Frank Gehry designs YOLA’s new Inglewood home

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Last week the LA Philharmonic’s Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, or YOLA, unveiled the model and renderings for a brand new concert and rehearsal space in Inglewood, designed by Frank Gehry.

Gehry loves classical music, and has had a long relationship with the LA Phil. He made changes to the Hollywood Bowl in the early 1980s, he created its landmark Walt Disney Concert Hall on Grand Avenue, and he has been a longtime friend of Gustavo Dudamel, who is the LA Phil’s current artistic and music director.

“It’s not just a venue for YOLA. It is a metaphor that says beauty matters. It will function as a building but it will also act as a catalyst in transforming our children, and I cannot wait to see that happen,” Dudamel said.

The new Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center in Inglewood will occupy a former branch office of Security Pacific Bank, on South La Brea Avenue. The building dates back to 1965.

In its former banking hall, there will be an auditorium. It will descend down a floor and it will project above the ceiling. Gehry says it’s to achieve the ideal acoustics for an orchestra, who need a room 45 feet high.

“We had to drop the floor and raise the ceiling which was it turned out a reasonable cost to do it and it makes all the difference,” Gehry said.

To figure out the ideal sound, Gehry once again worked with Nagata Acoustics, which did the acoustics for the Disney Concert Hall. Dan Beckmann is with the firm and he says there will be several challenges involved in turning a bank into an acoustically perfect space.  

“It requires the building to be very heavy so we don't hear the noises going on outside, and also to reflect low frequency sounds. We also need a very large volume. This building is not a particularly large building at the moment. So in order to make it bigger, to give it that magical 45 feet, we'll have to dig down and to raise the roof,” Beckmann said.

Gehry also added clerestories, which will flood the space with natural light. He proposes a clear glass facade behind the building’s existing overhang and columns, so passersby will see into the lobby and its proposed raised walkway.

YOLA’s 25,000-square-foot center won’t have the visual drama of Disney Concert Hall. But it is designed to provide a sense of drama for visitors, on a budget of $14.5 million.

“It's open and it's in a great spot in the city. It's a powerful location. So we just took everything away. It was clear there isn't money to transform a lot. So we put the money where our needs were. It wasn't that expensive to convert it,” Gehry said.

The scheme appears to have the sense and sensibility of an earlier, and very successful, intervention by Gehry in an existing building; namely, the Temporary, now Geffen, Contemporary for MOCA in Little Tokyo.

Gustavo Dudamel embraces Frank Gehry in front of a model of the new center, at a public unveiling on August 15. Photo by Avishay Artsy.

Dudamel founded YOLA in 2007. It’s stated goal is to provide music lessons for children from low-income communities in LA, and to introduce new audiences to classical music.

Dudamel himself is a product of Venezuela’s famed El Sistema music education program. He based YOLA on that model, and he said Gehry’s new center will serve as more than just a rehearsal and concert space.

YOLA serves about 1,200 young musicians, and Dudamel has said he would like to double that number by reaching out to local kids.

“For me, one of the important things is that YOLA will recruit kids from Inglewood. So it’s not about gentrification. It’s about creating a culture within the community, and that’s special,” Gehry said.

Fears of gentrification are growing in Inglewood as the city prepares for a new train line, the new stadium for the Rams and Chargers, and the Clippers arena.

“Arts has long been a part of the fabric of this city... and it speaks to the development of the soul and fiber of the community. And so we're more proud of this than anything we've been able to accomplish over the last four years,” said James T. Butts, the mayor of Inglewood.

Butts says YOLA’s new home will not be a gentrifying force.

“Far from being a gentrifier, it's an equalizer. It's an educational opportunity. It's an arts and development opportunity. So it's inclusionary. So we love it,” he said.

Rosa Bordenave, a resident of Inglewood, came to the press event with her 7-year-old daughter Emma.

“I want to believe... that they will work and bring this to the low income community and not ignore the kids that are in the Inglewood Unified School District,” she said.

Groundbreaking on YOLA’s new center is set to begin this spring.

Exterior model view of the Judith and Thomas L. Beckmen YOLA Center @ Inglewood. Photo courtesy of Gehry Partners, LLP