Hollywood Bowl celebrates 100 years of ‘democratizing music’

By Robin Estrin

Leonard Bernstein raises the baton and leads the New York Philharmonic Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl. Box seats were installed where there once laid a pool, giving the Bowl visual and aural resonance, July 7, 1968. Photo courtesy of Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library.

The Hollywood Bowl officially opened in July 1922. Thousands of people trekked up the hill to watch the LA Philharmonic kick off the series “Symphonies Under the Stars.” 

In the 100 years since then, musical performers — from Ella Fitzgerald, to the Beatles, to the Doors, and Billie Eilish — have played under the iconic, pearly-white band shell, tucked into the Hollywood Hills.

A view shows the top of the seating area looking down towards the stage of the Hollywood Bowl. The Bowl officially opened on July 11, 1922, on the site of a natural amphitheater formerly known as the Daisy Dell. It underwent several upgrades to improve seating as well as acoustics. Photo dated July 29, 1935. Photo courtesy of Herald Examiner Collection/Los Angeles Public Library. 

Julia Ward, director of humanities for the LA Phil and editor of the new book, “Hollywood Bowl: The First 100 Years,” says the founders of the Bowl imagined a venue where music could be shared by everyone. “They all had a really intense philosophy about democratizing music.”

Julia Ward, director of humanities for the LA Phil, appears at a subscriber’s event in Los Angeles in 2018. Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging. 

The LA Phil held its first concert at the Bowl on March 21, 1921, but opened officially the following year. The opening coincided with a renewed commitment to the arts, following the end of World War I and the Spanish flu. “There was this desire to produce American art,” Ward says, drawing parallels to our culture today. “There was this deep desire to be connected, to create culture.”

Fausto Cleva conducts the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra as they play works from Verdi, Strauss, Rossini and Wagner. An estimated 6,000 people attended the opening of the Hollywood Bowl's 43rd season of “Symphonies Under the Stars.” Among those present were several members of the San Fernando Valley Hollywood Bowl Committee. Photo dated July 11, 1964. Photo courtesy of Valley Times Collection/Los Angeles Public Library.

From that first concert, on Easter in 1921, the Bowl was a hit with Angelenos and out-of-town visitors. “Ten thousand people descended from the hills, sitting on blankets,” Ward says. “Pacific Electric started running trains at 3 o'clock in the morning to get everyone there.” 

Gustavo Dudamel, the Grammy-winning conductor and LA Phil’s music and artistic director, debuted at the Bowl in 2005. “I don't think you could find a better match between a music director and a venue,” Ward says, noting the conductor’s commitment to the audience and to the founders’ philosophy.

“This is such an accessible space,” says Ward of the 18,000-seat venue. Ticket prices may have gone up, but just about anyone can still see classical music at the Hollywood Bowl for $1 on Tuesday and Thursday nights. 

“Hollywood Bowl: The First 100 Years” commemorates the venue’s centennial. Photo by Ian Byers-Gamber. Art direction and book design by Content Object.



  • Julia Ward - Director of Humanities, LA Phil; Editor of “Hollywood Bowl: The First 100 Years”