Nothing says summer in Los Angeles like the Hollywood Bowl. As the most recent advertising campaign puts it, it is “where summer plays.” As the summer–and the 2014 Bowl season–draw to a close, I thought it fitting to feature one of the most entertaining finds from the Music Center archives. This photograph shows Hollywood Bowl savior Dorothy Buffum Chandler onstage with Vice-President Richard Nixon. The photo was taken in 1955 at the Festival of the Americas.
The Festival of the Americas was a five-day concert series designed to draw in a diverse audience, add prestige to L.A.’s cultural image, and celebrate music and musicians from the entire western hemisphere. Chandler brought national attention to the Hollywood Bowl by personally convincing Nixon—a staunch Cold Warrior and native Southern Californian—to preside over the Festival opening. Nixon’s participation in the Festival built on his recent goodwill tour of ten Latin American and Caribbean nations. As you can see from the photo, Chandler cultivated an aura of glamour surrounding special events like the Festival by attracting a formally attired, “star-studded audience.” I found this image striking not only because of the formality of their dress, but also because of the expression on Chandler’s face, her stance, and the fact that Nixon is holding her arm. My take is that Chandler did not particularly like Nixon touching her, or perhaps she was skeptical of something he said–but it seems like she is pulling away from him slightly but allowing his touch because they were standing in front of a crowd of thousands. What’s your take on the photo?
 In Chandler’s view, the Festival was also an opportunity to connect culture to Cold War tensions in a tangible way, by “paying tribute to our neighbors,” because “we need our neighbors and they need us in these times when we must guard against the inroads of communism.” (Koopal, Grace G., Miracle of Music, 239–241, 243.)
Dr. Andrea Thabet is a historian, writer, researcher, and historic preservation consultant specializing in Los Angeles, urban, and public history. She is currently a Lecturer in American History at Caltech, where she teaches courses on the Civil Rights Movement, and America in the 20th century. She also co-coordinates an urban history seminar series, the LA History & Metro Studies Group, for the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West. Dr. Thabet holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in U.S. History from UC Santa Barbara, and a B.A. in History with an Art History minor from Loyola Marymount University. Prior to earning her PhD, she worked as a Curatorial Assistant at the Skirball Cultural Center and Museum in Los Angeles and at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. She has consulted on a number of historic preservation projects, which include a successful Historic-Cultural Monument nomination for the Hawk House designed by Harwell Hamilton Harris (2019), and research and writing about Civic Center Branch Administrative Centers for Survey LA, a city-wide project conducted by L.A.’s Office of Historic Resources.
Dr. Thabet’s published works on Los Angeles and urban history have appeared in both academic and popular journals, in print and digital formats. Her article, “‘From Sagebrush to Symphony’: Negotiating the Hollywood Bowl and the Future of Los Angeles, 1918-1926,” appeared in the Pacific Historical Review in Fall 2020. She also authored the report “Space to Lead: A Century of Civic Leadership in Los Angeles” for Future of Cities: Los Angeles, with Shawn Landres and William Deverell. In June 2020, Dr. Thabet was awarded a fellowship by Friends of Residential Treasures: Los Angeles (FORT:LA) for an interdisciplinary research collaboration with Jenna Snow, titled: “A Women’s Project: Mary Louise Schmidt and the 1936 California House and Garden Exhibition.” The FORT Trail Map launches in March 2023 and will be featured for women’s history month in a number of venues. She is also completing a book manuscript, “Culture as Urban Renewal: Remaking Public Space in Postwar Los Angeles” which examines the critical role cultural and leisure spaces played in shaping the built environment and urban economy of Los Angeles through federal and local urban renewal policy after World War II.
View all posts by Andrea Thabet, Ph.D.
2 thoughts on “‘Where Summer Plays’…”
She totally looks uncomfortable with him grabbing her arm, but she definitely put on a brave face, like a classy lady would do in a crowd of thousands. Perhaps he called her on stage to pay recognition for putting on the festival.
Leslie, I love hearing your take. Definitely possible he called her up on stage–I don’t have any records about that, but it would be worth looking into.