Hollywood Bowl: History of the iconic Los Angeles concert venue

News 19/08/2019

For more than a hundred years, Los Angeles' iconic Hollywood Bowl venue has hosted countless concerts of all genres of music.

1910s

The year 1916 marks Hollywood's first outdoor community theatre production, Shakespear's 'Julius Caesar'. It was performed at Beachwood Canyon in Hollywood Hills for the benefit of the Actors Fund of America. The one-night-only show involved over 5,000 actors, dancers, gladiators and student bodies of Hollywood and Fairfax High Schools. Two years later, followed by the success of the play, a new production called 'The Light of Asia' was performed at the Krotona Colony in Hollywood Hills. 

'Light of Asia'

The organiser, Christine Weatherill Stevenson, who was the heiress to Pittsburgh Paint Company, later became president to The Theatre Arts Alliance Inc. in 1919. The company purchased 59 acres of land in Bolton Canyon for $47,500 USD. Known as the Daisy Dell canyon, the plot of land was once a popular picnic spot before becoming the site of the future Hollywood Bowl.

1920s

The Theatre Arts Alliance Inc. begins referring the site as the Hollywood Bowl at community events. The Community Park and Art Association headed by F.W. Blanchard was the first to start development for the Bowl.

Hollywood High School's production of 'Twelfth Night' and 'The Landing of the Pilgrims' by Shakespear would mark one of the earliest performances at the Bowl in the year 1921, boasting over 10,000 attendees.

The Women's World Peace Concert that took place on 11th November is 1921 also puts the Hollywood Bowl on the map. A proper stage was built with wooden platforms and canvas for this event.

The venue officially opened the following year on 11th July, 1922. The Bowl functioned as a community space rather than private property, with proceeds from their earlier events, went into the construction of a bigger stage and seating area between 1922 - 1923.

In 1924, the land is deeded to the County of Los Angeles to safeguard the Bowl for future generations. The Hollywood Bowl Association is established as the theatre's governing organisation.

The first band shell design

In 1926, Allied Architects created the Bowl's first arched proscenium stage, also known as the band shell. However, the first design caused a lot of acoustic problems which led a redesign by Lloyd Wright when the season ended.

With a pyramidal shape and southwestern American Indian influenced design, the 1927 band shell was considered to be the best in terms of acoustics in the whole of the Bowl's history. Unfortunately, the design was deemed unappealing at the time so it was demolished at the end of the 1927. Wright's second design in 1928 had the familiar concentric ring motif that covered a 120-degree arc and designed to be easily dismantled... However, it was ruined by water damage due to negliegence.

From 1929, Allied Architects built a new 55-ton shell that stood firm until 2003.

The 1929 band shell that stood tall for 70 years

1930s

French soprano, Lily Pons set the attendance record of 26,410 for a single concert.

In 1939, Jazz arrived to the Bowl for the first time when clarinetist Benny Goodman performed in August that year.

In the same year, The Tea Room was built at the bottom of the hill on Peppertree Lane, which served as a dining and socialising area before evening concerts.

The Tea Room under construction

1940s

A 15-foot-high granite fountain called 'Muse of Music' was build by sculptor, George Stanley at the cost of $100,000.

Frank Sinatra makes his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1943, marking the first pop singer appearance to perform at the Bowl.

Frank Sinatra

1950s

Otto Klemperer conducts a performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, marking Hollywood Bowl's 1,000th concert.

Nat "King" Cole and his trio also made their debut at the Bowl in 1954, one of the only non-classical performers to have six consecutive annual appearances at the Bowl.

Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum and the Oscar Peterson Trio performed a sold-out show in August 1956 as part of a Jazz at the Philharmonic program.

In August 1958, the first rock n' roll musician to perform at the Bowl is Duane Eddy.

Duane Eddy and Lee Hazlewood at Hollywood Bowl, 1958.

Photo credits: Hollywood Bowl Museum Collection