Great outdoor spaces deserve recognition and celebrating, especially when they exist for nearly 90 years. Eighty-eights years ago this week on September 25, 1930, the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles was officially opened. Developed in the vision of land owner Griffith J. Griffith, and with funding left to the City of LA in his will, the iconic venue sits under the stars at the bottom of Griffith Park beneath the wings of the aptly named Griffith Observatory. Designed in the style of a Greek temple, the venue was mainly used for military housing during WW II. It began to establish itself as a reputable music venue in the 1950s and today is considered one of the best outdoor venues for many concertgoers in Los Angeles.
What makes this venue so unique is its size, location, and ambiance. With the encompassing Griffith Park around it being one of the largest urban parks in the nation, the small outdoor amphitheater that holds just under 6,000 people contradicts many stereotypes about city life. The large homes leading into the park along Vermont and Hillhurst Avenues north of Los Feliz Blvd. line the paths to the Greek. This entrance makes you feel like you’re going through a distant suburban neighborhood, despite the fact that its just minutes above the hustle and bustle of one of LA’s busy thoroughfares. I’ve even been lucky enough to see a deer in the parking lot there upon arriving for a past concert. The park itself spans the distance between Hollywood to the west and the 5 Freeway to the east where it passes by the not-so-suburban communities of Los Feliz, Atwater Village, and Glendale.
For sitting in such an expansive park in a heavily trafficked part of the city, the theater is actually quite accessible. There are mutilple entrances into the park, but walking up to the Greek from Los Feliz Blvd. rather than driving in is both possible and recommended once you’re in the neighborhood. It’s just about a 10-15 minute walk up from the bottom of the road along a relatively small incline. If you’re unable or not in the mood for walking though, LADOT offers a DASH shuttle bus along Vermont Avenue that drops you off there, or you can easily use a ride share service to get dropped off in front (because we all know parking in LA is for the birds). While there is on-site parking, if you don’t have to do it, don’t. Once inside, there is no real reminder of the city life below. The only backdrops are the canyons and peaks surrounding the amphitheater. If you have not been inside, imagine a much smaller and more intimate Hollywood Bowl. No seat is a bad seat with regard to sound or line of sight to the stage. While the Bowl will always be one of my favorite places as well, the Greek’s small size allows you to connect more easily to everything around you, especially the show that you’re there to experience.
Some of the great performers I’ve seen there include Norah Jones, Van Morrison, David Byrne with St. Vincent, Blondie, The National, and most recently Arcade Fire along with The Zombies. The venue is well-managed, always clean, and they’ve somehow figured out the perfect bathroom stall-to-patron ratio that has managed to all but eliminate the phenomenon of the women’s restroom line. The abundance of stalls is almost so unbelievable that women often start to form lines out of habit before they realize there’s an entire additional section to the facility.
Facilities for basic human function aside, there is something special about having this type of venue in a city like Los Angeles. It allows for socialization, interaction, and escapism all at the same time without ever leaving the city, or your seat for that matter. In the 90 minutes to 2 hours you might sit through a show and take in all around you, you’re able to leave the confines of a busy city and the restrictions of your own mind from your surroundings without actually going anywhere. While I believe concerts and live shows, regardless of the venue, can give you a medium to escape, I think the true beauty is in the nature that surrounds you at the Greek. Nature is calming, healing, and essential to mental well-being and growth. It can only propel and accelerate the effects of positive energy felt from live music.
In addition to just being a performance venue, the location of the Greek lends itself to a nice, easy hiking/walking destination, just from the neighborhood below. From there you can explore various trails through Griffith Park, and if you’re ambitious you can even continue on a hike to the Hollywood Sign. Whether the Greek is a starting point or an end point of exploration, it’s difficult for the experience to disappoint, and a big reason why the city-owned venue is one of the great spaces in LA that deserves some recognition.
Check out my Instagram page linked below for a look at some photos from the recent Arcade Fire concert I attended on Thursday, September 20, 2018.