Once upon a time in the city of angels, lived a real life angel named Dorothy Buffum Chandler. Born in 1901, her father and uncle started a 16 store chain of luxurious department stores popular in the mid 1900’s called Buffums. I remember shopping there as a young girl, and picking out a ruffled party dress for special occasions. While a Pi Phi at Stanford University, Dorothy met her future husband, Norman Chandler, whose family had published the Los Angeles Times since 1883, and they married shortly thereafter. After raising her two children, she began working at The Times, and then for The Times Mirror Company, becoming it’s Director. She initiated the Times Woman of the Year award, which was given to 243 women from 1950 through 1976.
After fundraising to keep the Hollywood Bowl open, she decided another venue was needed to showcase the arts in Los Angeles. She began her mission to raise funds for what was to be called, “The Los Angeles Music Center.” Her mission began a nine-year crusade that raised $20 million of the estimated $35 million total cost; the remainder was paid through private bond sales. The first performance was held in 1964. The first three venues were completed by 1967; The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, The Ahmanson Theatre, and The Mark Taper Forum. The final building, The Walt Disney Concert Hall, was finished in 2003, making the complex now 11 acres total. Dorothy passed away in 1997 at the age of 96, having been awarded the 1985 National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts.
According to David Halberstam, author of The Powers That Be, “Mrs. Chandler is credited more than anyone else with bringing together for the first time in the City’s history Los Angeles’ two main centers of power: the old monied families of Pasadena, San Marino and established businesses of downtown, and the more liberal, mainly Jewish, entertainment industry establishment of West Los Angeles. Her influence was significant in uniting these groups to create The Music Center.
“If you’re charting the coming of a big, sleepy, conservative community into the modern affluent, increasingly sophisticated metropolis that exists today, she may be the single most important player.” Perhaps most significantly, The Music Center project brought about an unprecedented democratization of the arts culture of the city. ” Teresa Grimes
Each year, The Music Center welcomes more than 1.3 million people to performances by its four internationally renowned resident companies: Los Angeles Philharmonic, Los Angeles Opera, Los Angeles Master Chorale, and Center Theatre Group (CTG) as well as performances by the dance series Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center. The center is home to on-going community events, arts festivals, outdoor concerts, participatory arts activities, workshops, and educational programs. I regularly attend events there with my husband, Scott, and we both look forward to the lively discussion on the ride home. It amazes me how we can see the same play and interpret it quite differently.
The architects of The Music Center, Welton Becket and Associates, opposed placing sculpture in the plaza between the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and the Mark Taper Forum. However, after a two-year search, the Art Committee of The Music Center commissioned Jacques Lipchitz to sculpt “Peace on Earth.” Today, no work of public art in Los Angeles is more photographed.
The Dance Door, a bronze sculpture, was created in 1978 by Robert Graham and donated to The Music Center in 1982 by Frederick and Marcia Weisman. Dance Door consists of a life-size bronze door, hinged on a bronze frame and locked in an open position. The door itself is hollow centered and composed of approximately 7 welded case panels on each side. Abstracted figures of dancers are cast in low relief on the door panels, and city hall can be viewed through the door.
There is a special group of women whose mission it is to support the Music Center. This group is called The Blue Ribbon, and it was founded by Mrs. Chandler in 1968. It has a membership of more than 450 women leaders of Los Angeles who champion the performing arts and support the Center’s community programs and its resident companies annually. I consider myself fortunate to be a part of this group.
One of our most unique activities each year is the “Children’s Festival.” The Blue Ribbon Children’s Festival is an annual admission-free program specifically designed for fifth grade students to attend a live, professional performance at The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. The festival began in 1970 as part of The Music Center’s commitment to engage young people in the arts, and is one of California’s longest ongoing free arts education programs. More than 830,000 children have participated in the festival since its inception, (about 18,000 per year) and for many, the festival is their first experience seeing live theater. The students arrive in buses, watch a performance, and then dance together in the plaza. They learn the dance performance ahead of time in their classrooms as part of the curriculum. To see their faces when they are all doing the same dance with students from across the city….well, it’s priceless! And to top it off, I was one of the students in 1970 when they did this for the very first time! That started my love of theater, and I will never forget the experience. The Children’s Festival is the first week in March.
I can’t imagine my life without “the arts” and that’s why I feel it’s extremely important to support them. Dorothy Buffum Chandler had a vision and turned it into a reality. Bravo to the men, women, and children across the globe who are visualizing what they can do to promote the arts in the world today.