The Impact of Levitt Pavilions

Members of San Jose’s Levitt Pavilion Exploratory Committee recently had the opportunity to visit two sites in Southern California: Pasadena’s Memorial Park and Los Angeles’ Macarthur Park. Sharon Yazowski, Levitt Pavilion’s executive director, arranged the tours and introduced us to the company’s board as well as pavilion staff.

The trip was enlightening, and it gave me a whole new perspective on the music stages. The major take-away was that Levitt Pavilion is a community-building organization that uses its venues and musical programming to create a relationship between the park, the pavilion and the people who enjoy the free concerts.

The two concerts we saw were excellent examples of how thoughtful, family-oriented programming can transform a neglected park from an unseemly eyesore into a safe, comfortable and energetic gathering spot. This was especially poignant in respect to St. James Park, which we are hoping will be a good fit for a future Levitt Pavilion here in San Jose.

Friday afternoon we had lunch with Levitt staff, including Renee Bodie, a music industry veteran who programs both of the Levitt Pavilions we visited. Though the parks are located in vastly different neighborhoods, they are only 15 miles from one another. Renee’s connections are invaluable in securing top talent at nonprofit prices.

Friday evening we took light rail from our hotel to Memorial Park and dined in a nearby restaurant. With so many restaurants and bars in the Old Pasadena area near Memorial Park, it’s an excellent, integrated place within the neighborhood. The concert featured David Lindley performing solo. The crowd was a mix of Lindley fans, as well as groups of friends and families from the neighborhood who simply enjoy the free concerts.

The sound was incredibly clear without being too loud. Pasadena requires that the decibels not exceed a certain level. Behind the bandshell, the noise was dramatically lower. There were about 1,800 attendees who sat on lawn chairs or blankets, later spilling out into the neighborhood eateries and bars.

Saturday night was a contrast, achieving the same result but in a different way. The venue was Macarthur Park, a once dangerous location that has undergone major renovation, including the development of Levitt Pavilion in an upgraded 1957 bandshell.

The performers were Hip Hop artists and the crowd of 1,000 was largely made up of Latino and African-American families from the neighborhood. The stage is purposely lowered for the benefit of kids, who danced and jumped and wiggled while watching the performers.

Levitt has helped transform these places. They have reached out to a variety of audiences through music and helped build a connection between park and people, an example we should try to emulate.

James P. Reber is the executive director of San Jose Parks Foundation, a veteran nonprofit entrepreneur and experienced special event planner and producer. He can be reached at [email protected] or 408.893.PARK.

11 Comments

  1. Who paid for the trip? And why is this idea even being explored when San Jose has more pressing public safety and other projects that we as citizens need like the sewage treatment plant down to the pot holes that need fixing in front of our homes? Just curious that’s all.

    • Frankly, I don’t care who paid for this trip as long as it helps move things forward (feel free to put in my tab as my 2014 prop tax bill would make you vomit).

      The St. James Park saga has gone on for too long and it’s about time something gets done. It s a VERY PRESSING PUBLIC SAFETY issue as the surrounding blocks are improved as we speak. However, the comparison with MacArthur Park in LA is way off. St. James is much more like the Bryant Park in NYC, location, pop density and historical pedigree: http://blog.bryantpark.org/2014/06/from-archives-bryant-park-before-and.html

  2. KInd of like deciding where to put the outdoor stage on the deck of the Titanic.

  3. Mr. Reber writes on July 7, 2014… “The Rep began as an idea in my 27-year-old brain in 1979.”

    http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2014/07/07/end-of-the-san-jose-rep-part-i/

    He is now promoting another venue doomed to fail. Does he really feel that having a Hip – Hop concert among condo’s and nearby homes is going to revitalize downtown? I think a higher presence of police to clean out the drunks and drug addicts is what is needed first and foremost. If I don’t feel safe coming into downtown in the first place, a concert, regardless of the artist, will not lure me there until I do.

  4. Does Mr. Reber aspire to Congress, where junkets are provided and the recipients return home to carry water for whomever paid for the junket?

  5. “[Levitt]…can transform a neglected park from an unseemly eyesore into a safe, comfortable and energetic gathering spot.”

    Not according to recent Yelp & Google reviewers re MacArthur: “The homeless have trampled the place, shopping carts everywhere, chained up to trees – trash, human fecal matter! This is AFTER the city cleaned up the park a few years ago! There was a time a few years ago that I felt safe walking through the park. Now? NO WAY!”

    SJPD can’t enforce St. James regulations against camping, possession of stolen shopping carts, public feeding / littering. Police Auditor LaDoris Cordell mentioned at a District 3 meeting that she sees drug transactions occurring when she walks by the park.

    Mr. Reber lacks credibility. No evidence that Levitt has made any substantive difference at MacArthur park.

  6. As an idea to improve St. James Park for the benefit of all of us, Levitt Pavilion looks about as good as any I’ve seen since somebody (Gail Fullerton?) suggested something similar to the Downtown Working Review Committee 20+ years ago.

    For any proposal involving public participation, we obviously should demand complete transparency regarding where the money comes from, who manages it, and where it goes. The San Jose Rep, apparently Mr. Reber’s greatest success, got millions in redevelopment funds and went bankrupt before repaying a city loan. In his explanation of what went wrong, Mr. Reber placed the blame almost entirely on lack of support from audience and donors, indicating that the demise resulted from factors beyond the control of the board or management.

    Mr. Reber’s credibility as pitchman for a Levitt Pavilion in San Jose would be enhanced if he were to provide an explicit statement that the proposal involves no past, present or future personal economic benefit to him.

  7. This money should be spent amongst every park in the city, not just in one park in Liccardo’s district. Almost every time the city bankrolls a non-profit, it backfires. The city is in so much debt because of how many times this has happened over the years, plus the money they owe the RDA, and building a half billion dollar city hall. If Levitt Pavilion is such a great idea, let a private company come in and do it, and take all the risk and rewards.