Hollywood Bowl: What it tells us about Los Angeles

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Los Angeles is entering an exciting era. Downtown is being rediscovered. Transit and bicycling are on the upswing. Neighborhoods are becoming more vibrant. Great restaurants aren’t limited to a few exclusive blocks.

The city is developing in a positive way for the first time since the car began its dictatorship. No idea seems too grand. Extend the subway through a congressionally prohibited zone? Done. Throw a park on top of the Hollywood Freeway? Looking into it. Heck, we even want to turn the LA River into a river! The thirst is there.

Yet, sitting at the Hollywood Bowl one can only think, “Could we ever construct anything this great anymore?” Built in 1922, this venue, lovingly referred to as “the Bowl,” still is just as popular. It not only serves as the summer home to the LA Philharmonic, but is booked for the majority of nights between May and September with other performances.

There’s plenty of competition to compete for the average concert-goer. The Greek Theatre is smaller, but a similar venue nearby. We’ve added many major new venues, such as the Nokia and Dolby (nee Kodak) Theaters. Staples Center and the renovated Forum provide the arena experience. Even the Rose Bowl and Coliseum get into the mix. There are many others I’m not even mentioning, but the Hollywood Bowl remains the jewel of them all.

Satellite image from the USGS (Wikipedia)
Satellite image from the USGS

The Bowl offers more than any other venue. Its location, performances and scenery makes it appealing to every demographic. You could argue that it is the most essential attraction to Los Angeles, but imagine if we attempted to build something this significant in today’s atmosphere. What would the opposition be to building it? A lot. Let’s see why we should count our blessings.

It’s made of people!

Firstly, the Bowl seats almost eighteen thousand. That’s a little less than the average crowd for a Kings game. Most neighborhoods aren’t prepared to absorb that amount of people into their fabric. Those crowds bring noise, traffic, trash and the occasional public urination along with them.

Most communities would probably respond with torches and pitchforks, even though they are highly uncommon. You could try selling the idea on how the influx of visitors would help the local economy, but most neighborhoods seem to be begging for those dollars. In today’s political environment, if you have strong vocal opposition on an issue, it’s very hard to get anything pushed through. A venue of this size would definitely get everyone’s attention.

Location! Location! Location!

Even without the Bowl, Hollywood is already one of LA’s busiest locations. With the Walk of Fame, Chinese Theater and the Hollywood & Highland Complex down the street, traffic is already at an artery clogging level. Many people exit the 101 Freeway directly in front of the Bowl. If you happen to venture during peak hours, consider yourself blessed if you can make the one mile trek to Hollywood Boulevard in less than twenty minutes.

At the time the Bowl was built, the landscape was more pastoral and its presence wasn’t as intrusive. The Hollywood Freeway as we know it know didn’t fully exist until 1954 (technically, 1968 from a North Hollywood perspective). It bisected neighborhoods and it brought a more efficient connection to the San Fernando Valley. In turn, the streets became an epidemic of cars.

On top of traffic, you also have to factor that the surrounding area is largely residential. The neighborhood is filled with many luxurious homes that would be hard pressed to bring in this type of annoyance.

(Zachary Rynew)
(Zachary Rynew)

Going to any event, you’ll see the army of fluorescently vested officers protecting drivers from wandering onto side streets. Their mission is to help homeowners protect what little access they have during events. Would anyone welcome this snafu now into their neighborhood? Maybe Uber.

Access Hollywood

Another big drawback to reimagining the Bowl is the consideration of transportation options. In actuality, they are very good, but asking the general population to rely on public transit traditionally has been a hard sell.

If you choose to drive there, you better plan to get there early. Parking spaces are very limited and once the lot is full, you’re screwed. If you get a spot, you’ll be herded into stacked parking, so just hope you’re not stuck between a set of over imbibers at the end of the evening.

The subway is a good option. The walk to the Bowl from the station is about a mile, but in practice it seems longer than that.

Your best choice is actually taking the Hollywood Bowl Shuttle. It is efficient because of the many different direct routes across the city and the priority they have getting in and out of the parking lot.

The question is could you sell a destination to the general public based largely on public transportation options? There is still a significant demographic that is reluctant to trust buses let alone try them. Attitudes are changing, but building any attraction with limited vehicular access hasn’t fully penetrated our DNA yet.

Milk ‘em for all they’re worth

Another great characteristic of the Bowl is their picnicking policy. Some might even say it’s the best. Except for leased events, you’re allowed to bring in most food, drinks and adult beverages. Get there early enough, you can even commandeer one of the vaunted picnic tables both in and out of the Bowl.

If the Bowl was built now, it would be built and run by someone like AEG. These entertainment corporations know how to make money and will look at every angle to exploit it. Allowing people to bring their own nourishment in for free would never be part of that plan unless there was a $50 surcharge. Per person. Per item.

Because of the traffic constraints, the picnic policy is a great encouragement to get there early and relax. The policy adds to the charm and promotes attending in larger groups. It’s like having a tailgate for hipsters! Even AEG know that hipsters have money.

Hollywood Bowl with the sign in the background (Wikipedia)
Hollywood Bowl with the sign in the background

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Trying to imagine building a Hollywood Bowl now is as difficult as envisioning Los Angeles without it. Every winter we look for the release of next season’s calendar. It marks time as every year brings a different assortment of acts and performances that form memories of a lifetime.

The evening weather is a perfect contrast to the regular summer heat. Sitting there you can take a deep breath and ingest in the scenery, with the Hollywood Sign directly above and the Griffith Observatory off to the side.

The Hollywood Bowl is everything you could ever ask for. It is an anomaly within an urban mass that touches everyone not just by its functionality, but with its soul. Just don’t put a price on it.