Built against the backdrop of the Great Depression and with war threatening to engulf the world, the Muse of Music, Dance, Drama embodied the city of Los Angeles’ resilient optimism that music and art would endure in difficult times. As the Los Angeles Times described it, “The 200-foot long, 22-foot high sculpture was heralded as one of America's most ambitious art projects in 1939 when artists and craftsmen hired by the federal government for the Depression-era Works Progress Administration Federal Arts Project began constructing it.”
This project was led by Charles Toberman, the real estate developer of such Hollywood landmarks as the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and Grauman’s Chinese Theater. Toberman was president of the Hollywood Bowl Association for one season in 1923 and then from 1934 to 1950, and he petitioned the WPA in 1938 for the funds to build the fountain, as well as a tearoom and restrooms.
Designed by George Maitland Stanley, the sculpture was carved by him and a crew of stone cutters from 300 tons of granite quarried near Victorville. Stanley, the 35-year-old artist selected for the massive fountain had worked on projects across Los Angeles, but he was best known for one of his smallest designs: the 13-and-1/2-inch Oscar statuette, which he created at the behest of MGM art director Cedric Gibbons for the first Academy Awards in 1929.
Born in Louisiana, Stanley began drawing at the age of three. After moving to central California with his family, he came to Los Angeles to study at the Otis Art Institute, where he ultimately ended up teaching for over 20 years. It was there that he found his calling in sculpture, and he subsequently went to the Santa Barbara School of the Arts to study bronze casting. After returning to Los Angeles, Stanley began to receive commissions for architectural carving and bas reliefs, both for private homes and for commercial and public buildings such as Bullock’s Wilshire, Scripps College, and the Griffith Observatory, where he was one of six sculptors contributing figures to the Astronomer’s Monument, a Public Works of Art Project in 1934.
For the Hollywood Bowl Fountain complex, Stanley designed three heroic sculptures in an Art Deco style. The central figure shows the kneeling Muse of Music playing a lyre. The Muse of Dance is posed mid-movement, and the Muse of Drama holds the theater masks of comedy and tragedy. These figures were sculpted from the Victorville granite and placed on a tiered fountain made from 1,180 tons of concrete and faced with more granite. Stanley envisioned the sculpture as both an entrance to the Bowl and to all of Hollywood, a city working to define itself as a creative and artistic capital.
With the help of Los Angeles County Supervisor John Anson Ford, Toberman got the project approved at the end of 1938. As sponsor, the County provided $1,000 for the materials, and through the WPA the federal government granted $100,000 for labor and construction. The completed monument was dedicated on July 8, 1940, the day before the opening of the 19th season at the Hollywood Bowl, which featured José Iturbi conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic in music by Wagner, Richard Strauss, and Rimsky-Korsakov, with tenor Richard Crooks the soloist in popular songs.
The Fountain was an immediate success as the gateway to the Bowl, quickly becoming an icon celebrated on posters and postcards. Time was not kind to the Muses, however. In the early 2000s, pollutants and bird droppings eroded and discolored the surface of the sculptures, and mineral deposits built up in the fountain pools. In 2006, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Hollywood Bowl completed a major reconstruction project on the fountain, carefully restoring Stanley’s design to its original luster and adding modern digital signage, waterproofing, and plumbing upgrades. As the Bowl approaches its 100th season, the restored and fresh-faced muses are poised to greet guests for many years to come.