Artists with vision have been and continue to be a driving force in Los Angeles.
Strong, accomplished women in the arts today are common place and plentiful. But just think how life was for women in the arts in the early 1900s? I believe you will be as taken with the accomplishments of a young actress in Los Angeles as was I.
Christine Wetherill Stevenson was born April 12, 1878 in West Philadelphia. At an early age she had an intense interest in the theatre. She became a playwright and an actress. She founded the Philadelphia Art Institute which is still in operation today.
She had traveled abroad during World War I and, upon her return to the United States, she came to Los Angeles. Having seen the ravages of war, she was convinced that the teaching of spiritual principals was a key to preventing war.
Where to begin? Where could she use her talents and abilities to begin her spiritual teachings?
There was a section of land in the Cahuenga Pass called the “Daisy Dell.” Christine and Marie Rankin Clarke raised the funds and negotiated for the purchase of the land. They formed the Art Alliance and built the Hollywood Bowl. Christine had her venue where she could perform her religious/spiritual productions. They camped out in the woods and rehearsed for their play.
Christine, a devout Theosophist first produced the Light of Asia, the story of The Buddha. The next and most successful production was the Pilgrimage Play, based on the life of Jesus Christ. This was to be the second religious production in a line of seven.
A division soon began between the Alliance members who favored less religious productions. In the end, the funds raised by Christine were returned to her and she was asked to leave. She left the Hollywood Bowl and the Arts Alliance to continue on her journey and see her vision come to life.
Christine Wetherill Stevenson was 39 years old and was not ready to return to Philadelphia. She went across the Cahuenga Pass and purchased 29 acres of land and built a new venue for her productions, The Pilgrimage Theatre. For that venue she created the Pilgrimage Play.
Christine Wetherill Stevenson died on November 21, 1922 at the age of 44. In just a few short years she was responsible for establishing the Hollywood Bowl and the Pilgrimage Theater (Now the John Anson Ford Theater). The Pilgrimage Bridge still crosses over the US 101 Freeway.
After her death, a stone cross was erected on the hill above the theatre in remembrance of the theatres founder, Christine Wetherill Stevenson.
In the 1930s a concrete cross was erected and it was lit during the evening hours during Easter when the Pilgrimage Play was being performed. The play was funded in part by the County of Los Angeles.
In 1964 after a series of events and legal challenges, the Pilgrimage Play went dark.
In 1980 more legal challenges by the ACLU targeting the cross caused the property on which the cross sits to be purchased by Hollywood Heritage. In 1985 a new 17-feet-high cross was erected.
Finally, in 1993 the current cross was erected. In 1997 the Church on the Way took over the care and maintenance of the cross.
The evidence is clear. The connection between the Hollywood Bowl and the Cross in the Cahuenga Pass had been established. They have been side by side since 1922. It was no coincidence, it was by design that they appeared together on the Los Angeles County Seal.
On any summer night during the Hollywood Bowl season, one can sit in the Bowl and observe the stars over head and the cross up on the hill across the way, just as it had appeared on the original Los Angeles County Seal since 1957.
Like the Hollywood Bowl, the cross represented a true and significant historical landmark in the history of the County of Los Angeles. No matter what your opinion on religious symbols in public, one fact is undeniable; an extraordinary woman, an actress, at a time when women’s rights were still in the planning stages, accomplished something which will be of benefit to people for decades to come.
Here is to the artist, for they bring us much more than we may realize.