Born in Lafayette, Illinois in 1901, Dorothy Buffum moved with her family to Long Beach in 1902, where her father opened a general store that eventually became the Buffum's department store chain.
While attending Stanford University, she met fellow student Norman Chandler, son of Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler, and the couple was married in 1922. The Chandler family was among the wealthiest in the city and, as publishers of the Times, they played an exceptionally influential role in the politics and development of California and Los Angeles. Norman Chandler became publisher of the Times upon his father's death in 1944. Dorothy Chandler's involvement in the community began in the 1930s with volunteer work and fund-raising for Children's Hospital of Los Angeles, where her efforts resulted in major improvements for both patients and staff. Offered the hospital presidency in 1944, she instead chose to join her husband at the Los Angeles Times, beginning as an administrative assistant and ultimately serving as a Vice President and Director. A feminist within the Times conservative culture, she was responsible for updating and modernizing the women's section of the paper in the late 1940s. Concerned that women were not adequately recognized for their community service, Chandler instituted an annual awards ceremony to honor women for individual achievement. This became the Times Woman of the Year awards, presented between 1950 and 1976. She assumed a leadership role in the Times-owned tabloid newspaper the Mirror, and helped her husband restructure and move the Times-Mirror Corporation into enterprises other than newspapers (Pitt and Pitt, p. 84).
In 1954, Chandler was appointed a Regent of the University of California. Over the course of her sixteen year term, she served as Chairman of the very important Buildings and Grounds Committee that presided over the largest expansion of the UC system in its history. Seven campuses were added and the others greatly expanded during her tenure. Her interest in education further resulted in her participation in a presidential committee on education under Eisenhower, and she was later appointed to a Senate advisory committee by President Johnson. Chandler served for many years on the board of the Southern California Symphony Association. When a financial crisis forced the closing of the Hollywood Bowl in 1951, she was selected by the Symphony Association and the County Supervisors to chair an emergency committee to raise funds for the beleaguered facility. Among other things, her group organized a series of "Save the Bowl" concerts, enlisting well-known conductors and musicians to perform without fee. Largely through her efforts, the Bowl was re-opened, the season completed, and public awareness and support of the Bowl and the arts greatly enhanced. The Hollywood Bowl crisis also brought recognition to Chandler as a major force in the city's civic and cultural establishment. She became President of the Bowl's board and her involvement with revitalization efforts there continued until 1958, when she was named Symphony Association president.
Understanding that lack of cultural facilities was holding Los Angeles back from recognition as a major world city, Chandler focused her efforts beginning in the mid-1950s on creating a permanent winter home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. With several members of the Symphony Association, she staged a fundraiser in 1955 that raised an unprecedented $400,000 toward a hall. The event became known as the El Dorado Party, named for the model Cadillac that was auctioned. She later stated "that was the beginning of it all. When we raised $400,000 in a few hours on El Dorado Night, I knew southern Californians wanted a music center badly enough to build it themselves." That same year, she was selected by the County Supervisors to lead a thirty-six-member advisory committee, later expanded to become the Civic Auditorium and Music Center Association of Los Angeles County (CAMCA) whose members included more than one hundred of the City's business, film industry, publishing, and education leaders.
After initial plans for a combined civic auditorium and music center fell short, Chandler pressed her group to continue their efforts. In 1959, City and County officials offered to set aside the most prominent civic center site for a solo music center project and proposed an unprecedented private-public partnership to fund it. She personally enlisted architect Welton Becket, whom she knew from her work at the Hollywood Bowl and as a Regent, to design the complex, and guide the project through the County approval process. In July, 1959, the seventy-member Music Center Building Fund Committee was formed under Mrs. Chandler's chairmanship.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, she relentlessly and almost single-handedly persuaded political and business leaders that Los Angeles needed a major performing arts facility, distinguishing herself as the matriarch of the Los Angeles arts scene. In her endeavors to achieve a performing arts center, Chandler is credited more than anyone else with bringing together for the first time in the City's history Los Angeles' two main centers of power: the old monied families of Pasadena, San Marino, and established businesses of downtown, and the more liberal, mainly Jewish, entertainment industry establishment of West Los Angeles. Her influence was significant in uniting these groups to create The Music Center and, perhaps most importantly, The Music Center project brought about an unprecedented democratization of the arts culture of the city (Halberstam p. 274). Through her family's newspaper, and influence in television and radio, efforts to build The Music Center were highly publicized. Chandler was able to attract widespread community enthusiasm, support, and involvement in the project. Student groups and volunteers from all walks of life participated in fund raising, and the "Buck Bags" used, designed by Walt Disney, were a common sight at all local events (Asseyev p. 54).
The $33.5 million, three-Theatre complex was dedicated as "A Living Memorial to Peace" on December 6, 1964. Fittingly, its principal building, the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, was named the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Soon after the dedication, Time magazine featured Chandler on its cover. An accompanying article reported, "Buff Chandler...almost singlehanded raised a staggering $18.5 million to build [The Music Center], and organized a company to float another $13.7 million in bonds to finish the job. It was perhaps the most impressive display of virtuoso money-raising and civic citizenship in the history of U.S. womanhood" (Time 1964).
Chandler received many accolades for her Music Center achievement; for example, John Anson Ford, Chairman of the County Board of Supervisors, observed that "Mrs. Norman Chandler, wife of the Timespublisher, deserves more credit for this great step [Music Center], than does anyone else" (Ford p. 48).
Realization of The Music Center was not the end of Chandler's involvement with the facility. In 1968, she created the Amazing Blue Ribbon 400, a fund raising organization that raised money for the continued operation of The Music Center. She also continued as Vice President of The Music Center Operating Company until 1976, was on the board of the Center Theatre Group, and served as Chairman of the Performing Arts Council of The Music Center between 1965 and 1981.
Upon her death in 1997 at the age of ninety-six, she was eulogized by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, who stated: "Her imprint will be part of Los Angeles for many centuries to come. In culture, she certainly was the most outstanding leader in the history of the city." (Los Angeles Times 7/7/97 p. A1)
The above piece, "Dorothy Buffum Chandler" is an excerpt from Historic American Building Survey prepared by Teresa Grimes.