Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Pilgrimage Theater, 2580 Cahuenga Blvd. E., Los Angeles, CA

Entrance to The Pilgrimage Theater, 1923

Capacity 1245

The Theosophical Society’s 1918 production of ”The Light of Asia,” a pageant based on Edwin Arnold’s epic poem on the life of the Buddha. That hit led it's Theosophist organizers to search for a permanent amphitheater for large-scale and (they hoped) inspirational pageants. One of the pageant’s stars, H. Ellis Reed, soon discovered in nearby Daisy Dell not just a larger version of Beachwood Canyon but the largest natural amphitheater in the United States. Christine Wetherill Stevenson (Mrs. William Yorke Stevenson(1908) and formerly the wife of John V. Rice, Jr.(1902)) and another wealthy arts patron, Mrs. Chauncey D. Clarke (Marie Rankin Clarke) each contributed $21,000 toward the $47,500 purchase price, with the remaining funds donated by other Alliance members. Once the land was purchased, construction began on what would become the Hollywood Bowl.
Although Stevenson ended her involvement (and was reimbursed for her share of the
purchase) when other organizers decided the Bowl would fulfill a civic rather than religious function, she must have been pleased by the Bowl’s first large-scale event: the Easter Sunrise Service of 1921.(5)   
Stevenson, heiress to the Pittsburgh Paint Company fortune, purchased 29 acres of land across the street from the Hollywood Bowl and built the Pilgrimage Theater.  The Amphitheater was constructed in 1920 before there was even a theatre at the Hollywood Bowl.

Designed in Judaic architecture to resemble the gates of Jerusalem, it was originally built as the site of the "Pilgrimage Play Theatre" where an annual twelve-part Passion Play depicting the life and death of Jesus Christ was presented, with a short break during WWII when the theatre was used to house servicemen.
Many local actors and actresses performed in the annual Pilgrimage Play. While attending Hollywood High School, Fay Wray appeared in the Play. Exhilarated by this brush with show business, she decided to try her luck as a film actress.
The music for the Pilgrimage Play was written by noted composer of that era, Arthur Farwell, with additional "scenic" music by Dane Rudhyar, noted mysticist proclaimed as "the father of karmic astrology."(1)

As a sidenote, Christine Wetherill Stevenson founded the Philadelphia Art Alliance in 1915, it is housed in the former Samuel Price Wetherill mansion — he was a descendant of Samuel Wetherill, who along with Betsy Ross was a member of the Free Quaker Meeting House.(6)
Christine Wetherill Stevenson at The Pilgrimage Theater, 1921
When she died in 1922, Christine Wetherill Stevenson was remembered with a stone cross, which stood atop the hill over-looking the Pilgrimage Theater. The cross stood tall and was lit only during Easter when the "Pilgrimage Play" was performed. The public soon grew to appreciate the cross illuminated at night. For a while, Southern California Edison footed the bill that kept the cross lit.
The Pilgrimage Play was performed until 1964 when a lawsuit forced its closure — the argument against it was that public funds were being expended on a religious play. Thereafter, the structure slowly deteriorated. The following year the cross was damaged by fire and was replaced by a new cross, made of steel and Plexiglas. 
By 1980 church and state politics again got in the way of the county's support of the cross. This prompted Hollywood Heritage to step in and purchase the site. Within four years the cross suffered the detrimental effects of vandalism, followed by a windstorm, which knocked it over.
In 1985, volunteers erected a new cross 17-feet in height.
In 1993 High Adventure Ministries built the current cross standing 33 feet tall.
Finally, in 1997, the Church on the Way took over the care and maintenance of the cross on the Cahuenga Pass.(4)
Photo courtesy of Charles Richard Lester
Copyright ©2012

The original wooden theatre burned down in 1929 and was rebuilt in concrete by the WPA and reopened in 1931.(3)

The late, previous County Supervisor John Anson Ford, who lived to be 100,  got funding for capital development in the early 1970s.

Renamed in 1976, the John Anson Ford Amphitheater, located in the Hollywood Hills, is owned and controlled by the County of Los Angeles and located in a county regional park. The Amphitheatre is considered to be one of the oldest performing arts sites in Los Angeles still in use.
Photo courtesy of Charles Richard Lester
Copyright ©2012
The open-air amphitheater sits on a forty-five acre park located in the Cahuenga Pass, nestled against a backdrop of cypress and chaparral. It is fairly intimate — no patron is more than ninety-six feet away from the stage. The Amphitheater offers a wide array of performances featuring world music, jazz, dance chamber music, theater, pop music, and family events during the months of May through October. (2)

In 2000, a 1.6 million-dollar renewal of the entryway to the theatres was commenced. The new entryway features winding paths that create a more ongoing climb from the box office, a waterfall, two dozen species of trees and plants, and pocket picnic areas. At the top of the entryway is Edison Plaza, a gathering place where customers can eat, shop and pick up information about the theater.(2) For daytime performances, the seating area is usually shaded by a parachute-like awning which is withdrawn for night-time concerts.(3)

Dancing in the aisles by performers and audience members is common.
Photo courtesy of Charles Richard Lester
Copyright ©2012

Jerry performed here on
4/20/74 Great American String Band (this band only played three gigs, this was the first).
Jerry Garcia - banjo, vocals
David Grisman - mandolin, vocals
Richard Greene - guitar, fiddle
Taj Mahal - bass
Buell Neidlinger - bass
David Nichtern - guitar, vocals(7)

1.)^A Brief History of the John Anson Ford Amphitheater, http://www.1377731.com/ford/page5.html
3.)^Deioma, Kayte, An Intimate Theatre Under the Stars, http://golosangeles.about.com/od/performingartsinla/qt/Ford_Theatre.htm
4.)^Frances, Hope, The Cross at Cahuenga" - Shining God's love down upon Hollywood, 2006-10-17, http://lightscameragod.blogspot.com/2006/10/cross-at-cahuenga-shining-gods-love.html
5.)^When Shakespeare Came to Beachwood Canyon: “Julius Caesar,” 1916, http://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/tag/christine-weatherill-stevenson/
7.)^Westover, Bryce W., http://www.dead101.com/1280.htm
Henken, John. The Hollywood Bowl. Balcony Press, Los Angeles. 1996.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. I think it is Theater, not Theatre, as you have in the title.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.