The Hollywood Bowl. How does one begin to describe it? In the most simplistic of terms, it is a very large outdoor amphitheater located on the edge of the northern section of Hollywood, as you follow the Cahuenga Pass into the San Fernando Valley (say Kuh-WANG-GA). And yet – and yet, it is so much more than “just” an amphitheater. In Southern California, it is an institution, a particular way of enjoying what life has to offer. And on a summer night, it’s a fun thing to get together with friends and all bring something to make up a picnic supper.
The Hollywood Bowl is one of the largest natural amphitheaters in the world, (and the largest natural amphitheater in the United States) celebrating, in the year 2012, ninety years of existence.
According to a souvenir book about the Hollywood Bowl, the Hollywood Bowl was built by a group of civic-minded women and men who were active in the area’s artistic and business communities. They wanted to establish an outdoor park and art center to entertain and educate a large and diverse audience. Only about 5,000 people lived in Hollywood in 1910. The population grew, by 1920, to nearly 50,000 thanks to the movie industry, which had turned the community into a boomtown.
A search for the perfect place resulted, in 1919, in a spot east of Cahuenga Pass—a valley completely surrounded by hills, called Daisy Dell. More exactly, the Bowl is located in Bolton Canyon, one-half mile north of Hollywood Blvd., directly off the Cahuenga Pass, the site of El Camino Real, the original route connecting California’s missions.
The Theatre Arts Alliance bought 59 acres in the area. (The Alliance disbanded because of disagreements among its members about the type of events to be produced at the outdoor theatre. It was reorganized in 1920 as the Community Park and Art Association). Prior to the first official Hollywood Bowl season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1922, the site was used for presentations of choral programs, pageants, plays and band concerts. Hugo Kirchhofer, choral director of the Hollywood Community Sing, is said to have looked over the park and named it “The Bowl”.
Another tidbit of history has to do with the Bowl’s first concert season in 1922. It was a community effort; cardboard banks were distributed every where to raise “pennies for the bowl”. However, students at Hollywood High School donated the money from their performance of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night to purchase an electrical switchboard for lighting. In appreciation, the school was invited to hold its graduation ceremonies at Hollywood Bowl, a tradition that continues to this day. The cost of admission in 1922 was twenty-five cents!
Possibly the most fascinating bit of trivia surrounding the Hollywood Bowl is the history of Peppertree Lane, the main pedestrian access from Highland Avenue to the Hollywood Bowl’s Entrance Plaza. It was named for the pepper trees that once lined the walkway. Early in Hollywood Bowl’s history, a fence was built along the lane, and in a few years, the fence posts took root and grew into pepper trees! However, nearly all of the trees died during the 1950s. Only one of the original trees still stands, just below the Hollywood Bowl Museum, but new pepper trees were planted along the lane in 1997.
The Hollywood Bowl has undergone numerous transformations in its 90-year-old history. The first stage, in 1922, was a simple wooden platform with a canvas top. Patrons sat on moveable wooden benches. The following year, the first 150 boxes were built in the front seating section.
In 1927, Frank Lloyd Wright designed a shell for the Hollywood Bowl that was made from lumber and clapboard from the movie set ROBIN HOOD with Douglas Fairbanks. It was considered by many to be the most acoustically perfect of all the Bowl’s many shells, but was only used for one season. Fittingly, the 1927 season’s opening production was De Koven’s operetta Robin Hood.
Other transformations took place as years went by. The following year, Lloyd Wright, the oldest son of Frank Lloyd Wright, designed two shells for the Hollywood Bowl. The 1928 shell consisted of nine concentric segmental arches, which could be “tuned” panel by panel.
In 1929, the engineering firm of Elliott, Bowen and Walz designed the shell that we recognized for so many decades. The Hollywood Bowl souvenir book notes that Allied Architects constructed this shell, which preserved the visual essence of Lloyd Wright’s 1928 design.
In 1940. artist George Stanley was commissioned to create a sculpture for the entrance to the Hollywood Bowl. Granite for this sculpture marking the entry into the Hollywood Bowl was brought from Victorville. Cost of the project came to $100,000. The 15-foot high granite figure, “The Muse of Music” (still standing at the entrance today) was built by the County of Los Angeles Engineer’s Department in cooperation with the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and the Southern California Arts Project. The “Muse of Music” was dedicated on July 8, 1940, and remains an impressive sight to this day, especially when illuminated at night.
