Putting on my old battered hat as an architecture critic, which I was for a decade for the L.A. Times, my focus this week is downtown Los Angeles. If the ageless renown Frank Gehry can emerge as the designer of the latest addition to the hill, certainly I can, as an abiding commentator.

As I comment on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere, Angelenos with a memory might recall the once grand residential topped hill was lobotomized a half century ago as an urban renewal project, with the hope of becoming a mixed-use district featuring the city’s cultural attractions.

Beginning with the sprawling Music Center, distinguished by the neo-classsic trio Chandler, Ahmanhson and Mark Taper theatres, built somewhat haphazardly over the years has been MOCA and Broad museums, the Colburn school and the Disney Concert Hall.

Despite providing photo ops for tourists, and designed by the preening Gehry, the glistening, curvaceous concert hall, frankly, has not as promised activated the area. Though promoted as L.A. ‘s Champs Elysees, the districts’ principal street, Grand Avenue, is not very grand.

But there is hope. At long last after much failed planning attempts, it appears a viable design has emerged for the critical central site across from the concert hall, known as parcels Q and w-2. and labeled Grand.

And grand, if ambitious, it will be, a $1 billion stacked conceit by Gehry featuring a 39 story residential tower, of condos and apartments. and a 20 story luxury hotel , with the base of the usual high end restaurants, retail and entertainment And yes, some of the apartments will designated as affordable.

Frankly, they appear boxy and functional in the renderings, though the project-friendly facades should lend it animation and interest, so says Gehry, who after decades has produced a design that makes both financial and urbane sense. That’s at least according to the developer, Related Companies ,in partnership with the China Communications Construction Group.

Most critically for the public is the frontage of the project, and the pedestrian plaza, facing a not distinctive or welcome entrance to the concert hall. To be sure, the hall works as an iconic work of sculpture, but not particularly well as architecture, providing a space and place for people to meet and mingle.

Gehry has explained that his original plan for the concert hall indicated a very public entrance, the building to serve as a “ living room for the city.”

I incidentally cited this is my original review recommending Gehry for the project. But it sadly was not in the final design, which Gehry subsequently claimed was compromised by the client.

It seems there has been a host of his other projects included in this blame game, which over the years have made one wary of Gehry’s presentations. Architects do have a way of saying one thing, what a client or the media want or likes to hear, and then designing another.

So while hoping the Grand as designed by Gehry will indeed revitalize Bunker Hill and that L.A. at last will get a grand boulevard, we at present have to be reserved and hold back judgment.




So, the once robust but now sadly ailing Los Angeles Times is getting a new publisher, as I comment this on public radio 99.1 KBU and select websites everywhere. He is fittingly a medical doctor, though to be sure with deep pockets.

But unlike the parade of noxious carpetbaggers from chilly Chicago who never seemed to warm to sunny Southern California, the new owner, Patrick Soon-Shiong, is a certified local, having been born in South Africa of Chinese parents, and now lives in and apparently likes L.A. so much has several homes here, including one on Broad Beach, Malibu.

Well, certainly he is as local as most of the other drivers of cars in the next lane clogging the very democratic freeways, but probably having the good luck of immigrating here whenever.

That is at least before the dotard in the White House painted the appropriation “immigrant” some sort of mark of Cain, and apparently no memory of the roots of his parents Fred and Mary. According to my memory, they were of proud immigrant stock, from Germany and Scotland, and for better and worse, embraced the America’s entrepreneurial ethic.

And in the interest of public disclosure, I must add that Fred Trump employed as an interior decorator for their residential projects, my father, an immigrant, from Soviet Russia via Paris.

As an immigrant who obviously also embraced the American dream, Soon-Shiong probably experienced the common rough road to success, and thus brings to the lofty perch as publisher a pocketful of prejudices. Hopefully among them is a respect for the First Amendment, essentially our Bill of Rights, guaranteeing the freedom of the press.

But realistically there is no guarantee that the publisher being local necessarily will translate into a needed better daily newspaper, certainly not if the bottom line does not pencil out.

We as the conscious class may view a newspaper as essential to an informed population, vital to the care and feeding of a democracy. Yes, but to an owner it is essentially a business, no matter how ego inflating, indeed seductive and possibly fun, it might seem in this celebrity crazed world. May Punch Sulzberger and Katherine Graham rest in peace.

There also are other problems at the LATimes, principally its staff, which when I was its indulged design critic in the 1980s topped 1,000. In a noble quest then to be one of the nation’s more prestigious papers, (A shout out here for the stalwart stewardship of Bill Thomas Tom Johnson.) The Times pursued select journalists. This immodestly included me, having been previously a reporter with the NY Times, briefly an editor of the NY Post, and the author of several best selling urban-oriented books.

After a dozen satisfying years there, I became bored and had the luck of timing to leave, in 1991. Purely coincidentally, soon after with the rise of the internet the newspaper business faltered, the paper was unfortunately sold and fell sway to questionable managers, who slashed and burned staff to a present flailing 400.

And further out of bad judgment most who were bought or forced out were the higher paid and more experienced, the type of “writers and editors who are passionate,” according to a quote of Soon-Shiong, and that the paper desperately needs. Sadly, I find the present paper poorly edited and written.

But ever hopeful, and acutely aware of the need for a discerning press, I have renewed our subscription to the LA.Times, at least for a few months. I suggest you might want to, also.