Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California, United States

Barn Door Acoustics at the Birth of the Bowl

The Bowl's origins as a musical venue date back to 1919, when the newly-formed Theatre Arts Alliance dispatched two of its members, William Reed and his son H. Ellis, to the Hollywood Hills to find a suitable location for outdoor productions. After a long search and crossing Highland, the Reeds finally found their desired site: a shaded canyon and popular picnic spot known as Daisy Dell. Nestled in the hills near the entrance to the Cahuenga Pass, the site was a natural amphitheater, as H. Ellis Reed discovered:

"I scaled a barbed wire fence, went up to the brow of a hill," Reed said. "Dad stood near a live oak in the center of the bowl-shaped area and we carried on a conversation. We rushed back to the Alliance with a glowing report."

And explains why there is a photograph of Carrie Jacobs Bond playing a piano on a barn door in an empty canyon in 1920. (see photograph). Carrie Bond was one of the founders of the Theatre Arts Alliance. She assisted in testing the acoustics. By the way, that barn door was placed approximately where the center of the band shell is today.

Bolton Canyon or Daisy Dell as it was known to local picknickers—soon to become known as the Hollywood Bowl—hosted concerts, graduation ceremonies, and other community events in 1920. In 1921 the Bowl's best-known association began. On March 27, 1921, the outdoor venue hosted its first Los Angeles Philharmonic performance, an Easter sunrise service attended by more than 800 concertgoers. The following year, the Philharmonic played its first official summer season in the Hollywood Bowl. And the next year was staging full scale operas like Carmen.

Dr. T. Percival Gerson, a physician, and Dr. H. Gale Atwater, a dentist, scheduled a meeting on August 12, 1918 that resulted in the organization of the Theatre Arts Alliance. The Alliance incorporated on May 25, 1919, with Christine Wetherill Stevenson, heiress to the Pittsburgh Paint Company fortune, as president.

The Theatre Arts Alliance bought 59 acres in the area known as Bolton Canyon. Christine Wetherill Stevenson and her friend Marie Rankin Clarke each contributed $21,000 toward the $47,500 purchase price, with the remaining funds donated by other Alliance members.

Differences of opinion regarding the project's purpose led to Mrs. Stevenson's departure and the group's reorganization in 1920 as the Community Park and Art Association after buying out Stevenson and Clarke. (Stevenson then bought property across the street from the Bowl and built the Pilgrimage Theater, now the John Anson Ford Theatre.) Two prominent businessmen, F.W. Blanchard (president) and C.E. Toberman (vice president), headed the new Association.

However, it was the organization's secretary, Mrs. Artie Mason Carter, who was most active in promoting the project to the community, raising money, and developing the plans for a series of symphonic concerts.In fact, the permanent relationship between Hollywood Bowl and the Los Angeles Philharmonic began when the orchestra's founder, William Andrews Clark, Jr., agreed to Mrs. Carter's request that he donate the orchestra's services for the 1921 Easter Sunrise Service. Mrs. Carter is sometimes referred to as the "mother of the Bowl."

Before the establishment of an official Hollywood Bowl season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1922, the site was used for presentations of choral programs, pageants, Shakespeare 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."

Funding the Bowl's first concert season in 1922 was truly a community effort. Cardboard banks were distributed everywhere to raise "pennies for the Bowl." Society events brought in larger donations from the more affluent. Mrs. Carter reportedly even sold her only diamond ring to help the cause. Students at Hollywood High School donated 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. Proceeds from a pre-season production of Bizet's Carmen paid for the amphitheatre's first seats.
Great register, 1922

Barn Door Acoustics at the Birth of the Bowl