 to 5,000, and the opening weekend was filled with a suite of celebratory activities.
The programming needs to be year-round, it needs to be free or low-cost, and it needs to be varied and occasionally adventurous. Grand Park, immediately east of the Music Center, has hit those marks, with a variety of unique offerings since it opened in 2012. The Music Center Plaza can build on and complement what the park offers, and a $14 million fund for programming announced at the dedication provides ample potential. It’s exciting to think about how happenings such as the Fourth of July concert and fireworks show, and a New Year’s Eve party, can grow.
Ideally this project would have arrived decades ago, but with Grand Avenue continuing to evolve, this is still a good time for the renovation. Downtown now has a better Music Center Plaza, and we look forward to seeing it become a vibrant hub in the heart of the city.
©Los Angeles Downtown News 2019