The Hollywood Bowl was slated for yet another renovation again in more recent years. According to an article that appeared in the August 26, 2000, edition of the Los Angeles Times, the proposed changes would expand the shell interior up to 118 feet wide, 66 feet deep and 56 feet tall, allowing the entire orchestra to fit inside the shell. Previously, as many as one third of the performers were positioned outside the shell where, sometimes, they couldn’t hear the other performers. The new look was a streamline modern style reminiscent of the 1930s. Many people protested the changes, perhaps not realizing that the Hollywood Bowl has undergone numerous changes in its 90-year-old history.
After nine months of construction, the brand new shell and acoustic canopy made their debut in 2004, with a new and improved stage making the concert experience better for both musicians and audiences. Also added were 4 screens, two at stage level and two in bench seating, to bring the concert action closer to audiences.
Bob and I were “regulars” for about a decade at the Hollywood Bowl. We have been thrilled with John Mauceri conducting the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, performing Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (complete with a performance by the San Francisco Ballet), followed by the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy-Overture and culminating in a spectacular 1812 Overture, complete with cannons and fireworks. Mauceri was an impressive conductor; we appreciated his dry wit and ability to captivate the audience with side bars of classical music history.
Mauceri is well known throughout the world as the Director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in Los Angeles, which was created for him in 1991 by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. At the Hollywood Bowl, he conducted over 300 concerts over 16 seasons. He now has the title of founding director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, and recently returned to the Bowl Orchestra to make his debut at Walt Disney Concert Hall in LA.
The Hollywood Bowl features a wide range of performers every season and there is truly “something for everybody”. One of our summer concerts featured California Western music, led by John Mauceri, with a delightful program by Riders in the Sky, a group reminiscent of the Sons of the Pioneers. Another evening we enjoyed a concert with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, featuring the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Mr. Brubeck, then in his 80s, brought the house down and charmed the entire audience.
Other recent Bowl performers have included Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Michael Feinstein, Marvin Hamlisch and country singer Randy Travis! Although the Hollywood Bowl, while well known for its classical music concerts, over the decades it has drawn artists as noteworthy as the Beatles, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Nelson Eddy, Beverly Sills, Mario Lanza, Lily Pons, Placido Domingo. Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, the Beach Boys—and in recent years, Whitney Houston, Aerosmith, Garth Brooks, Madonna, Bonnie Raitt, and Sting!
Need I continue? How about Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, Andy Williams, Shania Twain, or Barbra Sreisand?
This impressive roster of performers included a performance in 1961 by Judy Garland – who kept an audience captivated in the midst of pouring rain! (Incidentally, in its 80 year history, rain has interrupted concerts at the Bowl only a few times—the “season” running from June to September, is normally Southern California’s driest time of the year.
Just about everybody who’s anybody has performed at the Hollywood Bowl. One year, we were privileged to see Charlotte Church (just before I had surgery and had to give away our other season tickets). Earlier that summer, we heard a Midsummer’s night Dream, featuring actor Michael York who read selections from ROMEO AND JULIET, JULIUS CAESAR, HENRY IV, PART II, AND A MIDSUMMER NIHT’S DREAM. Later, we saw a performance by the Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Classical music not your style, you say? One of the featured artists one summer was B.B. King. One Friday night in September, we were treated to “The Big Picture – 75 years of Oscar”—music from Oscar movies, with film clips on a big screen. Still not your style, you say?
Here’s a sampling of performers who have given concerts at the Hollywood Bowl: Benny Goodman (1939) while back in 1934, Olivia de Haviland and Mickey Rooney performed in a Midsummer’s Night Dream as Hermia and Puck. In 1936, soprano Lily Pons performed, holding the Bowl’s all-time record performance of 26,410. In 1943, a sensational new singer named Frank Sinatra made an appearance at the Bowl—while a few years later, in 1947, Margaret Truman, the daughter of President Harry Truman, starred in a Bowl performance. (Margaret, in case you are too young to remember, like her father, played the piano). Peggy Lee made her debut at the Bowl in 1953 and returned many times, her final performance taking place in 1995. Van Cliburn performed at the Hollywood Bowl in 1958, just before he won the Tchaikovsky International Competition Aware in Moscow, while jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, George Shearing and Sarah Vaughan also made appearances.
In 1964, the Beatles appeared at the Bowl; with a single ad and one blurb on a teenager TV station, 18000 tickets were sold (noise from the screaming overpowered any sound coming from the stage). In 1973, a young Pavarotti made his first local appearance at the Bowl—stealing, we are told, the show, while in 1979, the first Jazz Festival was presented at the bowl and featured such artists as Mel Torme, Carmen McRae and Joe Williams.
However, there is a lot more to “going to the Bowl” than sitting under the stars, listening to your favorite performer.
In the 1950s, the Hollywood Bowl suffered from a financial crisis. According to an article written by mystery writer April Smith (author of “NORTH OF MONTANA”) and published in the Hollywood Bowl magazine, “What rescued the Bowl was wine and cheese”.
