Attending a concert at the Hollywood Bowl during the summer is a long Los Angeles tradition. This treasured local jewel located at 2301 N. Highland Avenue gained fame for its natural and wonderful acoustics in the late 1910s, with the Theatre Arts Alliance choosing the site in 1919 to construct an amphitheatre. The site opened with simple wood seats and stage in 1920 at the site originally known as the Daisy Dell. The Hollywood Bowl Association was formed in 1924 when the Arts Alliance organization deeded the land to Los Angeles County. Plays, dances, concerts, and Easter Sunrise Services comprise only a small amount of the varied programs held annually at the site, known as the United States’ largest known amphitheatre.
The Bowl and its grounds continue to be a work in progress, with renovations or additions happening every few years, from work on restrooms, picnic areas, landscaping, concession stands, the shell, and other decorative touches. Such architects as Lloyd Wright and Frank Gehry have designed or renovated many of the shells over the years, with Wright’s 1927 pyramidal shell constructed from materials recycled from the sets of Douglas Fairbanks’ film “Robin Hood.”
Around 1934, the organization realized that the grounds and buildings required renovations. Over the next five years, updates such as renovating restrooms, adding a tearoom, planting pepper tree lane, and beautifying the grounds kept the organizing committee busy.
As part of the renovations, the Hollywood Bowl Association applied for and won a Works Progress Administration Federal Arts grant of over $125,000 to create an entrance gateway for the grounds when the county gave $1000 to its construction. The work building and placing the statue would create many jobs in the Hollywood/Los Angeles area besides brightening the entrance. The group commissioned respected Los Angeles sculptor George Stanley to design an elegant statue drawing public attention from the street.
Born in Louisiana, Stanley moved to Los Angeles in the early 1920s to study art at the Otis Art Institute, where he soon discovered a talent for sculpting. He won a year scholarship in 1925 for his excellent work. Later that year, Stanley exhibited a small, “striking figure of an armless woman” at an October 1925 exhibit of Modern Art at the Hollywood Library, per the Los Angeles Times. Stanley exhibited in several galleries for the next couple of years while he studied at Otis, winning such awards as the Huntington Prize in 1926 for his work. In 1927, he was one of two students receiving a full scholarship to attend Santa Barbara’s School of the Arts.
Stanley exhibited at such places as Bullock’s Exposition of the Arts, California Arts’ Club’s yearly show at Barnsdall Park, and galleries in 1928. He designed the “Telephone Symbolized” as artwork decorating the entrance to the 740 S. Olive St. telephone building. These led to important commissions in 1929: designing and creating a bas relief over the Wilshire Blvd. entrance of Bullock’s Department Store, and sculpting the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Oscar statuette under the supervision of designer Cedric Gibbons, MGM Studios art director.
In 1934, Stanley designed the Isaac Newton statue, one of eight figures sculpted for the obelisk at the new Griffith Observatory. Otis hired him to teach sculpture to its budding artists around this period as well.
The Hollywood Bowl Association commissioned him in 1937 to create a dramatic entrance for the Bowl at Highland Avenue. Stanley conceived the idea for the statue at his residence at 2109 Loma Vista Place. The Association and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors applied for and won a $125,000 grant from the Works Progress Administration Federal Arts Project for labor costs, as the project employed many people at a time of high unemployment.
Stanley designed a dramatic Art Deco-inspired figure representing the Muse of Music, with additional smaller companion statues “Dance” and “Drama” surrounding it. The artist and his assistants chiseled a figure weighing 28 tons and 14 feet tall from granite quarried in Victorville, employing air hammers and chisels to perfect the dramatic lines underneath. The group constructed a reinforced concrete bore as a base for the 22 x 200 foot long work, to bolt it to the ground and preserve it from earthquakes.
The Streamlined Moderne statue cost close to $200,000 when it was moved into place at the Hollywood Bowl on March 29, 1939. A decorative fountain around it featured dancing water that seemed to play like music. The beautiful statue would appear many times on yearly programs for the Bowl, as well as in advertisements promoting attendance. It even makes a short appearance in the feature film “Champagne for Charlie,” in which quiz champion Ronald Colman faces down broadcast head Vincent Price in a winner take all situation.
In 1951, the Hollywood Bowl Association suffered bankruptcy and shut down for almost two weeks while Dorothy Buffum Chandler raised money to reopen it. Over the next several decades maintenance suffered as county funds dwindled to operate the facility, but in 2006 the statue was renovated and reworked. The Hollywood Bowl, seating 18,000, now ranks as the United States’ top natural amphitheatre.
While Stanley would continue to teach and exhibit sculpture, his commissions never again ranked as high as these 1930s projects that gave gorgeous Streamline decoration to cherished buildings and awards. He did design statues for Glendale’s Hoover High School and Long Beach’s Polytechnic High School, as well as bas reliefs at Scripps College, but Stanley is mostly a forgotten figure in Los Angeles today.