The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Downtown Los Angeles, California is the fourth hall of the Los Angeles Music Center.
Lillian Disney made an initial gift in 1987 to build a performance venue as a gift to the people of Los Angeles and a tribute to Walt Disney‘s devotion to the arts and to the city. The Frank Gehry-designed building opened on October 24, 2003. Both the architecture by Frank Gehry and the acoustics of the concert hall (designed by Yasuhisa Toyota) were praised in contrast to its predecessor, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
The project was launched in 1992, when Lillian Disney, widow of Walt Disney, donated $50 million. Frank Gehry delivered completed designs in 1991. Construction of the underground parking garage began in 1992 and was completed in 1996. The garage cost had been $110 million, and was paid for by Los Angeles County, which sold bonds to provide the garage under the site of the planned hall. Construction of the concert hall itself stalled from 1994 to 1996 due to lack of fundraising. Additional funds were required since the construction cost of the final project far exceeded the original budget. Plans were revised, and in a cost saving move the originally designed stone exterior was replaced with a less costly metal skin. The needed fundraising restarted in earnest in 1996—after the real estate depression passed—headed up by Eli Broad and then-mayor Richard Riordan and groundbreaking for the hall was held in December 1999. Delay in the project completion caused many financial problems for the county of LA. The city expected to repay the garage debts by revenue coming from the Disney Hall parking users.
Upon completion in 2003, the project had cost an estimated $274 million, including the parking garage which had solely cost $110 million. The remainder of the total cost was paid by private donations, of which the Disney family’s contribution was estimated to $84.5 million with another $25 million from The Walt Disney Company. By comparison, the three existing halls of the Music Center cost $35 million in the 1960s (about $190 million in today’s dollars).
As construction finished in the spring of 2003, the Philharmonic postponed its grand opening until the fall and used the summer to let the orchestra and Master Chorale adjust to the new hall. Performers and critics agree that this extra time taken was well worth it by the time the hall opened to the public. During the summer rehearsals a few hundred VIPs were invited to sit in including donors, board members and journalists. Writing about these rehearsals, L.A. Times music critic, Mark Swed wrote the following account:
“When the orchestra finally got its next [practice] in Disney, it was to rehearse Ravel’s lusciously orchestrated ballet, “Daphnis and Chloé” . . . This time, the hall miraculously came to life. Earlier, the orchestra’s sound, wonderful as it was, had felt confined to stage. Now a new sonic dimension had been added, and every square inch of air in Disney vibrated merrily. Toyota says that he had never experienced such an acoustical difference between a first and second rehearsal in any of the halls he designed in his native Japan. Salonen could hardly believe his ears. To his amazement, he discovered that there were wrong notes in the printed parts of the Ravel that sit on the players’ stands. The orchestra has owned these scores for decades, but in the Chandler no conductor had ever heard the inner details well enough to notice the errors.”
The hall met with lauded approval from nearly all of its listeners, including its performers. In an interview with PBS, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, said, “The sound, of course, was my greatest concern, but now I am totally happy, and so is the orchestra,” and later said, “Everyone can now hear what the L.A. Phil is supposed to sound like.” This remains one of the most successful grand openings of a concert hall in American history.
The walls and ceiling of the hall are finished with Douglas-fir while the floor is finished with oak. The Hall’s reverberation time is approximately 2.2 seconds unoccupied and 2.0 seconds occupied.
After the construction, modifications were made to the Founders Room exterior; while most of the building’s exterior was designed with stainless steel given a matte finish, the Founders Room and Children’s Amphitheater were designed with highly polished mirror-like panels. The reflective qualities of the surface were amplified by the concave sections of the Founders Room walls. Some residents of the neighboring condominiums suffered glare caused by sunlight that was reflected off these surfaces and concentrated in a manner similar to a parabolic mirror. The resulting heat made some rooms of nearby condominiums unbearably warm, caused the air-conditioning costs of these residents to skyrocket and created hot spots on adjacent sidewalks of as much as 60 °C (140 °F). After complaints from neighboring buildings and residents, the owners asked Gehry Partners to come up with a solution. Their response was a computer analysis of the building’s surfaces identifying the offending panels. In 2005 these were dulled by lightly sanding the panels to eliminate unwanted glare.