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Emerson College breaks ground on Hollywood campus center

Posted by Roy Greene  March 8, 2012 07:39 PM

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(Ryan Catalani for

The future home of Emerson College's 10-story West Coast campus on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES -- Dozens gathered in a long white tent in Hollywood Thursday afternoon as officials from Emerson College and the city broke ground on the school’s $85 million West Coast satellite campus.

College President M. Lee Pelton was joined onstage by his predecessor, Jacqueline Liebergott, LA Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, actor and Emerson alumnus Henry Winkler, and local media executives to celebrate the start of construction on Sunset Boulevard.

The sleek 10-story structure, designed by acclaimed local architect Thom Mayne, will house classrooms, faculty offices, and a dormitory for more than 200 students participating in the downtown Boston-based liberal arts school’s 25-year-old program in Los Angeles.

“Today, we celebrate the first steps toward what will be an ambitious new endeavor that will further benefit our students, the fields we serve and the city of Los Angeles itself,” Pelton said to the audience. “In doing so, we extend Emerson’s distinctive curricular footprint across the entire continent, from the shores of one ocean to the shores of another.”

The program allows Emerson juniors and seniors to study and intern in the hub of the entertainment industry as they work toward their degrees. It is currently based in rented space in an office building in nearby Burbank and most students are housed in an apartment complex a few miles away.

In his speech, Pelton -- Emerson’s first African American president -- emphasized the college’s commitment to engaging in the city and the neighborhood, working to improve one of the less developed stretches of Sunset.

Lucia Cottone, a Sony Pictures Television executive and 1992 graduate of the college who is serving on its LA advisory group, said Emerson will offer scholarships to students at the Helen Bernstein High School a block away from the new campus center.

After an exuberant introduction by Winkler, who admitted, embarrassingly, that he repeatedly mispronounced the mayor’s name, Villaraigosa welcomed Emerson to Hollywood, taking a sarcastic jab at Burbank.

“If we were opening this facility where you used to be, the mayor of Burbank would be there,” he said, grinning. “But instead you’re in Hollywood, so the mayor of LA is here.”

A lawsuit delayed the estimated $85 million project after negotiations broke down with a recording studio across the street, which wanted the college to compensate recording time lost to disruptive noise from the construction.

EastWest Studios LLC and Emerson eventually worked out a plan that is working well so far, said Doug Rogers, the company’s founder.

Alexander C. Kaufman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AlexCKaufman.

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