What happened to the grand vision for Grand Avenue?

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Walt Disney Concert Hall on Grand Ave. Photo via Flickr by dibaer/ Creative Commons

For decades, local leaders have dreamed of transforming downtown L.A.’s Grand Avenue into a cultural mecca. Plans for the street have included a park, fancy condos, hotels and a shopping district. While some of it has come to fruition like the Civic Park between the Music Center and City Hall, most remains unrealized. Why?

On October 2nd, KCRW’s Warren Olney and Frances Anderton will host a live discussion examining that question. They’ll talk to architect Frank Gehry, philanthropist Eli Broad, L.A. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne and L.A. Philharmonic President and CEO Deborah Borda about Grand Avenue’s history and whether there’s still a chance of it becoming L.A.’s own Champs-Elysees.

The event will take place at Grand Avenue’s most famous landmark, Walt Disney Concert Hall, on its 10th anniversary. So it’s fitting to recall that once upon a time, the iconic venue seemed just as pie-in-the-sky as some say the Grand Avenue plan is today. In the early 1990s, the hall’s construction was nearly derailed by an out-of-control budget and scathing criticism of Gehry’s design, among other problems. Listen to this excerpt from a documentary KCRW produced when Disney Hall opened in 2003, starting with L.A. Times reporter Diane Haithman on the negative public reaction to early renderings of the project and ending with Gehry talking about the “painful” period that threatened his career:

 The Grand Designs for Grand Avenue at Disney Hall,  October 2.  Tickets are only $3

You can listen to the entire story of how Walt Disney Concert Hall was almost killed before it broke ground, and how it ultimately beat the odds and came to be, here: