Issue: Summer 2022

100 Years ...Hollywood Bowl and Hollywood Chamber of Commerce

Back in October 1921, around 2,000 concerned residents and business people in Hollywood were facing a problem. The population was growing, the movie and real estate business was exploding, and the days of their community being agricultural and suburban were behind them.  
They were aspiring to be a more metropolitan city, so looking firmly to the future, they created the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, and one of their first decisions was for the board members to personally finance a new ticket-selling campaign for the fledgling Hollywood Bowl. A program of symphony concerts had been planned for the rudimentary, outdoor amphitheater located in the Hollywood Hills, but sales had been poor, and there were worries that the first season may be the last. 
 As Erwin Palmer notes in his 1938 book History of Hollywood, this campaign saw $30,000 of season tickets sold in advance (around $430,000 today), but then the Chamber played another crucial role by arranging a smart deal with the Hollywood Bowl Association. Expecting an audience of 20,000 for the opera Carmen, the show’s producers agreed with the Chamber to have the Bowl’s rocky earth graded, and to put in more substantial seats. In the end the opera was a bust, but the many new benches seated crowds for the rest of the 1922 season and beyond, with the record number of tickets sold being 26,410 for a performance by French opera star Lily Pons in 1936.
This year both those Hollywood institutions are celebrating their 100th birthday: one of them is now an icon recognized around the world, as almost every major music artist (one exception being 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 (and occasionally fireworks) shine in the night sky. 

The other centurion, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, usually stays behind the scenes, one of many organizations with offices in a skyscraper on Sunset Boulevard. From there the Hollywood Chamber collaborates, connects and advocates for their nearly 800 members, as well as two more legendary local residents: the Hollywood Sign and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Holding the licensing rights for two of the most famous tourist attractions in the world makes their eight person team unique, notes new president David Michael Jerome, who came here from the Chamber of Commerce in El Paso, Texas.

“I love Texas, but I really love L.A,” he enthused, noting that he had been here many times in a previous job working for Intercontinental Hotels in London, England.

“It’s been pretty crazy since I arrived, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I like to jump in with both feet. I love mission-led organizations, and I want the Hollywood Chamber to transform businesses, create jobs, and eliminate poverty.”

The Hollywood Sign is closing in fast on its centennial too, and really needs no introduction. Its 45-foot-high letters spanning some 350 feet across Mount Lee can be seen from both street level and hotel rooftops across Los Angeles—and many of the 17,000 plus seats at the Hollywood Bowl offer an unforgettable view as well.

In the movies, the Sign has been destroyed by alien invasions and earthquakes, and in real life it has been altered to read something different by both overnight vandals and do-gooders. The letter H even has a rumored ghost, though it’s hard to believe that back in the late 1970s the rotting, vandalized sign had several letters missing, and was almost allowed to crumble away.

Rocker Alice Cooper led a campaign of refurbishment, and crooner Andy Williams, singing cowboy Gene Autry and Playboy magnate Hugh Hefner were among the nine people who donated $27,700 (nearly $125,000 today) to each restore a letter.

A Walk of Fame event is perhaps the time when the Hollywood Chamber is most in the public eye. A celebratory gesture that first began in the early 1950s, the unveiling of the latest brass and pink terrazzo star always makes the news across America and often internationally, and an estimated 10,000,000 tourists per year walk along the 2,700 or so stars that line several blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street.  

“It connects business and entertainment. Not only the celebrities, but also the community, the fans, and the members. It’s a great way to promote Hollywood, and to keep the dream alive,” says Jerome, adding that he’s already been to two unveilings, for Benedict Cumberbatch and Jean Smart.

Describing the Hollywood Chamber as the “custodian” of the Walk of Fame, he explains that they have the challenging task of deciding which people from the worlds of film, television, radio, music recording, sports and theatre are going to be honored.

They choose around 20 people from an average of 200 nominations every year, and anyone, including fans, can make a nomination (as long as the nominee or their management team supports the idea).

On July 11, 1922, the admission price for the first concert at the Hollywood Bowl was 25 cents, and people still find it hard to believe that today you can buy $1 tickets for performances by the LA Philharmonic Orchestra. The seats are up in the hills, 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.

Arriving at the Hollywood Bowl, you’ll immediately notice the grand Art Deco-style Muse of Music, Dance and Drama sculpture (right), which stands at the entrance. 200 foot long and 22 feet high, it was designed by George Maitland Stanley and carved from 300 tons of granite.

A few yards ahead on your left is the Hollywood Bowl Museum, an undiscovered gem that’s worth a visit on its own, and inside the amphitheater itself you immediately see the famous white “shell” arching over the stage—this version is actually the fifth, and seems to finally be the best for reaching audience ears.

The 2022 “Hundred Years of Summer” season at the Hollywood Bowl is especially diverse and exciting, and aims for the heavens as audiences really start to come back after the COVID pandemic.

The official opening night features Gwen Stefani, the LA Philharmonic with Dudamel at the helm, the YOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles), jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis, two University Marching Bands, and more.

As the weeks and months unfold, you can catch the all-Black Recollective Orchestra and friends celebrating Juneteenth, try and get a ticket for the ever-popular two-day Jazz Festival, go back to the 70s with Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina, see Ricky Martin team up with the LA Philharmonic, and listen to a tribute to the music of Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra.

Many other artists are appearing including Sheryl Crow, Boyz II Men, John Fogerty, Diana Ross, The Gipsy Kings, 80s legends Duran Duran and Grace Jones, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, and rapper Pitbull—though they won’t all be on stage together. Most intriguingly-named is Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown, a celebration of the music of the Big Easy, New Orleans.

There are also many classical music concerts featuring familiar hum-along favorites, plus musicals, movie scores, and plenty of fireworks—the 4th of July spectacular was hosted by Martin Short and Steve Martin, so who knows what future surprises are in store?

Whether you bring your own picnic or eat at one of the Bowl’s restaurants, something for first-time visitors to watch out for is the local wildlife. The Bowl is located not far from Griffith Park after all, so you might see bats flying overhead, or hear coyotes howling in the distance. It’s also said that deer come out of the trees and snaffle up the leftover popcorn when the show is over.

As for the future of the Hollywood Chamber, Jerome is sure of one thing: “Whether it’s one or 100 years, we’re going to be doing what we’re doing now: Chambers exist in their most pure form to support businesses, and transform lives. Both of those things will still be important.” DHlace called Hollywood. In essence, assisting its readers to “discover” Hollywood.

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