The Musco Center for the Arts held its grand opening in March. (Photo by Daniel Langhorne)

Chapman holds grand opening for Musco Center,

new science building on tap

April 2016

By Daniel Langhorne

Chapman University opened the doors to its $82 million Musco Center for the Arts, launching a venue that it hopes will provide students a taste of what it’s like to perform on a professional stage with world-class acoustics.

For William Hall, founding dean and artistic director of the Musco Center, the grand opening of the 1,044-seat concert hall is the culmination of 50 years of teaching and building Chapman’s performing arts programs. Bringing the university’s venue into the 21st century was important to prepare students for professional performances. “When they step out into the world of theater production, or whatever, they’ll know what they’re doing,” Hall said.

Sebastian Paul Musco founded Santa Ana-based Gemini Industries Inc., which reclaims precious metals, including platinum, iridium and palladium. He and his wife Marybelle were the chief donors to the project.

For many years, Chapman has erected a tent on the lawn in front of Memorial Hall to host American Celebration, a ritzy gala where students dance and sing for philanthropists, raising more than $2 million for scholarships. Beginning in November, the show will be performed in the Musco Center, said Mary Platt, a university spokeswoman.

A hallowed hall

The grand opening was an elegant affair, with patrons in tuxedos and long gowns. Models dressed as ballerinas posed in statuesque positions in front of the venue, adding a polished aesthetic.

Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange sat with the Muscos in their opera box, arguably the best seat in the house.

Orange Mayor Tita Smith described the Musco Center as “magnificent” shortly before joining other guests inside.

“This is a performing arts center for all the community,” she said. “Chapman has already told us that it will be available, so we’re excited for that.”

The evening performances were preceded by a chorus of 70 alumni singers, led by the legendary Placido Domingo, general director of the LA Opera. At the end of his solo, Domingo kissed his own hand, and bent down to touch the stage floor.

Transforming arts

The Musco Center dramatically changed the 400 block of North Glassell Street. To make way for the performing arts center and the Bette and Wylie Aitken Arts Plaza, the university demolished its old public safety headquarters, several single-story apartment buildings, a small strip mall, and the former home of Papa Has-san’s Grill. The only building that remains on the block is Hoove’s Liquor store, popular with Chapman students.

Crowd control

During its review of the project, many neighbors told the city that they were concerned about whether Chapman could really accommodate so many guests. University  officials  emphasized that performances would be held during off-peak hours, when most classes aren’t in session.

That plan appeared to work on opening night as guests arrived at the parking structure underneath  Chapman’s  athletic  field. The Orange Police Department was actively patrolling for anyone breaking traffic laws.

With work on the Musco Center wrapping after about three and a half years of construction, Chapman will move on to break ground on April 27 for its new Center for Science and Technology at Walnut Avenue and Center Street. The cost of this 140,000-square-foot development is expected to be about $130 million, making it the largest and most expensive building in Chapman’s history.