DTLA – The idea of making Grand Avenue a great thoroughfare dates back decades. In the late 1990s, when planning was underway for both the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, there was also discussion about how to enliven the street and make it a pedestrian center. Sometimes the Champs-Elysees in Paris was cited as a reference point. Other times it was Barcelona’s Rambles.
Architect Jose Rafael Moneo’s house of worship opened in 2002, Frank Gehry’s swirling concert hall followed a year after that, and a decade later there were two more standout arrivals: Grand Park in 2012 and The Broad museum, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, in 2015. Add in the Music Center, MOCA and the Colburn School, and a four-block stretch of Grand Avenue is both a dynamic cultural corridor and home to a collection of buildings by world-class architects.
Yet no one would ever confuse this portion of Grand with one of the world’s great pedestrian corridors. The properties are impressive, but if you’re on foot the experience fails to engage and excite. Somehow the opportunity for a prime walking street was missed.
Fortunately, Downtown has another chance to improve Grand Avenue. It will take cooperation and investment, but something great could materialize if the players are willing to do the work.
The opportunity spins from a trio of projects, two happening on the street and one a block away. Think of it as a situation where several parts can, together, make the whole magnificent.
The Music Center recently launched a $40 million renovation of its outdated plaza. One aim is to eradicate the fortress-style design — with the three performing arts venues perched up a flight of stairs — and enhance connectivity and views with the street. The staircase will be widened and new eateries and bars will draw in passersby.
A block south, the developer Related Cos. is preparing the $1 billion mixed-use effort The Grand. The project, which has been in the works for more than a decade, is slated to break ground in the fall, and along with housing and hotel towers it will have an eating and shopping complex open to the street.
Just east of The Grand, the Colburn School is planning an expansion with a trio of performance venues, among them a 1,100-seat concert hall. Though it is a block off Grand, one can envision walking and sight-line connections to the street, especially in concert with the Related project. Considering that Gehry is designing both developments, there is a unique opportunity for synergy.
One also must keep in mind the Regional Connector station being built behind The Broad. That too will bring more pedestrians on Grand.
The goal now should be for property owners on Grand, and other affiliated interests, to come together and brainstorm on what can be done individually and collectively to enhance the street. There are numerous creative minds on this corridor, and if they work together they can help Grand Avenue live up to its name.