Ramona Bowl sets fundraising goal


Diane A. Rhodes 

The mandatory cancellation of the “Ramona” Outdoor Play at Hemet’s historic Ramona Bowl Amphitheater in March did more than disappoint fans and volunteers who were looking forward to the 97th season of the perennial play and all the pageantry that comes with it. 

“The revenue we receive from those six performances fund the rest of the year’s programs at the Bowl,” Past President Lori VanArsdale said. “We use the funding to support our Summer Concert Series, Summer Youth Theater, four high school graduation ceremonies, our Halloween Boo at the Bowl program and more. So basically, how goes ‘Ramona’ is how goes the Bowl.”

Once the coronavirus pandemic forced people to stay at home and all public gatherings had to be halted, it became evident that businesses, nonprofits, schools and entertainment venues would have to resort to Plan B or even Plans C and D to stay afloat during the shutdown.

“We are fortunate that the legacy gift bestowed upon the Ramona Bowl last fall has gone a long way in helping us make capital improvements to the venue but our funds for general operations are seriously hurting,” VanArsdale said. “We recently found out that because of our unexpected loss of revenue, funds from the James and Marilyn Latham Trust have been extended to include the matching of any donations we receive right now. Every single dollar raised will be doubled, which will help us survive and be ready for next year’s play.”

She said that raising $60,000 to $75,000 in pure donations now will help fund general operations such as maintenance and utilities which are costly for 160 acres that are home to 97-year-old structures.

“We are fortunate we do not have a mortgage or rent, but there is always something that needs to be done,” VanArsdale said. “And at this point we still don’t know when we can get started planning future events.”

Many capital improvement projects were implemented to be completed by spring whereas others were to be done after graduations were held at the bowl. The timeline was altered when those events were shut down. The board of directors said they were thankful that construction was not interrupted during this period.

Ramona Bowl president Stacey Bailey said the museum has been updated and a new gift shop has been built. The courtyard and south end of the parking lot are getting a facelift and the offices have been completely redone.

“We created a special room for brides or the young lady having her quinceañera,” Bailey said. “As soon as we are allowed to, we are going to be having some really fun and creative activities.”

Restoration of a fresco that was created by renowned Southern California watercolorist Milford Zornes was recently completed, also thanks to funds from the James and Marilyn Latham Trust. 

“Ironically, Zornes finished the fresco in 1942, which is the last time we couldn’t have the play because of World War II, and now that it has been fully restored, we had to cancel the play again,” VanArsdale said. “We look forward to reopening and having a celebration of this amazing work of art which is such a beautiful tribute to the artistry and pageantry that is ‘Ramona.’”

Located in the south hills of Hemet, the Ramona Bowl Amphitheater is home to “Ramona,” America’s longest-running outdoor play. According to its website, the amphitheater, with its acoustical attributes and beautiful mountain views, was discovered in 1922 by playwright Garnet Holme. He found the perfect location to produce his work and in 1923 people came from miles around to see the first production of “Ramona” in what is now known as the Ramona Bowl Amphitheater.

The purpose of the community nonprofit organization is to ensure the annual presentation of California’s Official Outdoor Play, contribute to tourism and continuing educational programs that promote the arts, California history, national humanity efforts and Native American history with quality outdoor theater entertainment.

For more information, visit http://www.ramonabowl.com or call 951-658-3111 or 800-645-4465. Checks can be mailed to Ramona Bowl Amphitheater, 27400 Ramona Bowl Road, Hemet, CA 92544. Donations will be matched dollar for dollar.

Diane A Rhodes can be reached by email at valleystaff@reedermedia.com.