From Daisy Dell to the Hollywood Bowl, a Little Musical History for Summer

Evening performance at the Hollywood Bowl, 1940. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries.

Every summer, Southern Californians flock to the Hollywood Bowl for evenings of music and picnicking under the stars. As the Los Angeles Philharmonic begins its 90th season at the venue, we look back at the Bowl's history through archived images from the Hollywood Bowl Museum and other L.A. as Subject members.

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, 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."

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Daisy Dell in 1920, before it became the Hollywood Bowl. Courtesy of the Hollywood Bowl Museum.

The first known performance in Daisy Dell took place in 1920. Pictured here are Gertrude Ross and Anna Ruzena Sprotte on a simple stage in the bowl-shaped canyon. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries.

This postcard depicts an early Easter sunrise service in the Hollywood Bowl, possibly the first one in 1921. Courtesy of the Werner von Boltenstern Postcard Collection, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Loyola Marymount University.

Daisy Dell—soon to become known as the Hollywood Bowl—hosted concerts, graduation ceremonies, and other community events in 1920, but it was in 1921 that 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.

The first concertgoers stretched out blankets over the Bowl's wild grass or sat on temporary benches as bands and orchestras performed on a simple wooden stage. As the venue grew in popularity, the Bowl installed permanent seating and, in 1926, 1927, and 1928, installed a series of band shells meant to provide a visual backdrop and to enhance the amphitheater's natural acoustics. The 1928 shell, designed by Lloyd Wright (son of Frank Lloyd Wright), introduced the now-familiar concept of concentric arches but lasted only one season.

In 1922, the year of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's first season at the Bowl, the venue consisted of moveable wooden benches and a temporary stage. Courtesy of the Werner von Boltenstern Postcard Collection, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Loyola Marymount University.

In 1926, the Bowl's seating area was regraded and the first of the permanent band shells was installed. Courtesy of the Title Insurance and Trust / C.C. Pierce Photography Collection, USC Libraries.

In 1927, the Hollywood Bowl debuted a pyramidal band shell designed by Lloyd Wright. Courtesy of the Werner von Boltenstern Postcard Collection, Department of Archives and Special Collections, Loyola Marymount University.

The following year, a new band shell designed by Wright featured concentric elliptical arches. It suffered weather damage that following winter and was discarded. Courtesy of the Hollywood Bowl Museum.

Finally, in 1929, the Bowl received a permanent shell, inspired by Wright's design but featuring circular rather than elliptical arches. It became instantly recognizable worldwide and, with only a few modifications by architect Frank Gehry in the 1970s and 1980s, remained in use through 2003. In 2004, a more commodious version of the old band shell debuted, based on the original design but large enough to accommodate a full orchestra.

This postcard depicts the iconic 1929 band shell which remained in use until 2004. It was designed by the engineering firm of Elliott, Bowen and Walz and was constructed by Allied Architects. Courtesy of the The Frasher Foto Postcard Collection, Pomona Public Library.

Aerial view of the Hollywood Bowl. Courtesy of the Dick Whittington Collection, USC Libraries.

The tradition of Easter sunrise services at the Hollywood Bowl continues to this day. This photo by longtime L.A.-based commercial photographer Dick Whittington shows the Bowl's band shell illuminated during the 1963 Easter event. Courtesy of the Dick Whittington Collection, USC Libraries.

Architect Frank O. Gehry, left, and theatrical designer Peter Wexler with a in 1976 with a model of proposed changes to the Bowl's band shell. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA. Used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0).

Although the Bowl is best known as a symphonic music venue, it has hosted a variety of events, from Hollywood High School's annual graduation ceremony to speeches by political leaders and dignitaries.

In April 1943, Soong May-ling, the wife of Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, concluded a wartime speaking tour of the United States--organized by film producer David O. Selnick--with a rousing speech at the Bowl. Hollywood luminaries, Caltech scientists, and more than 30,000 others filled the Bowl the hear Soong describe China's war with Japan. Soong concluded her speech with a call for the U.S. Congress to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act, an 1882 law that banned Chinese immigration into the United States. With China as an ally in the war against Japan, Congress complied that December.

In a 1943 speech, Madame Chiang Kai-shek of China called upon the United States to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act in a speech at the Hollywood Bowl. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Daily News negatives collection, Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt spoke at the Hollywood Bowl in 1935. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive. Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA.

In 1951, the Hollywood Bowl welcomed Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Examiner Collection, USC Libraries.

In 1946, Frank Sinatra became the first popular artist to play at the Bowl. It was a controversial appearance, as some objected to Sinatra's sharing the stage with the Philharmonic, but the Bowl began to incorporate popular acts into its schedule. During one especially memorable week in 1965, the Bowl hosted separate performances by the Beatles, Aaron Copland, Igor Stravinsky, and Bob Dylan. This summer, that tradition of diverse offerings continues with Bowl performances by rock band Maroon 5, country singer Dolly Parton, comedian Eddie Izzard, and, of course, concerts by the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra.

Another Hollywood Bowl tradition—picnicking—dates back to the early 1950s. Although Daisy Dell hosted many picnickers before the first note was ever played in the Bowl, in-seat snacking was forbidden at performances until 1952. That year, Dorothy Chandler—a noted patron of the arts who helped save the facility from financial ruin in 1951—changed the rules and created a new custom when she ordered a catered picnic for her guests. In-seat picnicking is still encouraged at the Bowl today.

The Hollywood Bowl recently featured these moments, as well as many others, in a series of 90 retrospective tweets that celebrated the start of the Philharmonic's 90th season at the venue. Those highlights--many of which include images from the collections of the Hollywood Bowl Museum, a member of the L.A. as Subject research collective--are now compiled on the Bowl's website. To learn more about the Hollywood Bowl's history, visit the museum at 2301 N. Highland Avenue, next to the venue. Admission is free.

Many of the archives who contributed the above images are members of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, personal collections, and other institutions. Hosted by the USC Libraries, L.A. as Subject is dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden stories and histories of the Los Angeles region. Our posts here will provide a view into the archives of individuals and cultural institutions whose collections inform the great narrative—in all its complex facets—of Southern California.

About the Author

A writer specializing in Los Angeles history, Nathan Masters serves as manager of academic events and programming communications for the USC Libraries, the host institution for L.A. as Subject.
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Awesome pics!

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Great article!

The Hollywood Bowl is consistently one of my favorite places to experience LA. I just started working with the Philharmonic, which is sort of a dream come true, but I love the diversity of programming at the Bowl every year (i.e. Hall & Oates 4th of July Extravaganza to West Side Story the next weekend to Sarah McLachlan with the orchestra the next)...where else can you experience that?! It's just magical, and it truly makes LA special. Thanks for recognizing that. :)