Good news for Bowl bottoms

March 5, 2014 

Alaskan yellow cedar benches are going in at the Bowl, replacing old ones that have seated millions.

Consider the lot of the lowly Hollywood Bowl benches.

Every summer, they bear silent witness to sublime symphonies, cool jazz and the musical stylings of some of the biggest names in pop. They brave the elements year ‘round, and when the amphitheatre is in full swing, get up close and personal with some 14,000 rear ends a night (some shielded with cushions, others not so much.)

Is it any wonder that eventually even the staunchest Bowl bench starts to crack under all the pressure?

But relief is on the way for the current crop of benches, which were installed at the dawn of the Reagan Administration and have hosted more than 18 million backsides in their time.

Mark Ladd, the Bowl’s assistant director of operations, calls the bench replacement “a once-in-a-career project.”

“It’s exciting to see it get done,” Ladd said. “If you take a look at some of the older wood, you’ll see it’s overdue.”

Underwritten by Prop. A park improvement dollars and other funds made available by Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the $1.6 million project is expected to wrap up in time for this year’s opening night on June 21. (Concertgoers for this year’s pre-season lease events like Black Sabbath, Billy Joel and Bruno Mars and Pharrell Williams will see a work in progress, with a mix of old and new benches available for seating.)

The benches are showing their age.

Beyond putting to rest the occasional splinter complaint, the new seats—which, like the earlier benches, are made of golden-hued Alaskan yellow cedar which will weather in time to a silvery gray—will be visually striking in their inaugural season.

And they’ll be widely used. While some music fans pony up for pricey box seats, the vast majority of Bowl patrons flock to the benches, where some weeknight concert tickets can be had for little as $1. (Another buck rents you a cushion for the night. For more on that and other tips for making the most of your Bowl experience, click here.)

The bench replacement project is part of a long list of improvements that have gone into the county-owned facility in recent years, including replacement of the legendary shell itself. New restrooms, park furniture to make it easier for more people to picnic at the site, “speed ramps” to whisk patrons to the Bowl’s upper levels, LED screens, a wine bar and a state-of-the-art sound system are among the upgrades in the just the past few seasons. (Industry professionals seem to be noticing; the Bowl recently nabbed its 10th straight Pollstar award as the nation’s best major outdoor concert venue.)

In addition to the new benches, this summer season will also be illuminated with new landscape lighting around the site, also funded by Yaroslavsky’s office. And the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which operates the Bowl under a lease agreement with the county, is replacing the stage floor, a maintenance procedure it undertakes every 10 years or so.

As construction workers buzzed around the site this week, assistant operations director Ladd noted that those venerable Bowl benches, installed back in 1981, may still not have reached the end of their long service to the people of Los Angeles County.

“We’re looking to re-use as much as we can,” Ladd said, pointing out that the wood can be re-milled and made available for repairs and future construction projects throughout the county parks system—an environmentally-friendly encore worthy of the Bowl itself.

The benches, last fully replaced in 1981, will eventually weather to the familiar silvery gray.

Posted 3/5/14

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