The Bowl Rose

The Bowl Rose

Libbey Bowl, community organizing and nostalgia’s new style

By David Cotner 06/10/2010

Libbey Bowl — the bandshell amphitheater that has, for more than 50 years, fueled the drumbeat that is the heart of culture in the greater Ojai area — is on its way to certain destruction. One might be forgiven for not knowing about its impending doom: traditionally, news rarely escapes from Shangri-La to the slightly less illuminated outside world. And yet the reason for the Bowl’s demolition comes courtesy of something as mundane as the common termite. Paired with the inevitable wood rot spurred on by the capriciousness of the elements, it’s a wonder it’s lasted as long as it has.

Built in 1957 as the Ojai Festival Bowl, it was in the ’70s that it was renamed Libbey Bowl in honor of Toledo glassworks baron Edward Drummond Libbey. The $3.5 million repair bill — $2 million of which was underwritten by the City of Ojai, the Ojai Civic Association and the Ojai Music Festival — was recently met with matching funds thanks to fundraisers within the community who, as of this past May, raised the money to complete the project, on track for a 2011 completion date.

Is it total annihilation? Anna Cho, director of the Save Libbey Bowl campaign, reveals, “The plan is to demolish the whole thing. We’re saving about 10 benches that the artists have created as art pieces, and we’ll be auctioning those off.” And while other cities have let their bandshells lie fallow, well out of the realm of possibility as arts magnets that draw a community together, the Save the Libbey Bowl campaign operates much as the Hollywood Bowl restoration team did in 2003, when it redesigned the bandshell in a hotly controversial move that still resonates with preservationists.

The city of Ojai hired David Bury, an architect known for restoring a lot of the city’s historic buildings, and Cho details the renovations with a mixture of mild fatigue and effervescence. “We’re starting from scratch: fixing the foundation, rebuilding the new shell, putting in new seating — individual seats instead of benches — re-grading the lawn and rebuilding the dressing rooms as well.” Cho explained that the new structure will be be pretty similar to the old one and it will remain in its current location. “The main thing that they’re doing is that they’re rotating the shell 45 degrees so it’s actually centered, because now it’s not centered,” she added. “Seating will remain the same; the shell will be a little bit higher. “It’ll evoke the feeling of the old Bowl, but the materials will be completely different. It’ll last much longer because it’ll be built of steel and concrete and other durable, sustainable materials.”

Cho revealed that while the seats won’t have cushions, they will be stadium-style and made out of recycled plastic. “We had kind of a seating party to find out which was the comfortable seat. It’s going to be much, much more comfortable than what is there now.”

While the process of demolition isn’t an instantaneous one — one might understandably envision a countdown to tactical implosion, and all the sky-high blossoms of dust-clouds that implies — it takes place only two weeks after this year’s Ojai Music Festival. As for where Cho plans to be on demolition day, she’s more than a little brave at the prospect. “Our offices are right across the street, so I’m going to walk on over and check it out. I want to see how quickly it happens.”   

The Libbey Bowl’s “Last Gasp” Party happens Saturday, June 19, at 4:30 p.m., at the Bowl with music by the Ventura Jazz Orchestra and a chance to buy remaining memorabilia from the venue.

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