Saturday, September 22, 2018

God, Chalk Hill and a Theatre in the Round


Chalk hill was a rise on Ventura Blvd in Woodland Hills, Ca., between Taft High School and St. Mel's Grade School. I just recently read that, a couple of years ago, the Jehovah Witnesses sold the big building at the base of the hill for $30 million bucks. Years ago, me and my friends used to ride our bikes around there, and you could have bought a COUPLE OF MILES in either direction for half that price. God is good to those who wait! Amen. I remember Chalk hill in all kinds of different ways but none on a spiritual basis. My first memory was that the bike climb was a bitch. It was one of those, damn, it's to hot to peddle, I'm going to have to walk the bike to the top. We would ride or walk up just so we could ride down. I would put my feet up off the pedals and fly down that hill at what seemed like a 100 miles and hour, and then we would turn around start peddling up that hill again. Even today, I can still feel that sweat and the heat. Right at the top of the peak, about 200 yards off the street, was a real honest to goodness roadhouse. Big old dirt parking lot with motorcycles and hot rods parked outside. Country music and rock and roll filtered out to the front where me and my friends would sit and watch for the fights that were sure to come. It would have been around 1955 and I would have been about 8 years old.
Right next to the roadhouse there was a dirt road that went up the side of an adjacent hill. It wound around that little mountain like a garland on a Christmas tree. When I was 16, I often drove my girlfriend, who became my wife, up that dusty road to the flat top. We would park my 1956 Olds, lay out a blanket and make love there on the ground, with the whole valley as our bedroom door. We were alone and free, if the police or another couple would start up the road, we could see them coming and had at least five minutes to put things right.
They tore that hill down and in that spot, actor Bob Hope and a bunch of Money built the VALLEY MUSIC THEATRE. It was a noble experiment, a theatre in the round. A real attempt to bring some fine art out to the far end of the world. I remember going there with my wife when I was about 20 years old. A small time comic named Woody Allen was headlining and a singer known as Jim Croce was the opener. It seemed that no one told Mr Allen that this was in fact, a theatre in the round. My recollection is that I saw a lot of the back of his head. Unfortunately, the pundits prevailed, it was a financial disaster. Hard to believe that a place that had presented The Doors, Buffalo Springfield and The Byrds on the same stage, on the same night, closed its doors after just a couple of years.
Bob Hope was a brilliant Valley real estate investor and his next move was totally classic. What does one do with a bankrupt 1000 seat plus theatre in the round? Hell, sell it to God! Upon that very hollowed ground where my wife and I had laid naked some five to six years earlier, The Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses was born. A grand meeting place for dunking wet heads and praising the lord. Hope sold it for about $1 million, and now God has turned it over for $30 million. Over the years, every time I drive by that patch of ground, i just chuckle to myself.

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Steven Lane is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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