Last week, the fundraising coffers of Los Angeles’ long-delayed new concert hall received a cash infusion of some $8.36 million, but conspicuously absent from the list of benefactors was any major entertainment company.
Firms representing oil interests and supermarket chains, even various board members of the L.A. Philharmonic, who contributed $1.45 million, have chipped in, but Hollywood money has so far come up short.
The situation has many observers pointing to the long history of a rift between the entertainment industry and the downtown Los Angeles power-brokers. It is a chasm so great that many say Westside industry folk have more in common with Manhattan that downtown Los Angeles.
“There’s always been a divide between the entertainment industry and the downtown business community,” says Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. “This could seem too ‘white shoe’ for the entertainment industry.”
“It goes back to the jeans and the suits,” Kyser says. “Once you are east of La Brea (a major north-south street), you are in suit territory.”
Bridging the gap
The July 6 death of fundraising and cultural dynamo Dorothy Chandler, who did bridge the downtown-showbiz gap, illuminates a glaring irony: that the Music Center — which includes the Chandler and the Ahmanson and Mark Taper Forum theaters — got built in the 1960s with the help of Hollywood.
Moguls, led by Lew Wasserman, were among a unique cultural coalition that contributed. But Lillian Disney’s initial $50 million gift to the Disney Hall — later dwarfed by rising construction costs — is so far the only significant sign of financial support from the industry or its players. (A notable exception is Ginny Mancini, widow of movie composer Henry Mancini, who donated $1 million.) Not even the Disney corporation has ponied up for the new hall, which will sit just opposite the Chandler.
“That was all the generation of Dorothy Chandler,” says William Fulton, author of “The Reluctant Metropolis: The Politics of Urban Growth in Los Angeles.” “Once that generation passed, no one came afterward.”
No entertainment firms are downtown, and that fact shows few signs of changing as the industry expands. Much of the growth in the business has been on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley, 20 minutes or more from downtown.
The Academy Awards at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion are just about the only occasion that forces showbiz denizens into the canyon of bank buildings and financial centers.
And even though downtown serves as a frequent backdrop for movies and TV shows, that doesn’t mean institutions based there are at the top of corporate philanthropy lists, nor does it necessarily show “involvement as a good corporate citizen,” says Cody Cluff of the Los Angeles Entertainment Industry Development Corp.
The entertainment industry “is a little bit more insular” than the top industries in other cities, Cluff notes. One of his favorite examples was three years ago, when he was involved in bringing reps from the recording industry together with button-down lawyers and real estate execs from downtown in an effort to lure the Grammys back to the city.
“The differences between them were almost so great you were practically talking about different languages,” he says.
Why such different cultures? Many trace origins to racial divides, with the WASP downtown suits keeping to themselves or even shutting out Jewish Hollywood moguls.
To be sure, Disney Hall, with construction costs that have ballooned, has been a troubled project, making it a giant fundraising hurdle that still will face several new milestones in the coming months.
And there also is the fact that the hall bears the name of Disney — a potential turnoff to other studios, many officials believe.
“It would be unique to see Warner Bros. or Universal contribute” to the concert hall, Cluff says. “I’m not sure what value is there for them.”
Still more problematic is the fact that corporate headquarters of Time Warner and Viacom are in New York. And when it comes to charitable causes, the industry has its own outlets in the well-respected Permanent Charities and the Motion Picture and Television Fund.
“This is a mobile industry,” says one industry exec. “People don’t feel like they belong to this community. The industry is much bigger, more fragmented.”
Potential benefactors like David Geffen and Rupert Murdoch have been approached, but nothing has been solidified. (Geffen is one of the few downtown benefactors from the biz, having contributed to the expansion of the Museum of Contemporary Art.) And admittedly, city officials say that their initial effort has been focused on traditional downtown givers, like ARCO, which gave $10 million; the Times Mirror Foundation, which gave $5 million; and BankAmerica and Wells Fargo, which gave $5 million each.
Some studios, such as Warner Bros., have not been approached.
Just getting started
“Essentially, we are more or less getting started,” says Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who is leading the fundraising with SunAmerica Inc. chairman Eli Broad. “But we have been led to believe that we will get some (contributions).”
He says that three potential entertainment contributors have been approached, and sources say that luring entertainment moguls to the project has been a hot topic of discussion. Asked why the Disney company itself has not contributed, Riordan offers, “No comment.” A company spokesman did not comment.
But some in the industry say that the notion that they do little for the city “is not really a fair rap,” says Andy Spahn of DreamWorks. “Historically, one hears of the separation of many interests in Los Angeles. There is the Jewish community, the real estate interests, the corporate interests. You don’t see a lot of overlap.”
Some studios have gotten involved in their communities. At Paramount, for instance, executive Chris Essel serves as chairwoman of the Community Redevelopment Agency. One of its missions: The revitalization of Hollywood.
DreamWorks has had perhaps the most intense recent involvement with downtown Los Angeles and its power brokers, having been wooed by Riordan to go south of the city into Playa Vista with an incentive package valued at $70 million. That project has seen a clash of cultures — Geffen, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg were practically the only ones not wearing ties at a kickoff press conference — as well as a rift with developer Robert Maguire, whose headquarters are downtown. But DreamWorks also is lining up a jobs incentive program, one of the conditions of its package.
Los Angeles recently enlisted the entertainment industry to help guide its new marketing campaign. The William Morris Agency, for example, has been lining up celebrities to lend their name to commercial spots. Among the ideas being bandied about: everything from creating a multimedia incubator to building a sports and entertainment museum as part of a proposed new downtown sports arena and entertainment complex.
And while film crews are in and out of downtown in a heartbeat, one developer is drawing up plans to build a soundstage on property that once housed Unocal.
That would be a first for downtown, a potential attraction that could lure a wave of other entertainment companies.
But even then, there are doubts that the entree of such a venture to downtown will alter the cultural rift between the city and the industry.
“Can you imagine if this were Lincoln Center or the Hollywood Bowl?” Fulton says. “They would raise the money and build it. That is in their world. But Disney Hall is not on their map.”