Posted May 5, 2016
Coming Home To The Conrad
La Jolla Music Society prepares to build a new, state of the art facility to call its own in the heart Of La Jolla
The most exciting news in La Jolla that you may not have heard is arguably the big plan for a little spot on Fay Avenue, right in the heart of La Jolla. Dubbed “The Conrad,” it’s not a luxury hotel in the Hilton family, but rather a future state-of-the-art performing arts center and the eventual permanent home of the La Jolla Music Society. Its official title, The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center, was so named after the prominent San Diego philanthropist donated $20 million to kickstart the project, which will be wholly funded by private donations and whose total final cost is estimated at $65 million (of which $60 million has already been secured). Explains Katherine Chapin, Chairman of the Board of LJMS, “Conrad Prebys has been so incredibly generous with La Jolla Music Society throughout our many years, but in particular, he was extraordinarily generous toward the building of this performing arts center, and so we dedicated the name as a tribute to him with deep appreciation and thanks.” Of the investment, Prebys has said, “When the [La Jolla] Music Society opportunity presented itself, I think I took five minutes to make the decision. I consider it my pride and joy.”
Why The Conrad is still somewhat of a secret is partially because the site is now merely a nondescript, structureless, fenced-in lot at 7600 Fay Avenue. However, once ground is broken on the project within the next few months, we will actually be able to watch construction progress via Webcam on theconrad.org until its estimated completion in 2018, when it culminates into the facility, which will include a 500-seat theater and a 150-seat cabaret/multi-use space, as well as a café and open air courtyard. The main theater, equivalent in capacity to Sherwood Auditorium, LJMS’s current venue, is to be named the Baker Baum Concert Hall in honor of donors Brenda Baker and Steve Baum, who contributed $10 million to the project. The cabaret space will be cleverly dubbed Studio JAI, in recognition of the $10 million LJMS received from Joan And Irwin Jacobs.
The choice to embark on the project was essentially made for the Society, when the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego announced plans to repurpose its Sherwood Auditorium, leaving LJMS to search for a new permanent home.
Then, says Chapin, “this property came up and ended up being the perfect type of property for the size of theaters that we have, and also the perfect location to help revitalize La Jolla.” Though the plan for new construction in downtown La Jolla has intrinsic size restrictions, Chapin says, “I don’t think that we really had any kind of interest to build a 2,500-seat theater. We were pretty lucky to get that spot, and [still] a place big enough in La Jolla such that we could build a world class arts and entertainment center.”
Therein lies the true mission for LJMS: to create a cutting-edge space to become the go-to destination for artists and arts lovers in San Diego and beyond. The project’s architect, Epstein Joslin Architects, Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, was selected for its reputation for building acclaimed music venues, including the Seiji Ozawa Hall for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. “There will be people who will want to see The Conrad for the architecture and the beauty itself,” says Chapin. World-renowned acoustician, Yasuhisa Toyota, president of Nagata Acoustics America, has also been chosen to develop, as The Conrad’s Web site says, “a concert hall that will be acoustically exceptional.” With venues including Walt Disney Concert Hall and Japan’s Kyoto Concert Hall to its credit, the firm’s hiring is further insurance that The Conrad will live up to the dreams of its creators. “We hope that with our capabilities, we’re going to be pioneering toward the future,” says Chapin.
In addition to the intense technical attention to the venue, there is equally significant emphasis on creating the most appealing space for musicians, artists, and audiences alike; to be a multi-use venue capable of hosting everything from concerts and performances to music, film, and ethnic festivals, lectures, conferences, and even private events. “The various spaces will be able to be utilized for the community of San Diego for limitless possibilities,” says Chapin. As a result, Chapin foresees The Conrad’s draw to extend throughout not only San Diego, but nationally and internationally. “For me, it’s all about the reputational impact that we’re going to have,” says Chapin, “and the fact that The Conrad is going to be a prominent destination for cultural tourism, and is going to enhance San Diego’s reputation as a prominent arts city.”
Beyond this already broad scope of use, The Conrad will also flex an educational arm. According to Chapin, it will offer a new location for a broad and bigger range of programs for San Diego schools through daytime classes, lectures, demonstrations, and performances, both by La Jolla Music Society as well as other San Diego groups and organizations.
When asked what the initial reaction has been to their plans, Chapin doesn’t hesitate. “It’s been 100 percent positive,” she says matter-of-factly, saying their plans were met with “unanimous enthusiasm” among San Diego leadership. Additionally, there’s the potential for positive economic impact within the community surrounding The Conrad. “It will obviously help stimulate local economic vitality,” says Chapin. “Restaurants will be hosting pre-theater patrons, local shops will be extending their hours for audiences as they walk from parking to a performance, local hotels, I’m sure, will be positively impacted, so I think all of it is going to have a very clear, beneficial effect on the local economy.”
The significance of this endeavor isn’t lost on the LJMS team. “It’s exciting to me — as well as an honor — to have joined LJMS at such an important time of growth for the organization,” says Kristin Lancino, President and Artistic Director of LJMS. “The Conrad is going to be so much more than a new home for La Jolla Music Society and a concert hall for our performances and for SummerFest — it will be an artistic home for the whole San Diego community; a place where we can collaborate with other organizations and enhance the cultural life of the city.” For Chapin’s part, she says, “When I took over the chairmanship role of LJMS, I did not necessarily think I was going to be involved in helping with the vision, the planning and the execution of building a world class arts and entertainment center, and yet I, along with several board members, have been very much involved in the day-to-day aspects of it, and we’re building it one nail at a time. It’s a great forward-thinking vision and a great legacy for our organization.”
Though The Conrad may not yet be the hottest news on everyone’s lips in La Jolla, says Chapin, “I think when the shovel hits the dirt, that’s when it’s really going to get exciting.” theconrad.org, ljms.org DEANNA MURPHY