Day 14- Tour the Walt Disney Concert Hall

# 148- Tour the Walt Disney Concert Hall


Today was another day I decided it would be fun to be a tourist in my own city. There are free tours for the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. You can choose to have a docent-led tour, a tour of all four buildings of the Music Center, or take a self-guided audio tour. I was pressed for time so I opted for a 60 minute docent-led tour.

My good friend WAZE was drunk today and he and his new friend Google Calendar sent me on a wild goose chase towards San Pedro, before I realized I was traveling to the wrong Grand Ave. There was construction all over the freeway and a funeral procession too, so I was afraid I was going to miss the tour altogether. Luckily, parking was easy. The building has a seven-level underground parking structure. (Enter on 2nd street, with validation, parking is $9.)

I made it in the nick of time.

You can see a short video of the concert hall online, but it’s also fantastic to see it in person. Surprisingly, the tour does not include the auditorium, as it is closed due to the LA Philharmonic using it as a daily rehearsal space.

I have been inside once before.

When I worked at KCRW, I was given a free ticket to see Salman Rushdie at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. I was allowed to sit next to Michael Silverblatt during the presentation (ON THE STAGE)! It was one of my favorite experiences ever. Salman Rushdie was a profound and eloquent speaker and somewhere I have a picture of him giving me a pen.

Our docent was a lovely lady named Joanne.


Joanne was a great docent because she LOVES the Walt Disney Concert Hall and was eager to tell us everything she could. There was only one other lady on the tour, a serious woman from Quebec who had already been to The Broad and would go to the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels next. Incidentally, if you’re thinking of going to The Broad, it is still quite crowded. There were about 300 people waiting in line when I drove by at 1:00pm on a Thursday. You might want to call first.

Joanne told us that Lillian Disney, the widow of Walt Disney, wanted to do something special to honor her husband after his death. She donated $50 million dollars to build the Walt Disney Concert Hall to celebrate her husband’s love of music. Several architects were interviewed for the job. Once the decision had narrowed to a small group of architects, they were subjected to a “rightness test”. Frank Gehry was the unanimous choice after the rightness test. He had a clear vision, worked well with others, was flexible to new ideas, and had done his homework.

Joanne brought our attention to the architecture of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, by showing us details in the windows, the flooring, the walls and ceilings. Everything was cohesive and was thoughtfully designed. This window looking out onto downtown is called the Living Room of Los Angeles.


The three main windows on the bottom can be opened and there is a clear view of the city. The floor is separated into paths, which if you follow, can take you to different areas within the concert hall. There is a stacked glass reception desk. It doesn’t look very impressive in the photo, but it is quite stunning in person. Joanne said it used to have a large mound, but had to be changed because it wasn’t working well in the space.

There is a great deal of wood in the building. Here you can see Douglas fir wall panels, chosen for its similar look to the wood used for musical instruments. I was surprised to learn that the entire center used only 19 trees in its construction. That is a small number when you consider that the hall contains 12,500 pieces of primary steel, weighing over 11,000 tons.


Several donors helped add to the original $50 million donation. The final cost was $274 million.  Joanne showed us a wall of donor names. The font was designed specifically for the building and is called, “Frank’s font” after Frank Gehry. The names are made out of stainless steel and embedded into the wall to keep the design unobtrusive.

IMG_5772Joanne walked us up a ramp and showed us the carpet, which she said mimics the shapes found all over the building.


She then took us up a ramp to the outside, where we had views of the outside. We caught a glimpse of City Hall out the window.


A pedestrian gives you a sense of scale.



This is what the interior of the construction looks like. The complexity of the design was so challenging due to its many curved surfaces, a sophisticated aerospace software program, CATIA (Computer-Aided Three dimensional Interactive Application) was used to place the structural beams.

On the 3rd level, is a public garden. It sit 34 feet above Hope Street. The park is funded by the State of California, and was designed by Melinda Taylor. It’s meant to bring the community together. During our tour we saw people having lunch, doing a photo shoot, and just sitting peacefully in the rare green space downtown. Mature flowering trees were placed using a 350 ton crane. They were carefully placed in the same direction which they had originally faced, and the blooming is staggered so that something is blooming throughout the Philharmonic’s season.

IMG_5793Frank Gehry designed a fountain in the garden as a tribute to the late Lillian Disney. When he visited her at her home, he noticed that she loved Delft porcelain. She had a large collection and he enjoyed teasing her about the less expensive pieces in her collection. He had hoped that he could use these inexpensive pieces to make the fountain, but the floral design required many more pieces than she had. Hundreds of vases and tiles were broken on site and placed by an eight person ceramic artist team.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall opened (after many delays) in 2003, six years after Lillian Disney’s death.


Here is a close up of the inscription.


IMG_5796There is a children’s amphitheatre next to the garden which serves as a place for educational and community programs.

Other spaces in the Walt Disney Concert Hall are REDCAT, which is the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, a large café, a 3000-square-foot exhibition space, and a gift shop.


I bought a couple of pencils and a Ruler of Blues ruler.


I enjoyed spending time in the Walt Disney Concert Hall today. I hope to see the Frank Gehry exhibit at LACMA before it leaves, so that I can have a better understanding of the architect and his other work.

351 days to go!

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