Real Bathrooms, Easier To Climb Stairs, And Food: Here's What's New At The Music Center Plaza

The plaza joins Ahmanson Theatre, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and Mark Taper Forum as the Music Center's "fifth venue." (Courtesy of The Music Center)

After 20 months and $41 million of renovations, the Music Center Plaza in downtown Los Angeles has reopened to the public.

The changes — which include bathrooms, new eateries, giant LED screens, and a shift to one, single level are part of the Music Center's bigger push for more diversity and inclusivity.

At a civic dedication on Wednesday, Music Center Board of Directors chair Lisa Specht called the renovated plaza the organization's "fifth venue."

"We have the Ahmanson, the Mark Taper, the Dorothy Chandler, the Walt Disney Concert Hall," she explained. "And this space will be our fifth venue because it's perfect for music shows, dance performances, screenings, and community happenings."

So what's new? And why make these changes, which were funded with about $30 million from Los Angeles County, and about $11 million raised by the Music Center?

I went there to find out.

A NEW STAIRCASE (AND ALSO, GETTING RID OF SOME STEPS)

If you're walking on Grand Avenue or up from Grand Park, the first thing you'll probably notice is a big set of stairs leading up to the plaza. They're less steep than the stairs that were there before — and now, they're flanked by escalators.

"If you park here, you actually have to come out into the street into the Music Center, so everybody uses the same front door," explained Bob Hale of Rios Clementi Hale Studios, which designed the renovated plaza. "I think that's an egalitarian sort of gesture, that there isn't any privilege here. This is about the community."

Another change: The plaza used to have various levels — and with that came lots of little steps. With the redesign, the plaza is now entirely on one level.

"I'm happy to say now you can cross the plaza to see our gardens or the restaurants and not have to deal with those stairs of various heights," Specht said.

President and CEO Rachel Moore explained that the renovations are part of the Music Center's "moral obligation to give to the entire community of LA County, not just the few."

"Certainly [for] people with physical disabilities, making it a flat space, having escalators, having it just feel like it's not a hard place to traverse," Moore said. "But I think it's also welcoming for people of all different backgrounds, because it will have food with different price points."

Which leads me to...

FOOD, BOOZE, AND COFFEE

At the dedication, Moore said dining options were an important part of making the space welcoming to all Angelenos, not just people who can afford tickets to the opera or theater.

"One of the things I'm most proud of is that this space is now a welcoming environment, not just for an event, or an activity, or a pre-show experience, but a place to grab a coffee, to meet up with a colleague, or maybe work on your next screenplay," Moore said.

One of the new eateries is a restaurant — Abernethy's, which opens September 5. Another is a wine and cocktail bar, The Mullin, which opened August 29, and there's also a coffee bar, Go Get Em Tiger, which also opened August 29.

At the restaurant, Abernethy's, a new chef will take over every quarter.

"The idea of having a rotating pop-up restaurant collaborates with the theater that also rotates, too. I think that's just a brilliant idea," Border Grill's Susan Feniger, who was one of the culinary advisors, said at the dedication. "This gives so many great chefs the chance to get out in front of the public."

Feniger explained that Abernethy's will also work with the county's Workforce Development Aging and Community Services' culinary arts program for veterans, Chrysalis — a non-profit which helps homeless people and people with low-incomes find jobs, and the LGBT Center's culinary arts program interns, to help these vulnerable populations find work in the restaurant.

BATHROOMS

Remember the bathroom trailers? No more! Now, there are permanent public restrooms, over by the Mark Taper Forum.

ART

As my colleague Adolfo Guzman-Lopez pointed out, Robert Graham's "Dance Door" isn't at the top of the stairs on the Grand Avenue side anymore...

I didn't get to see it myself, but according to the press materials, it's actually still on the plaza, now on the east side (If you see it, send me pictures?)

Same thing goes for the "Peace on Earth" sculpture designed by Jacques Lipchitz — it's still up there, just not in the fountain anymore.

Speaking of the iconic fountain: it's still around, too. It was refurbished as part of the renovation, and is now equipped with colored lights.

The plaza also has two big LED screens, which could be used for streaming events like Dodgers games, but will also display artwork.

WHAT'S NEXT?

The Music Center is celebrating its plaza reopening throughout the Labor Day weekend with a free dance night on Friday, a sing-along with the Los Angeles Master Chorale on Saturday, and a chance to splash around in the fountain on Sunday.

Looking forward, Specht from the Music Center's board promised that the majority of events in the plaza — which can now accommodate 5,000 people — will be free or low cost, with help from a $12 million gift from a donor and foundation.

"For more than 18 years in the making, we've created a place that Angelenos will come to and enjoy hopefully for many years to come," Hale said.

Feel free to tweet me what you think if you end up checking it out: I'm @carlamjavier.

Until then, here are some of your memories of the Music Center and the plaza that some of you shared with me: