Spring 2014

Gregg Perloff: Enlivening the Urban Experience

While, today, urban planning journals are filled with evidence substantiating the impact of arts and culture on cities, it was certainly not the case when Gregg Perloff (MCP, ’76) was a graduate student in the 70’s at the College of Environmental Design’s Department of City & Regional Planning.

Driven to understand this inter-relationship, in spite of some pushback for wanting to color outside the lines of what were then considered legitimate fields of urban planning study, Perloff persevered with the help of faculty like Melvin Webber, then director of Berkeley’s Institute of Urban and Regional Development.

Gregg Perloff at the Greek Theater
Gregg Perloff at the Greek Theater Enlarge [+]

It is not a stretch to see the path that led him to where he is today—head of one of the most influential entertainment companies on the West Coast and one of the key people responsible for the revitalization of downtown Oakland through the rebirth of the historic Fox Theater. By coloring outside the lines, Perloff expanded the palette that enlivens the Bay Area’s urban fabric.

As the son of Harvey S. Perloff, founding Dean of the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning at UCLA, an appreciation for environmental design was perhaps inevitable.

“On vacations we’d be travelling to see a geodesic dome or to see a greenbelt around London. Other people are going to Hawaii and we were going to see the first solar home in Colorado,” he recounts.

Gregg Perloff swears that “it never occurred to me that I would make my living putting on concerts” but as an undergraduate at UCLA, and as a graduate student at Berkeley producing music events for SUPERB, he had something of a knack. After graduation, he convinced Betty Connors at the Committee for Arts and Lectures (now Cal Performances) to let him book concerts. Bringing in jazz greats such as Oscar Peterson, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, and Boz Scaggs caught the attention of legendary promoter Bill Graham and in 1977, just one year after completing his degree, Perloff was hired by Graham. He eventually took over as CEO of Bill Graham Presents in 1991.

In 2003, Perloff launched Another Plant Entertainment in Berkeley. The company books hundreds concerts a year, from world-renowned groups like Radiohead to local independent bands, and is responsible for producing the wildly successful Outlands Music & Arts Festival in Golden Gate Park, which in its first four years contributed over $4.3 million to San Francisco’s Recreation & Parks Department.

But it is the success of the Fox Theater and its significance as a hallmark of urban revitalization that makes Perloff light up.

Fox Theater
Fox Theater (Photo courtesy of Tom Tomkinson) Enlarge [+]

Closed for over 40 years, the Fox managed to survive the devastating blight that overtook downtown Oakland. Primarily responsible for the design of the theater and the vision for what was needed to attract significant audiences, Perloff and Another Planet worked with developer Phil Tagami, as well as dozens of other public and private development, planning, and financing entities to help realize then-Mayor Jerry Brown’s dream to revitalize downtown. The Fox and its adjoining Oakland School for the Arts are now the centerpiece of the thriving Uptown District.

“We opened the Fox and it’s the most successful theater in the Bay Area,” explains Perloff. “But how do you judge success? Well, we sell a lot of tickets. You also have success when the Oakland School of the Arts, in the first graduating class, places 100% of the students in a 4-year college or university. This is an Oakland public school – that’s pretty spectacular.”

Since 2004, Perloff’s company has also been the exclusive promoter for Berkeley’s 8,500-capacity Greek Theater. As a venue known throughout the world, he considers it a privilege to work with the legendary outdoor amphitheater. Hoping to “set up the Greek for its next 100 years” Perloff is currently involved with master planning to improve the theater’s public areas.

Gregg and Laura Perloff
Gregg and Laura Perloff Enlarge [+]

Berkeley holds special meaning for Gregg Perloff and he is grateful to CED for allowing him to follow his heart. In 1999, Gregg and his wife Laura established the Harvey S. Perloff Memorial Endowment Fund in memory of Perloff’s father, to support graduate students in the Department of City and Regional Planning.

In December of 2013, another generous gift from the Perloffs established the Gregg and Laura Perloff Graduate Student Excellence Award so that graduate students like Gregg, doing “off-center” work, have the resources to follow their passion in one of the world’s premier graduate programs in urban planning.