THE PARK COMES ALIVE WITH MUSIC; SUNDAY CONCERT SERIES BECOMES VALLEY FIXTURE.
Marilyn Hankins plunks down on her floral print couch and sets her water bottle on the coffee table.
Around her, high school musicians from York, England, play a cacophony of squeaks, bleats and honks as they warm up their instruments for their American debut.
``This is the biggest concert we're ever going to do,'' says conductor Tim Holmes. ``There's more than six people out there.''
In fact, there were close to 3,000 people clustered under shade trees at Warner Park on a sweltering Sunday afternoon to listen to the exchange student swing band and later, the San Fernando Valley Symphony. The free summer concert series runs from 4 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. on Sundays through Aug. 31 in the Woodland Hills park.
Under the leadership of Hankins - who donated her living room furniture for the musicians' backstage comfort - the Valley Cultural Center's 14-week ``Concerts in the Park'' program has become one of the Valley's longest-running and most successful cultural offerings.
On 20 acres of land donated to the city by the family of Harry Warner for ``passive cultural pursuits'' in 1967, several thousand spectators of all generations consistently come together for shared relaxation, music appreciation and neighborly fun.
``I call it the poor man's Hollywood Bowl,'' says the bubbly Hankins, sporting dangling rhinestone earrings shaped like a treble clef and music notes. ``Of course, we have people driving up in Jaguars.''
A budget of $50,000 to pay artists' fees doesn't allow her to hire acts as big as the Los Angeles Philharmonic. But Hankins, with the help of a core group of 10 volunteers and a 23-member board of directors, brings in a diverse array of barbershop quartets, swing bands and blues bands, classical guitarists and symphonies, many of them local talent.
``This is the best thing that happens all summer in music in the Valley,'' said San Fernando Valley Symphony conductor James Domine.
Even in the blistering heat, families, young couples and seniors picnicked at folding tables draped with red and white checked cloths, lounged on folding chairs, cavorted with pets or sipped cool drinks.
They came for the music of Henry Mancini, and for the community feeling, to relax with family and strangers alike.
Jack Braunstein, 82, and Florence Perelmuter, 70, of North Hills have attended the concerts nearly every weekend for a dozen years. With cold drinks and binoculars, they were among the lucky who secured a cooler spot under a canopy.
``This is just so wonderful,'' Perelmuter said.
``We love it,'' Braunstein said.
With the money friends gave her for her birthday, Perelmuter gave a $100 donation for a ``recognition brick'' along the grassy slope near the front of the stage.
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Laura Chick, a regular at the concerts who has helped the Valley Cultural Center secure funding, attributes the success to the support of the local ``corporate family,'' the open-air setting, the quality of the performers and the price of admission - that is, free.
``It's symbolic to me of what quality of life is all about and what people want in their community,'' Chick said.
Hankins, 61, a former director of administration for Valley Construction Co., started volunteering for the Valley Cultural Center in 1980 on the suggestion of the company chairman, Robert Voit.
``He was signing my paycheck, so I figured I should do it,'' she said.
In 1990, she proposed that the cultural center could use a full-time director - her.
She wrote her own job description. Clyde Porter, chairman of the board of P.L. Porter Co., agreed to pay her salary for the first year, making Hankins the nonprofit organization's first executive director and first paid employee.
Her primary duty is raising money, mainly from individuals and corporations, including American Airlines, Time Warner Communications, the Voit Cos., Warner Center Properties and the Daily News, as well as in-kind donations. Volunteers also solicit donations from the audience during intermission.
In 1993, Hankins oversaw fund-raising and construction of a $1.2 million pavilion in Warner Park, a permanent stage, two dressing rooms, storage area and indoor bathrooms for artists. ``It's such a tremendous opportunity to bring the community together,'' Hankins said.
When ``Concerts in the Park'' began 22 years ago at the same site, musicians baked on a stage made from two flatbed trucks.
The audiences have grown along with the Valley Cultural Center since it was formed in 1975 to assist the city of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks in providing cultural activities for Valley residents.
The pavilion is named after the late Lou Bredlow, founder and first chairwoman of the Valley Cultural Center.
With Hankins' persuasive skills and the support of surrounding businesses, the Valley Cultural Center is flourishing. It had a $210,000 budget last year, some of which provides funding for elementary school music lessons and music appreciation classes in Los Angeles Unified School District elementary schools, three annual scholarships for students pursuing careers in music, and music performances for children in schools.
Photo: (1--Cover--Color) Sunday's in the Park
(2) The Joseph Rowntree High School jazz band - from York, England - performs during a recent ``Concert in the Park'' in Woodland Hills.
(3) Warner Center serves as a backdrop for the Valley Cultural Center's 14 free Sunday concerts.
(4) Under Marilyn Hankins' direction, the concert series has become one of the Valley's most successful cultural offerings.
(5) Even on a sweltering day, loyal listeners show up for some cool music.
Myung J. Chun/Daily News
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|Title Annotation:||L.A. LIFE|
|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Aug 9, 1997|
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