“Along with a facelift,” writes Smith, “And Dorothy Buffum Chandler, who headed the ‘Save the Bowl’ campaign with such focus it was back in business before the end of that summer. One of her innovations was to remove the stern “No Food” signs and capitalize on the park-like grounds by encouraging the art of competitive picnicking. Contests were held for the best-decorated picnic baskets, and the leisurely experience of outdoor pre-concert dining attracted a new audience…”
Since then, picnicking at the Hollywood Bowl, prior to the concert, is as much a part of the ambiance as the concert itself.
For our picnic suppers one summer, Bob and I enjoyed shrimp cocktail, cubes of cantaloupe and honey dew melon, crackers and cheese, grapes, salami, and White Zinfandel wine. We generally parked our car in a parking lot where buses came to pick up Hollywood Bowl-goers. It was far easier than driving into Hollywood and dealing with the heavy traffic. The cost was something like $6.00 roundtrip per person. Everyone you see climbing onto the bus is carrying picnic baskets or blankets or other comfy objects. (Whenever we were leaving, boarding the bus, people were cheery and humming the music we had just heard).
When you enter the Bowl grounds, the first thing you will notice are the picnicking concert-goers—they are spread out on every patch of grass and alongside both sides of the walkway into the amphitheater. They have laid down tablecloths and have vases of flowers and candlelight to enhance their picnic suppers that range from hamburgers from Burger King to Sushi, elegant suppers from Gelson’s (a local up-scale market) to gourmet picnic dinners that (if you are lucky enough to have box seats) can be delivered directly to you. Gourmet suppers can be ordered and picked up, as well, and if you don’t feel like packing your own meal, you can order a variety of appetizers, main course salads and pastas, rotisserie chicken—and even poached salmon—from refreshment stands located throughout the Bowl grounds.
But, if you are interested in preparing your own picnic supper, as I do, you might be interested in the latest cookbook, titled “THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL COOKBOOK/PICNICS UNDER THE STARS”.
You don’t have to attend the Hollywood Bowl to enjoy this spectacular cookbook, which features a wide range of recipes particularly suitable for picnics and pot lucks. Appetizer recipes include such finger-licking good treats as spicy Italian Chicken fingers, Cocktail shrimp with Mango Chutney, Chicken Pate, Blueberry Ketchup, Spinach Dip in Red Cabbage Bowl and Salmon Log.
There are soup recipes (yes, indeed—bowl patrons bring hot or chilled soups in thermos jugs) so you can enjoy recipes such as Chilled Cream of Cucumber Soup with Curry or tomato, Crab and Avocado Gazpacho.
Enjoy Rosemary Clooney’s recipe for Corn Chowder or Spicy Black Bean Soup. There are inspiring sandwich recipes such as Wrap Sandwiches or Patafla Sandwich, which is a favorite Hollywood Bowl picnic dish that can be prepared a day in advance so the flavors can blend; choose from a very wide assortment of salad recipes which range from Armenian Cabbage Slaw to Summer Salad with Pecans and Pears—or perhaps Bleu Cheese Potato Salad or Cucumber and Jicama Salad!
“The Hollywood Bowl Cookbook: Picnics Under the Stars” was published by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Affiliates of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association in 2002. It features a cover photograph taken by Otto Rothschild. Because the Los Angeles Philharmonic Affiliates believe that “music matters” in the lives of young people, proceeds from the cookbook will be used for music education projects they sponsor in the community and for the support of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. The cost of that cookbook in 2002 was $19.95. I am unable to find any listings for it under either Amazon.com or Alibris.com., POSSIBLY because another book was published in 2003 (same title) and the list price of THAT cookbook, same title, is $39.95. However, that being said – I am unable to find any available copies for that one either.
To add to my bafflement, I removed from my own bookshelves not one but two copies of THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL COOKBOOK published in 1985. I will attempt to scan this cookbook since it does not appear any copies are available at this time. Perhaps I can also scan THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL COOKBOOK/PICNIC UNDER THE STARS which is the edition I received to review in 2002.
If you ever happen to find yourself in my neck of the woods, you might want to visit the Hollywood Bowl. Visitors can park free daily until 4:30 p.m. to shop at the Bowl Store, visit the museum or explore the grounds.
The Bowl Store offers a fascinating collection of books, music, clothing, games and toys.
From the Hollywood (101) freeway, exit at Highland Avenue.
The Hollywood Bowl is located at 2301 North Highland Avenue, Los Angeles, California, 90068.
You can also visit the Hollywood Bowl via the Internet – at www.hollywoodbowl.org.
Maybe, someday, we’ll see you at the Hollywood Bowl!