Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles


Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, designed by Frank Gehry.

    When I first saw the towering curved steel walls of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, they looked like sails coming at me.  My first response was WOW this is different from anything I've seen before.  I'm a real fan of modern architecture and it takes something really different to surprise me anymore. The curving steel walls and contrasting shades of color were eye boggling.

    The architect was Frank Gehry, who has been labeled by Vanity Fair as the most important architect of our age with a number of his attractions like  the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, The Experience Music Project in Seattle, and Walt Disney Concert Hall being world-renowned attractions.

    As we walked around the building, we arrived at a large garden with flowers and trees that seemed be a nice place to visit during the intermissions in the performances.  A center piece is a large rose shaped fountain designed in honor of Lillian Disney, Walt's wife who made the original $50 million donation in 1988 to build the hall.  She loved Royal Delft porcelain so the fountain is covered in broken pieces of Delft porcelain.

    The inside is also breathtaking with large curved open spaces for a variety of activities including a Children's Amphitheater.  Gehry's use of wood was influenced by his interest in the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.  He made a point of not meeting Wright in person because of his master-slave relationship with his workers.

    The main hall seats 2,265 people. We did not attend any performances, but we understand the acoustics are excellent having been designed by Minoru Nagata.

    The large underground garage holds 2000 cars on seven levels.  The garage alone cost $110 million.   Construction was stopped for a number of years to raise the money to continue building it.   When it was finally completed in 2003, it had cost a total of $274 million.

    Twenty-five architects were asked to submit plans.   Gehry was surprised when he won, but he was aware that there was resistance to building it according to his plans, and he needed the backing of the Disney family to insure that he got to do the actual oversight of the construction.

    The use of new materials led to some unexpected consequences-- dangerous glare. The curved steel walls caused the focusing of heat on nearby buildings making them overheated,  shooting up their air conditioning costs.  After complaints Gehry came up with a way of sanding the surfaces to reduce the glare. 

    When I decided to do this story, I read a biography on him, "Conversations with Frank Gehry" by Barbara Isenberg.  He was born Frank Owen Goldberg in Toronto, Canada, in 1929.

    Because of prejudice and bullying directed at Jews, he changed his name to Gehry when he became an adult.   It was a struggle to find his potential as an architect and he met much resistance because of his outside of the box ideas. 

    After his stint in the army he went to the Harvard Graduate School of Design.  He lasted one year, but because he had paid for a two year program Harvard allowed him to sit in on whatever classes in the rest of the University that attracted him.  This was a good year for him as a broadening experience.  Years later Harvard gave him an honorary degree.

    I was impressed with his varigated background that included living in Paris and meeting famous artists who became a major influence on his work

    He moved back to Los Angeles in 1962 and began his own practice.  Everything he did seems different from his last project.  One that brings a smile every time I look at is the Nationale-Nederlanden Building in Prague, Czech Republic.  It looks like a slightly off balance women with too tight a girdle standing next to a straight standing man.   Gehry actually based it on a dancing scene of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

    Art museums and concert halls seem to be the main benefactors of new uses of building materials and stately designs.   Examples of outstanding modern building in Missouri include Bloch Building at the Nelson-Atkins and  the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, in Kansas City, and the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis.

      Here in Columbia we can take pride in the Daniel Boone regional Library and the Firestone Baars Chapel at Stephen College.

My daughter stands beside a large rose shaped fountain designed in honor of Lillian Disney, Walt's wife.

The Alamo


The Alamo in San Antonio is Texas most visited attraction.

            Perusing the internet I came upon a listing of: "the worst tourist trap in every state."  I was surprised at what the author felt were not worth a traveler's time or money.  I had seen and written stories about most of his list that included Bourbon Street, Mall of America and Times Square.  Was I out of contact with what's worth seeing?

            On the Alamo he said, "Remember the Alamo? More like, spend a day at the Alamo and you'll remember to never go back.  The Building's remains are so small they consistently disappoint visitors."

            About a week later I came upon: "The one attraction you can't miss in every state." A number of them were sites that had made the worst list, including the Alamo. This author said: "Located on the outskirts of San Antonio, it was originally built by Franciscans in 1744 and was converted into a fort in 1836.  It earned its fame during the Texan War of Independence, when 187 defenders--including Davy Crockett--fought bravely against a Mexican army 3,000 men strong, but ultimately died in take no prisons battle."  (Another report says 2000 men.)

            Given the fact there have been at least 14 movies about the battle in 1836, would suggest it has played a major role in American's opinion about its importance.  The 13 day lost battle became the battle cry, "Remember the Alamo," that pulled Texans together  to win independence from Mexico.

             After Texas joined the union there were disputes about borders of Mexico and the United States that gave President James Polk a basis for starting the Mexican-American war of 1846-1848 that enlarged our country "from sea to shining sea," adding seven states to our borders.

            With three million visitors a year from all over the world the Alamo is Texas's most visited attraction.  Rather than getting a disappointed look we got a smile and then an emotional response to its significance to our country's history.  

            The Alamo has enough to see that it took us a full day to visit it and the surrounding  exhibitions.  In front of Alamo's plaza is a monument designed by Pompeo Coppini, an Italian sculptor who had adopted Texas as his home.   Among the names of the Texans who died at the Alamo are William Travis, commander of the patriots and Jim Bowie and David Crockett.

We took the audio tour of the Alamo area, stopping at 33 points that gave us a good overview of how the battle developed and the consequences.  The Alamo itself, a former church or mission, is treated with a great deal of respect as a sanctified place.  Men take their hats off, and no loud talking is allowed.  Inside the building a docent explains carefully the course of the battle and the movements of the defenders. 

 The memorial area includes a visitors’ center, a barracks and a small park.  Throughout the area docents give information above and beyond the audio tour.  

Outside the barracks a man with some of the weapons used in the battle and other objects was discussing them with visitors.  The barracks is filled with memorabilia and stories of what led up to the battle and what happened afterwards.

  Many of the comments on the audio tour focus on the maps, pictures and other displays in the barracks.  Among the items are Fess Parker’s rifle, used in the movie where he plays Crockett, medical instruments used at the hospital, a large grinding wheel, and a ring that Travis, knowing that he was about to die, gave to a young girl before the battle.   A 20-minute movie presents the story of the battle and its historical importance.  

Later at a nearby mall we went to an IMAX movie, ALAMO, The Price of Freedom, a docu-drama that recreates the battle scenes and heroism of the settlers who defended the Alamo against the Mexican army of Santa Anna.

 I feel the author of "the worst attractions list" failed to understand the importance to many of us travelers to be at a place where history happened and to see and touch those objects that played a role in creating the world we live in today. 

Texas is an exciting state for a traveler to visit since it has so many important sights to see.  I have enjoyed doing stories on 22 of them.

An  Alamo monument designed by Pompeo Coppini with  patriots  Jim Bowie and David Crockett standing in the forefront.



Frontier Village, Jamestown, North Dakota

    Recently while cruising the internet I came upon a slide show on "21 Small Towns You Should Visit on Your Next American Road Trip."   To my surprise one of those towns was my home town of Jamestown, N. D.
    A note at the site reports, "If you are looking for interesting, photogenic small towns, you've come to the right place! Here are 21 spots you should stop in, snap lots of pics of, and brag to all your loved ones about. Because these are downright awesome."
    Small towns are interested in getting visitors to stop.  It's good for business, and if you get the right combination of attractions, it can actually bring a dying town back to life.  What works?  I can think of five things they can do, and Jamestown has done all five.
    1. Get the biggest something to draw attention.  As you approach Jamestown on US Highway 94 from Fargo on your way to the capital Bismarck, you will see the "World's Largest Buffalo, " a concrete monument 26 feet high, 46 feet long and weighing 60 tons.  On my last visit I was told that as many as 175,000 visitors a year have stopped to see the town's major sight, and most have had their picture taken in front of it.

The world's largest buffalo in Jamestown, North Dakota
     2.Build a living history museum.  In recent years this has been very popular, and when I see a good one, I always stop to do a story about it. Frontier Village in Jamestown in close by the buffalo.   The village is one of those sites that grown over the years and finally ended up being a significant attraction.
Frontier Village a collection of old building from around the area.
     Someone donated a railroad station from one of the defunct towns in the area. Then a post office and jail were added, and a little later an one-room schoolhouse where a friend of mine taught in the dirty (dust storm) thirties, and a small Lutheran Church that another friend had been confirmed in (at least four varieties survive in North Dakota, mostly Swedish and Norwegian).  Soon came a fire department, saloon, barber shop, sheriff’s office, trading post and an art studio and sales room set up by a locally famous cowboy artist.  
    The original buildings were furnished just as they would have been in the early 1900’s.  Open from Memorial Day to Labor Day, local volunteers will tell you histories and stories about each building.   
    A place I was connected with as a child has also been added, The General Store and Post Office from Eldridge .  In the early thirties my Dad used to take me on horseback (he didn’t drive a car) to Eldridge, a small town about 12 miles from Jamestown.  Our big thrill was watching the train rush pass and seeing the crew throw out the incoming mail sack and hook the outgoing mail bag off the post office hanger. 
    3. Find the most famous person who came from your town and put together a site with his/her name on it. Fans of Western writer Louis L’Amour donated an old house that he may have lived in.  
    For you non-western fans, thirty of L’Amour’s 89 novels have been made into movies, and his books have been translated into 26 languages.  University of Jamestown has a separate room at their library given over to his work, including books in foreign languages, and the local library also has a special display of his work.
    4. Find something that exists in few places and hype it up.  Albino buffalo had a special place in the Native Americans' traditions.  White Cloud, an albino that would have been considered sacred by the Indians of the area.  For years it was the only one in existence, but I understand two more have  been born.  With a little walk you can see the whole local herd of 50 buffalo.
    5. Have the only museum that gives the history of a person or event.  About a hundred yards from Frontier Village is the National Buffalo Museum open year around.  The museum features artifacts and artwork of the Plains Indian culture and a video showing the history of American bison.  
     Many of the visitors come in RV’s and trailers as there is a Frontier Fort Campground adjacent to the village.  You can get buffalo burgers at the chuck wagon restaurant above the gift shop on the  campground. 
    Jamestown has an excellent job putting all of this together to make it an attraction.  I realize that North Dakota is one of the least visited states in the union; but if you’re passing through, it’s worth taking a look at an important memento of America’s prairie history.