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Hollywood History

Hollywood History

It is the most magical name in the world. It is the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” rich in history and legend.

 “Hundreds of acres abounded with orange and lemon groves – a heaven on earth.”
– MGM writer, Frances Marion

Early Hollywood

However, years ago the land was originally inhabited by the friendly Cahuenga Indians. Indian ceremonials took place on the grounds where the Hollywood Bowl is now located. The Spanish established it as a way-station on the Camino Real. By 1852 the first home was built on the land. By the 1870’s farmers discovered that the climate and geography were assets to their industry. Soon there were groves of lemons, oranges, figs and chermoyas.

OldHollywood1Hollywood was founded in 1888 by Harvey Henderson Wilcox and his wife, Daeida Hartell Wilcox, as part of a residential development. It was Daeida who selected the name after she met a lady on a train whose summer residence in Illinois was called Hollywood. It was during that year that Hollywood saw its first train. In 1900 Sunset Boulevard was a tree-shaded country road.

At an election held November 14, 1903, the residents of Hollywood voted to incorporate as an independent city. The most pressing problem at that time was the control of sheep being herded through the city from the San Fernando Valley to the railroad station in Los Angeles. That same year, the first unit of the famed Hollywood Hotel was built on land that was originally a strawberry patch at Hollywood and Highland.


  The cornerstone for Hollywood High School was laid in 1904. Eventually, by the mid-fifties, the malt shops across the street were to be a showcase for Carol Burnett, Phil Spector, and Lana Turner (who met a talent agent in the Top Hat Malt Shop, not at Schwab’s Drugstore as the legend says).

In 1908, a parade was held in connection with the Hollywood Flower Show. The May Day Tilting and Flower Parade became a forerunner of Pasadena’s Tournament of Roses.

OldHollywood3Laurel Canyon’s Trackless Trolley, part of the Laurel Canyon Utilities Company, was founded in 1909. At a fare of 10 cents, cars could accommodate ten passengers at a time on a one-way trip uphill from Sunset Boulevard to Lookout Mountain Avenue. The trolleys were replaced by Stanley Steamer buses in 1915. The canyon itself became a mountain hideaway for many Hollywood celebrities, at that time termed “photo players,” such as actress Bessie Love, who lived at the top of Lookout Mountain.

OldHollywood4In 1910, the community voted to annex to the growing city of Los Angeles in order to assure a reliable water supply. That year the favorite horse and buggy ride was down Melrose Avenue, named after E.A. Melrose, whose ranch occupied most of Western Avenue to Wilton Boulevard and from Melrose to Santa Monica Boulevard. At that time, trees planted in 1880 lined the street (they were later cut down between 1922-1923). Hollywood’s first film was made by Colonel William Selig at his studio in 1907. In less than ten years, there were fifteen film companies. The Nestor Company studio was on the northwest corner of Gower and Sunset, known as “Gower Gulch.” D.W. Griffith and Carl Laemmle had already arrived. In a barn located a block down from Hollywood and Vine, Cecil B. deMille, Jesse Laskey and Samuel Goldwyn produced the first full-length feature, “The Squaw Man.”

OldHollywood5Although some movie studios eventually sprang up outside of Hollywood, there were a number of studios in Hollywood itself. Goldwyn Studios was in operation on Santa Monica Boulevard, partly on a rent-out basis for independent productions. Near Goldwyn, was General Service Studios, which also did independent productions. And on Melrose Avenue there was Paramount, deMille Productions and RKO. Chaplin Studios occupied its original acreage at the corner of LaBrea and Sunset Boulevard.

“My God, almost anything we do here will be an improvement.”
-John Barrymore, scouting a hilltop home in 1915

The Hollywood Sign

OldHollywood6The Hollywood Sign is the most famous sign in the world. It is located on Mount Lee in Griffith Park overlooking Hollywood. The Sign was built in 1923 to read “Hollywoodland” by a syndicate of notables such as Harry Chandler of the Los Angeles Times, in order to promote the sale of homes in one of the era’s most prestigious subdivisions by the same name. This land was located at the end of Beachwood Canyon just below what is now Mt. Lee. The home which was originally to be at the highest homesite had been sold to and designed for Mack Sennett, but the house was never built. Instead, the property was passed on to the Don Lee Broadcasting Company and later was acquired by the City as an addition to Griffith Park. The Sign was expected to last a year and a half. In 1945, it was shortened to Hollywood. The original cost was $21,000. The letters were 30 feet wide and 50 feet tall, and were studded with low wattage light bulbs, 4,000 altogether. Maintenance of the Sign was discontinued in 1939. Late in 1944, the M. H. Sherman Company, developers of the Hollywoodlands, quit claimed to the City of Los Angeles about 455 acres of land adjoining Griffith Park, which property included the Sign.

