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Davies, Lowell (1895-1983) | Special Collections & University Archives

Name: Davies, Lowell (1895-1983)
Fuller Form: Robert Lowell Davies

Historical Note:

Robert Lowell Davies (known as Lowell Davies) was born in 1895 in New Almaden, California (near San Jose). Young Davies, the son of a miner, first attended elementary school in a one-room schoolhouse near Mariposa, but his father’s continual search for the mother lode kept the family on the move from one Sierra Nevada mountain town to another.

As a child, Davies enjoyed theatre and once stated that he would sometimes play “hooky” from classes on Friday afternoons so that he could go see a play. Times were lean for Davies’s family, and at the age of 13 he had to quit school in order to help support himself. He worked a number of odd jobs in the northern California area during this period, such as running errands for a pharmaceutical company and working in a curio shop. He learned how to type and to take shorthand. Although Davies never graduated, he began high school in San Francisco.

Davies eventually joined the Field Artillery branch of the U.S. Army in 1917, and was stationed at Fort Rosecrans in San Diego until his discharge in 1920. Soon after leaving the Army, he found work as the secretary to newspaper magnate, E.W. Scripps. Davies would later give credit to Scripps for instilling in him the desire and motivation to earn a college degree.

Getting into college, however, was not an easy task for Davies as he had not graduated from high school. Davies eventually did make-up those deficiencies earning all A’s, and graduating Phi Beta Kappa. After graduation, Davies entered Boalt Hall School of Law. He passed the bar examination in 1927 and returned to San Diego where he began practicing law as the Chula Vista City Attorney (San Diego County). On October 28, 1929 he married Ethelind Thompson. They later had four children.

Davies worked for the city until the late 1930s when he began his private law practice, but he continued to hold onto his love of theatre. He once commented that he would often take the bus to see a show put on by an amateur troupe—known as The Barn Players—at the original Old Globe Theatre. In fact it was a chance encounter at the theatre one day that inspired Davies’s long-time professional association with the organization. In 1937 one of the actors, who knew of Davies’s law practice, asked him if he would come to the group’s Board meetings and offer them sorely needed legal advice. Davies signed on as an advisor until he was elected to the Board in 1939 and then to the presidency in 1945.

During his involvement with the Old Globe Theatre, Davies was credited with organizing the Globe 400, a group of patrons whose donations provided a scholarship fund to assist promising amateur actors. He also established the annual Old Globe’s Summer Shakespeare Festival. During the summer of 1949, Davies arranged for the world-renowned Shakespearean director, B. Iden Payne, to direct plays at the Old Globe. This was the beginning of a collaboration that lasted for many years.

In 1960, Davies was appointed by President Eisenhower to his Advisory Committee on the Arts for the National Cultural Center, later named the Kennedy Center, in Washington, D.C. President Kennedy later re-appointed Davies to this Committee. In 1967, Davies was appointed, by then Governor Ronald Reagan, to the California Arts Commission where he served for eight years—one as the commission’s chairman. He was a former director of the County Farm Bureau, co-founder of the Combined Arts and Education Council of San Diego County, former director of the Chula Vista Chamber of Commerce, and a charter member of the American Legion Post #6.

Davies retired from the Old Globe’s Board of Directors in 1976 and was elected to the newly created position of Chairman of the Board. On April 8, 1979, he married Darlene Gould. In January 1983, he was named Honorary Life Chairman. Lowell Davies passed away three months later on April 29, at the age of 87. He had given 43 years of service to the Old Globe Theatre. In 1985, the outdoor Festival Stage, which had been destroyed by arson fire in 1984, was rebuilt and renamed the Lowell Davies Festival Theatre. One of three venues within the theatre complex, the Festival Stage operates only during the Summer Shakespeare Festival season.

Note Author: Bill Payne

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