Lost and Found in Los Angeles
Staffers at Los Angeles performing arts venues make it their mission to reunite patrons and items that have gone astray.
By Libby Slate
Attention, all imbibing patrons of upcoming Hollywood Bowl lease events: Be sure that you walk away with your ID and credit card after purchasing your wine and beer. If you don’t remember, check with Lost and Found.
Those all-important pieces of plastic are the top items that go AWOL during non-Philharmonic-produced lease events. That’s because no alcohol is allowed to be brought in for such concerts; it must be bought on-site.
People lose more cell phones during lease events as well, according to Christine Whitman, the Hollywood Bowl’s operations manager. “It’s a livelier bunch of people,” Whitman says, “and they’re in a hurry to go get their beer.”
Whatever the performance, whether in the outdoor expanses of the Bowl or indoors at L.A.’s theaters, it’s inevitable that some patron belongings will go missing, and just as sure a bet that venue staffers will do their best to see that the items make their way back to their rightful owners.
“We get a wide variety of items,” Whitman says. “People lose their keys, scarves, sweaters, blankets, binoculars, jewelry. People have left a wheelchair or an oxygen tank. We’ve had lots of wallets.”
Patrons lose a wide variety of items at the Hollywood Bowl, says operations manager Christine Whitman, notably “lots of wallets.”
Patrons can report lost items to Lost and Found in the Operations Department.
If a found wallet contains a substantial amount of money and there’s a bank card, Whitman explains, “I’ll call the bank and say, ‘Can you call your client?’
“One man lost his wallet, and it probably had $6,000 or $7,000 in it. He came back and said, ‘You guys are so great.’ He reached into his wallet and then shoved $100 bills at us and said, ‘Buy yourself lunch.’ But it’s our job.”
Objects have been left in restrooms, in the box seats and on bench seating, and in the parking lots; house staff members diligently search areas at the end of each night. Small wine coolers are a common find in the boxes, and blankets at the benches. If a patron exits a Bowl shuttle bus and then realizes something’s been left behind, Whitman notifies the Bowl transit manager, who then contacts the bus line.
Many patrons call immediately, hoping to retrieve lost possessions. Unclaimed items are kept at the Bowl for 30 days, then donated to charities. “We had someone lose a flip-flop and come looking for it,” Whitman reports. “But someone else lost a designer shoe and never came back.”
Sometimes a lost-and-found episode becomes personal. Several years ago, Los Angeles public relations consultant and book editor Flo Selfman shared a box with a friend and a young couple she’d met that night.
During pre-concert conversation, “We exchanged names, what we did and what part of town we lived in, but no business cards,” Selfman recalls. “After they left and we were gathering our things, we realized they’d left a jacket.”
Since the couple lived near Selfman, she decided to save them a trip back to the Bowl, taking the garment with her and calling after she found their phone number online.
“I got a phone call back from the wife, inviting me to come for dinner,” Selfman says. “It was a Shabbat [Jewish Sabbath] dinner in their lovely home. And they were happy to have the jacket back.”
Phones are the items most commonly lost at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, according to house manager Devis Andrade. “And glasses are extremely popular,” he says.
When a phone is found, Andrade will when possible call listed contacts’ numbers and ask if they know anyone who’s recently attended the theater.
If it’s a patron’s credit card that turns up, it will be checked against numbers that are in the theater’s ticket-order system, for both subscribers and single-performance buyers.
While the theater has numerous volunteers, only staff members and the management team handle lost-and-found. Items are logged into binders, with the patron’s contact information and item description entered into the “Lost” binder. Valuable found items, such as wallets and the occasional diamond ring, are turned over to the La Mirada Sheriff’s Department.
“It could be an item of total sentimental value,” says Andrade. “We understand all that. We’ll have a couple of ushers dig into the seats.”
Less valuable items are kept in the theater office for 30 days, then moved to storage for another six months. After that time, unclaimed eyeglasses, sunglasses and phones are donated to the Lions Club, and clothing goes to Goodwill.
“It’s amazing how many people call over the months,” Andrade says, noting that some are
subscribers from Palm Springs and San Diego. “If they call the box office, [the staff there has]access to the records.”
Not every item finds its way home, but, says Andrade, “the best part, for me, is the feeling you have when you do get something back. We’re fortunate we can do this, and we’re able to get a lot of items back.”