In 1949, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce entered into a contract with the Department of Recreation and Parks to repair and rebuild the Sign. The cost was estimated to be $4,000. The light bulbs had long before been stolen, and the City stipulated that any new illumination would be at the expense of the Chamber. Restored, the sign now read “Hollywood.” The Sign was declared Los Angeles Cultural-Historical Monument #111 in 1973 by the Cultural Heritage Board of the City of Los Angeles.

OldHollywood7A fundraising campaign was launched in April of 1978 by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to rebuild the Sign after it had seriously deteriorated again. Donors contributed $27,700 each to buy a replacement letter. Work to rebuild the Sign began in August of 1978 and was finished by November. The remains of the old Sign were demolished and new all-steel letters were installed in its place.

The Sign now stretches 450 feet across the side of Mount Lee, and stands 45 feet tall. It weighs 480,000 pounds. The new Hollywood Sign was unveiled live on November 14, 1978, on Hollywood’s 75th anniversary, nationally televised on CBS-TV’s “Hollywood Diamond Jubilee” to a television audience of 60 million. The primary responsibility for the maintenance and preservation of the Sign rests with the Hollywood Sign Trust. The trustees are named by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the City of Los Angeles. The Hollywood Sign and the Hollywood Walk of Fame are trademarks of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

“The most important deals in the movie industry are finalized on the sun-drenched turf of golf courses or around turquoise swimming pools, where the smell of barbecue sauce is born on gentle breezes and wafts over the stereo system of houses that people seldom leave.”
– Shirley MacLaine

Hollywood Walk Of Fame

OldHollywood8It is the world’s most famous sidewalk. It features more than 2,000 stars honoring celebrities in motion pictures, television, recording, radio and theatre, as well as behind-the-scenes people. Envisioned as a lasting tribute to the personalities who helped make Hollywood the most famous community in the world, the Walk continues today as a superior asset to the city, perpetuating the aura that has made the name Hollywood synonymous with glamor. The Walk remains one of the city’s most widely-seen tourist attractions.

The concept originated with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in 1953 and took several years to develop. Official groundbreaking ceremonies were conducted on February 9, 1960. The first eight honorees were Joanne Woodward, Burt Lancaster, Ronald Colman, Olive Borden, Edward Sedgwick, Ernst Torrence, Preston Foster and Louise Fazenda. In sixteen months, when construction was completed, 1,558 luminaries were forever immortalized in the sidewalk. Since then, approximately one to two stars per month have been added, approximately 20 new stars a year.

OldHollywood10The Walk of Fame lines both sides of Hollywood Boulevard from Gower Street to La Brea Avenue, and both sides of Vine Street, from Yucca Street to Sunset Boulevard. It encompasses five acres of bronze stars embedded in pink terrazzo and is surrounded by 3′ by 3′ charcoal terrazzo squares. Inside each star is the bronze-engraved name of each artist and a distinctive emblem identifying in which of the five categories the recipient has been honored: Motion Pictures, Television, Radio, Recording, or Live Theatre. As such, a recipient may be honored with more than one star.

To be honored with a star is a tribute as coveted and sought after as any of the entertainment industry’s equally prestigious awards — including the Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Golden Mike or Tony. Because it recognizes a life-long contribution of both public and peer appreciation, it is an honor uniquely in a class by itself. The Walk of Fame is a permanent monument of the past, as well as the present.

OldHollywood9Nominations are accepted during a 60-day period and must be approved by the Walk of Fame Committee. The criteria for receiving a star consists of: professional achievement, longevity of five years or more, contributions to the community and the guarantee that the celebrity will attend the dedication ceremony if selected. Posthumous awards require a five year waiting period.

Administered by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, the Walk of Fame was designated, in 1978, as a Cultural/Historic Landmark by the City of Los Angeles. The Hollywood Historic Trust, a continuing, self-financing program, assists in maintaining the quality of the Walk of Fame and the historic lure that is Hollywood. The Walk of Fame is a trademark of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.

“I’ve been to Paris France and I’ve been to Paris Paramount. Paris Paramount is better.”
– Director, Ernst Lubitsch

Books About Hollywood

The Parade’s Gone By… by Kevin Brownlow (1968)
Hollywood the Pioneers by Kevin Brownlow and John Kobal (1979)
Hollywood History by Edwin O. Palmer (1937)
Hollywood, The Movie Colony, The Movie Makers by Leo Rosten (1939)
Hollywood the Dream Factory by Hortense Powdemaker (1951)
This Was Hollywood by Beth Day (1960)
Hello, Hollywood by Allen Rivkin and Laura Kerr (1962)
The Studio by John Gregory Dunne (1968)
Hollywood by Garson Kanin (1974)
The Hollywood Studios by Roy Pickard (1978)
Gone Hollywood by Christopher Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz (1979)
Hollywood Land and Legend by Zelda Cini and Bob Crane (1980)

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