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Hollywood Pilgrimage Play Photos on hollywoodphotos.com website

The Pilgrimage Play Photos

Pilgrimage Play Theater

The Pilgrimage Play Theater was built in 1920 as the site of The Pilgrimage Play. The author, Christine Wetherill Stevenson, believed the rugged beauty of the Cahuenga Pass would provide a dramatic outdoor setting for the play. Together with Mrs. Chauncey D. Clark, she purchased this land along with that on which the Hollywood Bowl now sits. A wooden, outdoor amphitheatre was built on this site and the play was performed by noted actors every summer from 1920 to 1929, until the original structure was destroyed by a brush fire in October 1929.

Photo of Pilgrimage Play actors

The Pilgrimage Play

The first performance of the pilgrimage play was held on June 27, 1920. The elevated seating at the mouth of the canyon, and realistic replicas of essential scenes from the holy land, were constructed and elaborately eliminated under the direction of Mr. Reed. During the eight weeks of the summer of 1920, the drama of the life of Christ's was produced under the stars.

Photo of Pilgrimage Play Stage

Actors Playing Christ

Jesus of Nazareth was portrayed by Henry Herbert for the first four weeks, until he was forced to return to New York. His most capable understudy, Reginald Pole, took his place as the Christus. Many fine actors portray Jesus over the years, but none for as long as Henry Herbert, who held the role for over 15 years. Mrs. Stevenson's objective had been achieved and a beautiful tradition had been that was to continue long after her untimely death just two years later in 1922. Her parents then deed the property and the pilgrimage play itself, together with a trust fund for its continuance, to the pilgrimage play Association.

The largest collection of the Pilgrimage Play and the Pilgrimage Theater is on the hollywoodphotos.com website. Many of these rare photos including those of the old theater, new theater and the many actors. All photos are availale for purchase.

Photo of Pilgrimage Play Theater

New Pilgrimage Play Theater

The present theatre, constructed of poured concrete and designed in the style of ancient Judaic architecture to resemble the gates of Jerusalem, was built on the same site and opened in 1931.[1] The Pilgrimage Play was again performed here until 1964, interrupted only by World War II. In 1941 the land was deeded to the County of Los Angeles. The Pilgrimage Play continued to be presented until a lawsuit in 1964 forced its closure because of its religious nature. In 1976, the Pilgrimage Theatre was renamed the John Anson Ford Theatre in honor of the late L.A. County Supervisor's significant support of the arts.

Pilgrimage Play Cross

For more than 70 years, a 34-foot illuminated cross looming over the Cahuenga Pass has been one of the landmarks by which motorists mark their passage between downtown and the San Fernando Valley.

In fact, the cross was conceived not as a purely religious monument, but as a memorial to one of Hollywood's pioneers, Christine Wetherell Stevenson, the heiress to the Pittsburgh Paint fortune who helped arrange construction of the Hollywood Bowl. She was also an aspiring playwright who wrote "The Pilgrimage Play," a pageant about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

In 1920, Stevenson choose 29 acres across the Cahuenga Pass from the Hollywood Bowl and helped carry stones from the nearby hills to build the open-air Pilgrimage Theater. She died two years later and in 1923, her admirers memorialized her by planting the cross on the hill above the theater.

Within six years, a brush fire destroyed the original theater and in 1931 Stevenson's drama reopened in a concrete theater designed in what was described as an "ancient Judaic style."

For many years, the cross was lighted only at Easter and during the annual "Pilgrimage Play" season. But the public's affection for the landmark grew and soon Sunday school children were donating money to keep the cross lit. Ultimately, Southern California Edison Co. assumed that expense and bore it until 1941, when the theater and cross were donated to the county. After the county supervisors accepted the gift, they renamed the theater after Supervisor John Anson Ford, recognizing his 24 years of service to the district in which the theater is located. The play continued its annual run until 1964, when the first in a series of lawsuits triggered by the facility's religious uses forced an end to the performances.

The cross was damaged by fire a year later. The county replaced it with a steel and plexiglass structure and operated it routinely for years. But the tradition came under legal fire in 1978, when a California Supreme Court ruling ended Los Angeles' 30-year practice of lighting City Hall windows to form a cross at Christmas and Easter. Two years later, a college professor successfully argued in court that the county was violating the constitutional separation of church and state by maintaining the Ford theater cross as well.

The cross, however, remained--dark and unguarded, abused and unused. Vandals chipped away at its foundation until a windstorm knocked it over it 1984.

Pilgrimage PlayTheater

New Cross

Afterward, a small group of crusaders began raising funds for a new cross and collaborated with the Hollywood Heritage preservation group.  Almost 10 years later, with little fanfare, a new cross was erected on the small hilltop patch after the group purchased the site from the county.

Visit the hollywoodphotos.com website to view historic and vintage photos of the Pilgrimage Play and Pilgrimage Theater. All photographs are available for purchase.

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