Frankie goes to Hollywood

Los Angeles is derided as the capital of shallow, but city bosses are hoping Frank Gehry's new Disney Concert Hall will reveal a deeper side. John Arlidge takes LA's first ever cultural tour

In the blissed-out California sunshine, the glistening steel curves of Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles sweep you up off the pavement with the promise of style, music and a good time. Today, Gehry himself is caught in the metal slipstream of America's favourite new building.

In the blissed-out California sunshine, the glistening steel curves of Frank Gehry's Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles sweep you up off the pavement with the promise of style, music and a good time. Today, Gehry himself is caught in the metal slipstream of America's favourite new building.

The architect is standing on the limestone steps, waving his arms and talking 19 to the dozen. "When I designed this concert hall people hated it, but now it's finished they like it as much as the Guggenheim in Bilbao," he gushes. "When I walk down the street in Bilbao ladies hug me. I wonder whether that will happen in LA."

Gehry is describing "the Gehry effect". His Bilbao Guggenheim kick-started a Spanish cultural revolution, attracting millions of tourists every year to the Basque port city. Now, Gehry hopes his latest shiny, happy building will do the same for LA, his adopted home. Los Angeles may be known as the home of movies and TV, but when it comes to culture, the city is still seen as being stuck in the Dark Ages. As a friend of Carrie Bradshaw's put it recently in the final series of the New York-based HBO series Sex And The City: "I hate LA. No art, no architecture, no depth. Frozen yoghurt is not culture."

Well, LA has had enough of the Mickey Mouse jibes. The city is using Gehry's architectural icon as the centrepiece of a cultural show which it hopes will rival New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Centre and MoMa, the Museum of Modern Art. It has put together its first cultural tour that does not revolve around movies or the fake charm of celebrity.

"LA High Culture" combines the best old world hotels, the finest modern architecture, multi-billion dollar art galleries and museums, haute couture and haute cuisine. But can the home of fake breasts and the life coach win the coast-to-coast culture clash? I take the tour to find out.

The Walt Disney Concert Hall is my first stop. The bendy building is the undoubted star of downtown LA's architecture show, and Gehry is here to explain why. "It is uplifting, emotional, positive. It catches the curve," he says. But there is another reason to be here. Just down the street from Gehry's cultural cathedral is a real one, described as the world's finest new religious building.

The Spanish architect José Rafel Moneo's new Roman Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels is thrillingly modern. Built to replace its predecessor, St Vibiana's, which was badly damaged in the last California earthquake, its ochre-tinted concrete walls and statue of the Virgin Mary with its African, European and Asian features cheerfully dispense with formalism. Inside, I sit in the giant bishop's chair - it's allowed - touch the bronze statue of Jesus on the Cross - it's encouraged - and admire the way the light filters through the alabaster louvres that act as modern stained glass windows.

In a city where the only people who walk are hookers or British, it is a short stroll from this modern masterpiece to the opening brunch party for the Museum of Contemporary Art's new show - "Minimal Future? Art as Object 1958-1968". The first large-scale historical exhibition to examine the emergence of minimal art is going for maximum impact. A 500-strong crowd turns up to admire 150 key works by American artists before heading outside to the terrace of the California Plaza to enjoy a Prickly Pear Margarita. It's high art and high enjoyment.

After cocktails and canapés, it's time to go up - way up to the $1bn Richard Meier Getty Centre in the Brentwood hills. Unlike the playful, accessible Disney Concert Hall, the Getty is museum as event. It's worth the $5 parking fee alone to admire Meier's rough-hewn marble buildings and wander around the swirly cactus gardens enjoying views of a city that stretches to the horizon and beyond. Here, high above the smog zone, the air is clear and the skies clear blue. You feel like you are in an ad for healthy California.

The Getty is the biggest and richest art gallery in America, and its best exhibits can be hard to find for a first-time visitor. Luckily, I have a bespoke tour guide with me. Anne Block shows me the Louis XIV furniture and decorative arts, including the chair on which Marie Antoinette used to sit to have her hair cut; the 19th-century photographs of Paris by French photographer Eugene Atget; Francis Harwood's "slave sculptures"; Rembrandt's 1661 wood and canvas work; Van Gogh's Irises. It's not the Hermitage, but it's a striking combination of modern architecture and old masters.

After the Getty, Anne and I head off to the Hudson district of Pasadena. This is the Hampstead of greater LA, an old-money neighbourhood which boasts some of America's best 1950s "arts and crafts" homes. Many of them are now on the Historic Register, the American equivalent of Britain's listed buildings scheme. Its leafy lanes conceal the Norton Simon Museum, which boasts a private collection to rival New York's Frick.

