Boston-based Emerson College celebrated construction of its Hollywood campus with the help of its celebrity alumni, community leaders and city officials on Thursday.
The excavated hole at the center of the celebration may have been the focus of a joke or two, but for architect Thom Mayne, it was a welcome sight.
“We all start from foundations as do our buildings. This is the beginning, and for an architect, it's good news," Mayne said.
When construction is complete, the 10-story building will be home to 220 juniors and seniors. Students majoring in television, film, marketing communication, performing arts or screenwriting spend a semester in Los Angeles enrolled in two courses and working part-time at an internship.
Mayne's firm, Morphosis Architects, designed the building with space for classrooms, student housing, administrative offices, a first-level cafe and three levels of underground parking. Currently, the program rents space in Burbank and has students living in nearby apartments.
Construction is expected to complete in late 2013 and open to students in spring 2014.
A warm welcome into the community
Actor Henry Winkler, an Emerson College alum, served as the "master of ceremony" for Thursday's groundbreaking. He joked with the audience that after 20 rejections, Emerson was the one that finally said yes. (Hollywood Patch also spotted actor, writer and producer Larry David in the crowd, see our slideshow for photos.)
Councilman Eric Garcetti said he was looking forward to the school becoming “a new beacon and center for creativity” in Hollywood. He recalled actors dressed as American Indians and cowboys in Hollywood’s earliest days who used to line-up for directors in hopes of getting a day’s work filming in the Hills.
“You are now part of the second golden age of Hollywood," Garcetti said. "For a student who will come here and graduate, who will look for work just as actors, directors, and cinematographers did nearly 100 years ago, you will be part of those telling the new stories.”
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa also spoke during the ceremony and welcomed the school into the neighborhood.
“Thank you for believing in the dream that is L.A., for investing in this part of city and, importantly, for giving the access and opportunity to your students that will only enrich them, and us as well,” he said.
A college that aims to give back and engage with the neighborhood
Emerson College President Lee Pelton said working with the community is among the top three commitments of the new campus.
“We commit to this neighborhood, to Hollywood and to the city of Los Angeles," Pelton said. "We will be good neighbors and effective citizens and great civic partners who will set about working where we can to renew and strengthen quality in these places, to improve culture so as to make it available to all, not just a privileged few.”
The school bought the property in 2008 and has already found ways to partner with local groups.
Rachel Livingston, a counselor at Bernstein High School, was among the guests recognized at the ceremony. Emerson College has teamed up with the high school to offer a full scholarship to a graduating senior each year, which began with the first graduating class in 2010.
"They’re very committed. It’s not just lip service," said Livingston of the scholarship that complements the high school's arts media and entertainment small learning community.
And once Emerson is up and running in Hollywood, there's talk of getting Bernstein students involved in the program.
"We’ve talked about once the program is here, having our students take classes, go to presentations and lectures. Just the opportunity to connect — not just with the industry but with the education piece, Livingston said. "My kids are high school students. To get the opportunity to learn and connect with professors, helps prepare them for the expectations of college."