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A group of civic-minded women and men who were active in the area's artistic and business communities combined their efforts to establish the Hollywood Bowl and its summer music festival. Dr. T. Percival Gerson, a physician, and Dr. H. Gale Atwater, a dentist, scheduled a meeting on August 12, 1918 that resulted in the organization of the Theatre Arts Alliance. The Alliance incorporated on May 25, 1919, with Christine Wetherill Stevenson, heiress to the Pittsburgh Paint Company fortune, as president.
They asked H. Ellis Reed and his father to search the Hollywood Hills to find a suitable location. "Finally, on a Sunday morning early in 1919, from a hill east of Cahuenga Pass, we spotted what we were looking for. We crossed the street (Highland Avenue) to a valley completely surrounded by hills. My enthusiasm knew no bounds. Immediately I wanted to test the acoustics," Reed continued. "I scaled a barbed wire fence, went up to the brow of a hill. 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."
The Theatre Arts Alliance bought 59 acres in the area known as Bolton Canyon. Christine Wetherill Stevenson and her friend Marie Rankin Clarke each contributed $21,000 toward the $47,500 purchase price, with the remaining funds donated by other Alliance members.
Differences of opinion regarding the project's purpose led to Mrs. Stevenson's departure and the group's reorganization in 1920 as the Community Park and Art Association after buying out Stevenson and Clarke. (Stevenson then bought property across the street from the Bowl and built the Pilgrimage Theater, now the John Anson Ford Theatre.) Two prominent businessmen, F.W. Blanchard (president) and C.E. Toberman (vice president), headed the new Association.
However, it was the organization's secretary, Mrs. Artie Mason Carter, who was most active in promoting the project to the community, raising money, and developing the plans for a series of symphonic concerts.In fact, the permanent relationship between Hollywood Bowl and the Los Angeles Philharmonic began when the orchestra's founder, William Andrews Clark, Jr., agreed to Mrs. Carter's request that he donate the orchestra's services for the 1921 Easter Sunrise Service. Mrs. Carter is sometimes referred to as the "mother of the Bowl."
Before the establishment of an official Hollywood Bowl season with the Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1922, the site was used for presentations of choral programs, pageants, Shakespeare plays and band concerts. Hugo Kirchhofer, choral director of the Hollywood Community Sing, is said to have looked over the park and named it the "Bowl."
Funding the Bowl's first concert season in 1922 was truly a community effort. Cardboard banks were distributed everywhere to raise "pennies for the Bowl." Society events brought in larger donations from the more affluent. Mrs. Carter reportedly even sold her only diamond ring to help the cause. Students at Hollywood High School donated money from their performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night to purchase an electrical switchboard for lighting. In appreciation, the school was invited to hold its graduation ceremonies at Hollywood Bowl, a tradition that continues to this day. Proceeds from a pre-season production of Bizet's Carmen paid for the amphitheatre's first seats.