Norton Simon, who made one of America's biggest private fortunes out of tinned tomatoes, spent billions buying works by Raphael, Cézanne, Rembrandt, Lautrec, Degas, Manet and Monet. Viewing high European art in another modern Gehry-designed building feels very "new LA".

So far, so posh. But these days cultural tourists want more than buildings, painting and sculpture. What about music? What about haute couture? What about haute cuisine? Everybody knows Rodeo Drive is for tourists - including Mike Tyson, whom I spot shopping in Gucci when I do the tourist thing. What is less well-known is that the suburb of Melrose contains some couture gems that you cannot find anywhere else in America - or Europe.

Anne takes me to the only bespoke Miu Miu shop in the world to sell the entire Prada diffusion line for men and women. There's also Costume National and LA's über-boutique Fred Seagal.

After a small dose of high-end retail therapy we have enough time for a Martini at the Four Seasons, one of the few big LA hotels that manages to cast off fake gentility and capture real old-world charm, before heading off to L'Orangerie for dinner.

Middle America may still be calling French fries "Freedom fries", but in this restaurant, built in the style of a chateau, France rules. We sit down to a duo of scrambled eggs in their shells topped with Petrossian sevruga caviar, followed by roasted squab with quince, wild mushrooms, roasted chestnuts and a millefeuille of celery root.

After our soufflé and Valencay cheese with ash it's time to head for the St Regis, the official hotel for the Disney Concert Hall. Parked outside is a $400,000 Mercedes Benz Maybach: very expensive, but very understated. The limo is here to take us back to where the High Culture tour began - Downtown's Disney.

It is still light when Anne and I take our seats on the Pucci-print-style seats and admire the auditorium whose acoustics are so perfect you could hear a tear drop. The explosive exterior and swooping Douglas Fir-lined interior create a visual analogue for the movement of sound waves. And unlike any other concert hall, the Disney has windows at the top. Tonight, the sun shimmers down on to the stage as the music rises up. Under the baton of Finnish conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, Mozart has never sounded - or looked - better.

Anne and I head out after the concert to see the setting sun turn the silver steel panels of the Concert Hall a rich, burnt bronze. Its rays flow over the theatrical curves like flames. The building looks like a giant musical instrument, a pied piper for the new, cultural LA which is drawing tourists in from Hollywood, Venice Beach and Neverland.

As we admire this fanfare for the cultural man, Anne reminds me that Angelenos once had to leave the city to get their fix of high art. "Remember Richard Gere hiring a private jet to take Julia Roberts to the opera in San Franciso in the movie Pretty Woman? Well, guess who's having a party here next weekend?" "Richard Gere and Julia Roberts?" I suggest. She nods. Frank Gehry has gone to Hollywood and now Hollywood is going to Frankie. "It's so new LA," smiles Anne. "You gotta love it!"

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

GETTING THERE

The writer travelled with British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com), which flies twice daily from London Heathrow to Los Angeles, with fares from £334. The other airlines on this route are Air New Zealand, American, United and Virgin Atlantic. Fares over Easter are high, but for the second half of April they are available for as little as £300 return through discount agents for midweek travel.

The LA bus and metro rail service is cheap and excellent. From the airport, take the free shuttle bus to the metro station.

STAYING THERE

The St Regis Hotel (001 310 277 6111; www.stregis.com) in Century City is the official hotel for the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Hotel and concert packages, including concert tickets, accommodation, breakfast, dinner and spa treatments cost from $1,020 (£550) for two. The Four Seasons (001 310 273 2222; www.fourseasons.com/losangeles) is in Beverly Hills. Doubles from $390 (£210).

EATING OUT

L'Orangerie is at 903 North La Cienega Blvd (001 310 652 9770; www.LOrangerie.com).

TOURS

Anne Block's "Take My Mother* Please (*or any other VIP)" Custom Designed Tours (001 323 737 2200; www.takemymotherplease.com) cost from $300 (£160).

For architectural tours of downtown Los Angeles see Red Line Tours (001 323 402 1074; www.redlinetours.com).

MUSEUMS

J Paul Getty Museum (001 310 440 7300; www.getty.edu).

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (001 323 857 6000; www.lacma.org).

Norton Simon Museum (001 626 449 6840; www.nortonsimon.org).

Museum of Contemporary Art: (001 213 626 6222; www.moca.org).

MORE INFO

LA INC, The Convention and Visitors Bureau (020-7318 9555; www.visitLAnow.com).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

News
i100
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices