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That Hollywood Bowl magic

Three longtime Hollywood Bowl-goers share sweet memories of music under the stars, be it in a box down in front or on a bench seat on high.

July 06, 2009|Diane Haithman

Cars didn't have seat belts back in the 1940s -- but then, nobody was thinking too hard about safety when Charla Janacek and her pals from Glendale's Hoover High showed up for volunteer usher duty at the Hollywood Bowl with six to eight kids piled into one vehicle.

As Janacek describes it, the scene was less traditional carpool than clown car. "Some of us were in the seats, some of us were on the floor," she recalls with a loud laugh. "We were stacked, woven, like the lattice top on an apple pie. The security police would come and help us out of the car."

Sometimes it was a student driving the family car; other times, Janacek's dad played chauffeur in his Pontiac. But no matter who drove, the goal was the same: to spend as much time as possible at the Bowl.

Janacek's first year as a Bowl usher was 1941; she was 16. Today at 84, Janacek still jumps at the chance to take in a concert under the stars in Cahuenga Pass -- although she may not jump quite as high as she used to.

While the Bowl serves as one of the city's most popular tourist draws, to many who have grown up here, the summer venue for the Los Angeles Philharmonic is less an attraction to visit than a place to call home.

In advance of the Bowl's summer concert series, which gets underway Tuesday, three of those longtime Bowl-goers shared their decades of memories with The Times. (We were not able to locate anyone who was seated on the benches when the Bowl first opened in 1922.) All three are passing on the tradition to their children and grandchildren -- and even sometimes to perfect strangers when they have an extra ticket to spare.

Janacek started her lifetime at the Bowl in the back rows; although she and her friends were not paid for their usher duties, they got to keep a penny for every 10-cent program they sold. "By the time they got up to the back rows, nobody wanted a program," Janacek recalls. While her friends were pulling down $2 and $3 a night closer to the stage, her average take was 9 cents.

"After the concerts, we'd all go out for a hamburger at Bob's in Burbank, and I only made enough money one night to pay for the hamburger," she laments. "My poor mother had to subsidize my social life."

Alyce de Roulet Williamson, 78, got a slightly different view -- from a box that has been in her family for more than 50 years. The Pasadena socialite and philanthropist has occupied a garden box with her husband, retired investment banker Warren "Spud" Williamson, since they were married in 1954.

The Williamsons inherited the box from Alyce's parents, Henry and "Dawnie" de Roulet. Warren Williamson is the grandson of the late Harry Chandler, former publisher of The Times; he is chairman of the Chandler Trust and a member of the L.A. Phil's board of directors.

"I can't bear the thought of giving up the box," says Williamson, who attended this year's opening night concert, featuring opera star Kiri Te Kanawa and pop sensation Josh Groban on June 19 with family and friends; for this concert, they sat not in the longtime family box but in a Pool Circle box, so called because they occupy an area once taken up by a reflecting pool. "It used to be when I would go to the Bowl, I knew everybody there, it was big time. And everybody dressed up."

Now, Williamson says, the couple's love of horse racing often keeps her away from the Bowl, but she's still usually in the family box for the Tuesday night classical music series. "I love that -- there's no racing on Tuesday nights," she says.

Physician John Uphold, who lives in Hermosa Beach and has a practice in Woodland Hills, has experienced the Bowl from both the last and first rows. Uphold admits that as a child in the 1950s, growing up in Whittier, he was a reluctant Bowl-goer, dragged to classical concerts by his parents.

"We would go and sit in the benches, pretty far back, because I remember the walks up," he says. "We would picnic on the benches -- everyone was in a long line, so the potato salad would always be about 8 feet away from you.

"I had a paper route, and had gotten a small transistor radio for getting new subscribers," he reminisces. "I'd listen to the Dodger games with a little earphone. I remember it was a very quiet time, and somebody hit a home run and I let out a whoop. I incurred a certain amount of wrath for that; I learned that was not an acceptable way to celebrate during a concert. I got to keep the radio, but had to promise that was never going to happen again."

Uphold went to Texas for his medical education, but when he returned to Los Angeles in 1975, he and his family returned to the Bowl -- and got his first box. "It was in the last row of boxes, the last row of the terrace, off to one side, but I was happy because I got a box," he says. Over the years, he managed to keep moving down to more and more desirable boxes by subscribing to new music series as they were added to the schedule. "There wasn't as much demand for them," he says. He now sits front row center in the Pool Circle.

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