The new Walt Disney Concert Hall has an interesting history, one that traces an arc from the “polite” antisemitism of Los Angeles’s postwar Wasp elite to today’s open, mutually beneficial relationship between the city’s cultural institutions and its Jewish community.
The story began in the 1950s, when the Chandler family, which owned the Los Angeles Times, set out to revamp downtown Los Angeles’s image by building a new cultural center.
“The L.A. Times was originally a much more conservative newspaper,” said Yehuda Lev, a former editor of the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. “The Times never published any social news about Jews — like weddings, funerals, parties — much like blacks. They were treated much the same way.”
But the Chandlers had trouble raising money for their project, according to a story Lev said he heard from Max Vorspan, author of “The History of the Jews of Los Angeles.”
“The Jewish community…went to the Chandlers and said, ‘Look, who contributes most of the money to cultural institutions? If you look around very little Jewish money has gone into the Chandler Pavilion,’” Lev said. “So they struck a deal — Jews would contribute to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion” if the Jews could get their society news published by the Times. The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion served as the city’s main classical music venue for nearly three decades.
Its successor also has an interesting connection to Los Angeles Jewish history.
As has been well-documented, the Walt Disney Company was once known as the only Hollywood studio with no Jews in executive positions. Walt Disney himself was said to harbor antisemitic himself.
But in 1984, 18 years after Walt’s death, his nephew Roy E. Disney staged a hostile takeover of the company. One of the key architects of the coup was Roy’s attorney and friend Stanley Gold. President of Shamrock Holdings, Roy Disney’s personal holding company, Gold is a former chairman of the board of Hebrew Union College, a senior figure in the L.A. Jewish federation and a leader of the dovish Israel Policy Forum. He has helped make Shamrock the largest single foreign investor in Israel.
Today, the company that Walt Disney built has a Jewish CEO, Michael Eisner, and deep roots in the local Jewish community. Prominent Jewish philanthropists, such as billionaire Eli Broad, have lined up to help the changed company build its new concert hall, which will supplant the music center that their community once helped the Chandlers build.