Gehry scraps move to Los Angeles wetlands

First Steven Spielberg and his friends backed out, and now the architect Frank Gehry has done the same. One by one, the great and the good have been attracted to the most contentious building development in Los Angeles, only to get cold feet and walk away.

The development, Playa Vista, is being planned near Los Angeles airport on top of the last remaining coastal wetland in the city, and has been the cause of furious battles between developers and environmentalists for years. And, intriguingly, there is talk of an old Indian curse jinxing the whole thing.

Three years ago, the anchor tenant was to be the DreamWorks studio founded by Spielberg and the Hollywood moguls Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen. Negative publicity, as well as bickering with the developers over terms, led DreamWorks to pull the plug.

Last summer, it was announced that Mr Gehry would design a 60-acre area at the eastern end of Playa Vista, and that Gehry & Associates would move their offices to the site. Again, the environmentalists went ballistic, and one woman – a long-time friend of Mr Gehry – chained herself to a fence outside the architect's premises in Santa Monica.

Now Mr Gehry has announced a withdrawal. From next year, his firm will lease office space a few minutes' drive to the north of Playa Vista. He insists the decision has nothing to do with environmentalist pressure. A more likely reasons is that he, like Spielberg, became frustrated by the developers. The land has not even been bought, and there is a big grassroots push for the city of Los Angeles to turn it into parkland.

The developers complain that opponents have used their celebrity would-be tenants as fodder for their publicity machine, but without high-profile deals there is a danger that the whole enterprise could hit a brick wall. An Indian superstition says the site is cursed because it is on a burial ground. Underground pockets of methane gas are also creating bureaucratic headaches.