What is more magical than spending an evening out-of-doors in gentle weather, as coolness descends, scents of earth sharpen and night luminaries emerge from the twilight? And what sort of meeting place could be more Earth-friendly than a facility set in the open air? Weather permitting, there are numerous outdoor venues that offer unique and versatile alternatives to the traditional banquet room or events center.
I recently visited the Hollywood Bowl for the first time and fell completely under its spell. The largest natural, hillside amphitheater in the U.S., it rests unobtrusively in the Hollywood Hills and features a spectacular view of the famous sign.
The Bowl hosted its first performances in 1920, when it was little more than a few wooden benches in the wilderness. Beginning in 1926, a succession of acoustic shell stages were constructed for the park. One of them was a striking, pyramid-shaped structure designed by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. It was considered too architecturally controversial to remain and was finally replaced by the curvilinear design that is known around the world today. That 1929 shell was renovated in 2003.
The Hollywood Bowl has always taken its stewardship of the environment seriously. In 1924, the Bowl was designated as an Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary for its commitment to environmental management. The Audubon program sets standards for outreach and education, resource management, water conservation and wildlife and habitat management.
The Bowl is a model in each of these areas. Clearly designated recycling receptacles are available throughout the park. On-site food service is available with eco-friendly, to-go packaging and service items. The facility is immaculately clean. Wooden seating blends with the natural environment and is surprisingly well-designed and comfortable. Native plant life is preserved and cultivated, and the site is home to numerous wildlife species.
One of my favorite green features offered at the Bowl is the park-and-ride program. If anyone has ever driven in L.A. traffic, you know the true value of the word “carpool.” The Bowl began partnering with the Los Angeles County Transportation Authority back in 1953. Today, visitors may board buses at a number of designated pick-up points throughout the region. The buses will take them directly to the Bowl’s front entrance where they will be greeted by the beautiful Art Deco, Muse of Music fountain – built in 1940 as a cooperative project between the WPA and the Southern California Arts Project. No driving, no parking, no leaving a big, ugly, carbon footprint – just a comfortable ride at a very fair price. It makes the whole experience feel like a grand adventure!
I recently attended a beautifully choreographed dinner and award presentation at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center here in Fullerton, Calif., and it demonstrated just how successfully a corporate or formal event can be produced at an outdoor venue. “The Muck,” as it is locally known, is a 1920s-era mansion-turned-arts-center, which features a lovely outdoor theater with cocktail seating. The Gatsby-themed event included a superb buffet dinner, live entertainment and an award presentation. The guests, who were dressed to the nines, enthusiastically embraced the out-of-doors festivities, and the setting added novelty, as they explored the mansion and strolled upon the estate grounds.
The ancient Greeks and Romans began the tradition of bringing people together in open-air facilities, and the quality of this experience has certainly not diminished with time. Reduced infrastructure and environmental integration offer a delightfully green alternative to indoor venues.
The Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program includes hundreds of resorts and venues around the country. For a complete listing of certified members, visit www.auduboninternational.org.
For venues mentioned in this article, visit www.hollywoodbowl.com and www.themuck.org.