About the Hollywood Bowl

"This photo series is an homage to one of my favorite architectural icons of Los Angeles, the Hollywood Bowl."  Ted VanCleave 

The Hollywood Bowl is known for its band shell, a distinctive set of concentric arches that graced the site from 1929 through 2003, before being replaced with a larger one beginning in the 2004 season. The shell is set against the backdrop of the Hollywood Hills and the famous Hollywood Sign to the northeast.

Discovery and Founding

The site of the Hollywood Bowl was chosen in 1919 by William Reed and his son H. Ellis Reed, who were dispatched to find a suitable location for outdoor performances by the members of the newly formed Theatre Arts Alliance headed by Christine Wetherill Stevenson. The Reeds selected a natural amphitheater, a shaded canyon and popular picnic spot known as 'Daisy Dell' in Bolton Canyon.

On 11 November 1921 the first Sunrise Service took place at the bowl, in one of its first major events. The Bowl officially opened on July 11, 1922.

Band Shells

At first, the Bowl was very close to its natural state, with only makeshift wooden benches for the audience, and eventually a simple awning over the stage. In 1926, a group known as the Allied Architects was contracted to regrade the Bowl, providing permanent seating and a shell. These improvements did provide increased capacity for the all-time record for attendance set in 1936, when 26,410 people crowded into the Bowl to hear opera singer Lily Pons, but were otherwise disappointing, as the regrading noticeably degraded the natural acoustics, and the original shell was deemed acoustically unsatisfactory (as well as visually unfashionable, with its murals of sailing ships).

For the 1927 season, Lloyd Wright, (Frank Lloyd Wright's son) built a pyramidal shell, with a vaguely Southwestern look, out of left-over lumber from a production of Robin Hood. This was generally regarded as the best shell the Bowl ever had from an acoustic standpoint; unfortunately, its appearance was deemed too avant-garde, and it was demolished at the end of the season. It did, however, get Wright a second chance, this time with the stipulation that the shell was to have an arch shape.

For the 1928 season, Lloyd Wright built a shell in the shape of concentric 120-degree arches, with movable panels inside that could be used to tune the acoustics. It was designed to be easily dismantled and stored between concert seasons; apparently for political reasons this was not done, and it did not survive the winter.

For the 1929 season, the Allied Architects built the shell that stood until 2003, using a transite skin over a metal frame. Its acoustics, though not nearly as good as those of the Lloyd Wright shells, were deemed satisfactory at first, and its clean lines and white, almost-semicircular arches were copied for music shells elsewhere. As the acoustics deteriorated, various measures were used to mitigate the problems, starting in the 1970s with an inner shell made from large cardboard tubes (of the sort used as forms for round concrete pillars), which were replaced in the early 1980s by large fiberglass spheres (both designed by Frank Gehry) that remained until 2003. These dampened out the unfavorable acoustics, but required massive use of electronic amplification to reach the full audience, particularly since the background noise level had risen sharply since the 1920s. The appearance underwent other, purely visual, changes as well, including the addition of a broad outer arch (forming a proscenium) where it had once had only a narrow rim and the reflecting pool in front of the stage that lasted from 1953 till 1972. Sculptor George Stanley designed the Muse Fountain. He had previously done the Oscar statuette.

Shortly after the end of the 2003 summer season the 1929 shell was replaced with a new, somewhat larger, acoustically improved shell, which had its debut in the 2004 summer season. Preservationists fiercely opposed the demolition for many years, citing the shell's storied history. However, even when it was built, the 1929 shell was (at least acoustically) only the third-best shell in the Bowl's history, behind its two immediate predecessors. By the late 1970s, the Hollywood Bowl became an acoustic liability because of continued hardening of its transite skin. The new shell incorporates design elements of not only the 1929 shell, but of both the Lloyd Wright shells. During the 2004 summer season, the sound steadily improved, as engineers learned to work with its live acoustics.

The current sound reinforcement system is a line-array configuration of multiple loudspeaker enclosures hung vertically in a curved manner, with the lower enclosures facing the front sections, and the upper enclosures angled towards the rear sections. It is manufactured by L'Acoustics, and includes state-of-the-art audio processing allowing each individual loudspeaker enclosure to be "tuned" and directed towards the near-precise location of the listener, regardless of where in the venue they are sitting. This results in the audience in the rear sections hearing the same audio, at the same level, as in the front sections. This electronic processing includes sound level, frequency equalization, occasional special effects, and time delay (sound passes through wire much faster than through air, therefore the sound coming from the speakers must be delayed, allowing the actual sound from the stage to "catch up" so both sources reach the listeners' ears simultaneously). The system is maintained by Rat Sound Systems, the same company that has provided audio for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festivalcommonly known as the Coachella Festival, since its inception.

The 2004 shell incorporates the prominent front arch of the 1926 shell, the broad profile of the 1928 shell, and the unadorned white finish (and most of the general lines) of the 1929 shell. In addition, the ring-shaped structure hung within the shell, supporting lights and acoustic clouds, echoes a somewhat similar structure hung within the 1927 shell. During the 2004 season, because the back wall was not yet finished, a white curtain was hung at the back; beginning with the 2005 season, the curtain was removed to reveal a finished back wall. The architectural design for the shell was developed by the Los Angeles-based architectural practice Hodgetts and Fung, with the structural concept developed by the local office of Arup.

At the same time the new shell was being constructed the bowl received four new video screens and towers. During most concerts, three remotely operated cameras in the shell, and a fourth, manually operated camera among the box seats, provide the audience with close-up views of the musicians.

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