Perhaps the most famous music venue in the world – and one of my favorite places in Los Angeles – the Hollywood Bowl becomes a centurion on July 11, 2022. I’ve written about it often (including recently for the LA Times), but here’s something bite-size and fun. If you want, you can find out way more at the Bowl’s own website….
Almost every major music artist – except for Elvis Presley – has played at the Bowl over the last century.
It has also hosted opera, ballet, circuses, presidents, religious revivals and Monty Python, among others, and during the roughly June-September season this year, over a million people will come to enjoy a show and see its spotlights shine across the night sky.
The fireworks concerts are particularly popular when darker nights arrive – there are around 1,600 colourful explosions at each one.
For its first concert in 1922 the admission price was 25 cents, and people still find it hard to believe that today you can buy some $1 tickets for performances by the L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra.
Admittedly those seats are up in the gods (it’s 168 stairs from the stage to the back of the Bowl), but the large digital screens mean you won’t miss anything, and there’s a good chance you’ll see internationally-known soloists and performers, let alone the orchestra’s popular conductor, Gustavo Dudamel.
Originally a collection of rickety benches and a wooden, temporary stage, this natural ampitheatre in Griffith Park was first called “Daisy Dell”, and the first of their iconic white shell stages was installed in 1926.
There have been four more since, the first three only lasting a year each as the Bowl staff tried to work out the best shape to reach audience ears. The 1929 incarnation ended up on the official Los Angeles County seal, and it was “temporary” for 75 years, until it was fully replaced in 2004.
Reminders that the 88-acre Bowl is located in the wild – Griffith Park is over 4,200 acres in size, one of the biggest public parks in North America – have often been part of the Bowl’s history.
Six raccoons, presumably a music-loving family, once hung on the shell arches during a concert, and a fox once walked on stage and sat behind a pianist. Bats flit around overhead before the music starts, coyotes can sometimes be heard howling, and at the end of the evening it’s not uncommon for deer to emerge from the trees and snaffle up the leftover popcorn (well, what’s left of the 29,000 pounds sold every season).
The record number of tickets sold was 26,410 for a performance by French opera star Lily Pons in 1936. It will never be beaten, as the current limit is less than 17,500 – though many of them offer an amazing view of the Hollywood sign on Mount Lee opposite.
Over 700 are garden and terrace box seats, which seat up to six people each and are popular with celebrities, though fame and fortune is no help if it rains. It’s an entirely outdoors venue, and if the heavens open everyone gets the same emergency plastic ponchos – though that’s such a rare event, most people just leave early to beat the legendarily-bad traffic.
Finally, seats Q3 and U3 in row 9 are the only two-seater benches, and popular with couples looking for a romantic night under the stars. There may well have been proposals here at the Bowl over the decades, but it will be hard to beat what happened in 1928, when composer Percy Grainger and Swedish poet Ella Viola Ström were married on stage – right after he had finished his performance!
Oh, and yes: the Hollywood Bowl does feature in my books – specifically Gourmet Ghosts 2. An amazing picture, I think you’ll agree – but you’ll have to buy the book to find out the story behind it….