How the Hollywood Bowl’s dollar seats changed my life

Illustration showing a Hollywood Bowl $1 ticket with tiny orchestra
(Erin Maala / For The Times)

Who needs expensive box seats at the Hollywood Bowl when you’re falling in love?


Is it possible that a pair of dollar seats at the Hollywood Bowl changed my life? Certainly Jonathan Gold might have found a different way to ask me out, although at the time we were both in other relationships and our Hollywood Bowl excursion was not meant to be an official date. Maybe if it had been, Jonathan would have sprung for pricier seats.

But there was something so casual and easy about heading to the Bowl after work with another low-wage colleague. Dollar seats at the Bowl? No big deal, right?

After all, Jonathan was a Hollywood Bowl pro. As a high school cellist, he’d been an usher at the Bowl and bragged that he’d often worked the section where longtime L.A. Phil executive director Ernest Fleischmann held court. This was how he knew he could start his evenings at the Bowl in the uppermost bench seats and then sneak closer to the stage once he’d scoped out the empty seats.

Wooden bench seats at the top (or back) of the Hollywood Bowl amphitheater
For certain concerts you can still get seats in the top rows of the Hollywood Bowl for just a dollar.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

He also knew that the best place to gather Hollywood Bowl picnic provisions was the now long-gone Victor’s wine shop at the corner of Franklin and Bronson in Hollywood. That’s where I first observed Jonathan, before he became a famous restaurant critic, in meal-planning mode, carefully studying the least expensive wines that he thought would go best with the cheese, sliced meats and baguette he’d picked out. His wine tastes would grow more sophisticated over the years — at the time he was impressed that I (barely) knew a few random terms from the wine geography elective I’d taken in college (legs! terroir!) — but already he had the confidence of a connoisseur.


We arrived at the Bowl’s stacked parking lot in the first of two ancient Cadillac convertibles Jonathan would own — I was with him months later when he bought the second one from a retired actress in the hills behind the Bowl. All these years later, I can’t be sure what was on the program that night, but looking back at that season’s lineup I’m guessing it was the time cellist Ronald Leonard played Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1 with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting. It was one of his favorite pieces.

The Hollywood Bowl is celebrating its centennial. Learn about its history with the L.A. Philharmonic and the Beatles, Janis Joplin and more.

Later when we were a couple, Jonathan would rest his hand on my arm at L.A. Phil concerts and, absorbed in the music, press his fingertips into my arm with a slight tremble as if he were playing notes on the neck of a cello along with the orchestra. That night, he kept his hands to himself during the concert. But afterward, he asked if I wanted to stop by his apartment for dessert — he had a peach pie that his mother had made. I had to wonder: How many others had he lured to his apartment with dollar Hollywood Bowl tickets and the promise of Mom’s peach pie? I was suspicious, but I was also falling in love. And that peach pie was delicious.

The next morning, he sent a dozen roses to my desk at the office. And the next time we went to the Hollywood Bowl he did spring for pricier seats. Marriage, two cats and two children later, we often returned to the Bowl — sometimes for other cello concertos and sometimes, even though Jonathan didn’t totally approve, for movie nights. How could he be grumpy watching “Singin’ in the Rain” under the stars with David Newman conducting the L.A. Phil?

As for those dollar seats, you can buy them even now for certain concerts at the Bowl. Looking at this season’s schedule, I see that Pablo Ferrández is set to play Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1 in August with Paolo Bortolameolli conducting. I like to think that if Jonathan were still alive he’d get us a couple of tickets. There are still a few dollar seats available.