Hollywood was established in 1853, with a single adobe hut on land outside
Los Angeles, California. Growing crops was so successful there that by
1870, Hollywood became a thriving agricultural community.
One of its most notable historic figures was real estate tycoon, Harvey
Henderson Wilcox and his wife, Daeida, who moved to Los Angeles from
Topeka, Kansas, in the 1880s. Wilcox, having lost the use of his legs from
a bout with typhoid fever prior to moving out west, bought 160 acres of land
west of the city, at the foothills near the Cahuenga Pass.
The town's name came from Daeida, who, while on a train trip east met a woman that
described her country home in Ohio, that had been named for the Dutch
settlement of Hollywood. Liking the name, Daeida christened their ranch
"Hollywood," upon her return.
On February 1, 1887, Wilcox submitted a grid map of his new town to the Los
Angeles County recorder's office. This was the first official document with
the name "Hollywood" printed on it. The first street in town was named
Prospect Avenue, but was later changed to Hollywood Boulevard, where city lots
were carved out around dirt avenues and pepper trees. At one time, English
holly was planted in the area, but it didn't survive in the arid climate.
By 1900, Hollywood had a population of 500, a post office, a
newspaper, a hotel, and two markets. In neighboring Los Angeles, through
seven miles of orange groves, the population had reached 100,000. There was a
single-track streetcar line that twisted its way along Prospect Avenue, on
an irregular schedule, into the city on a two-hour trip.
By 1902, the first portion of the famous Hollywood Hotel was built. A new
trolley car system was installed in 1904, cutting the travel time
dramatically. The system was called the "Hollywood Boulevard." Due to its
ongoing struggles to maintain an adequate water supply, residents voted to
have Hollywood annexed by the City of Los Angeles and its new aqueduct
Studios flee to Hollywood
In the early 1900s, filmmakers began moving to the Los Angeles area to get
away from the strict rules imposed by Thomas Edison's Motion Picture
Patents Company in New Jersey. Since most of the moviemaking patents
were owned by Edison, independent filmmakers were often sued by Edison to
stop their productions.
To escape his control, and because of the ideal weather conditions and
varied terrain, moviemakers began to arrive in Los Angeles to make their
films. If agents from Edison's company came out west to find and stop these
filmmakers, adequate notice allowed for a quick escape to Mexico.
Working without disturbance from Edison, the Biograph Company moved west
with actors Blanche Sweet, Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore,
and others, to make their films. After beginning filming in Los Angeles, the
company decided to explore the neighboring area and stumbled across
Biograph made the first film in Hollywood, entitled In Old
California. After hearing of Biograph's praise of the area, other
filmmakers headed west to set up shop.
The first motion picture studio was built in 1919, in nearby Edendale, just
east of Hollywood, by Selig Polyscope Company, and the first one built in
Hollywood was founded by filmmaker David Horsley's general manager Al Christie in 1911, in an old building on the southeast corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. Movie studios began to crop up all over Hollywood after Christie's appearance, including ones for Cecil B. DeMille in 1913, the Charlie Chaplin Studio in 1917, and many others.
The timeless symbol of the film industry
The origin of the famous "Hollywood" sign is embedded in Americana. It was
installed originally to advertise a new subdivision near the top of Mount
Lee, called "Hollywoodland."
After being erected in 1923, the sign fell into disrepair. The Hollywood
Chamber of Commerce was given authority to remove the last four letters and
restore the remaining portions of the sign on the hillside, in 1943. The
sign is now a registered trademark owned by the Chamber of Commerce, and may
only be used in filming with their permission.
The famous "Hollywood Walk of Fame," where the names of celebrities are
embedded in the sidewalk along Hollywood Boulevard, was built in 1956. There
are some 2,200 five-pointed stars given by the Chamber for being significant
contributors to the entertainment industry.
At a rate of nearly two per month, the stars now extend past Sycamore Avenue
to LaBrea Avenue, ending at the Silver Four Ladies of Hollywood Gazebo. They
are permanent fixtures in the sidewalk, although some may occasionally be
relocated due to construction projects or other goings-on..
The first Academy Awards presentation took place in Hollywood at the Blossom
Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, located on Hollywood Boulevard.
Granted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the first
Academy Merit awards were given on May 16, 1929 to Wings, for what
was originally called "Best Production," and Sunrise, for "Best
The other two awards of merit given that first year were to Emil Jannings
for his roles in The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh,
for "Best Leading Actor," and to Janet Gaynor for her roles in Seventh
Heaven, Street Angel, and Sunrise, for "Best Leading
Nicknamed "Oscar*," the gold-plated, britannium statuettes on a marble base, standing 13.5 inches high and weighing 8.5 pounds, are currently presented at the Academy Awards ceremony in the Kodak Theatre, which opened in 2001, on the site where the historic Hollywood Hotel once stood.
Golden Age of Hollywood
From the end of the silent film era, about 1927, to around 1948, the
Hollywood movie studio system controlled what films were shown across the
country. Five major Hollywood-area studios owned large,
grand theaters where they would show only movies produced by their studios
and made with their contracted actors. These studios were Paramount, RKO,
20th Century Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), and Warner Bros.
Also known as the Golden Age of Hollywood, stars had little choice but to
contract with those studios. Among these leading men and ladies were: Mae West, Ronald Reagan, Clark Gable, Will Rogers, Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Audie Murphy, Betty Grable, and John Wayne.
However, in 1948 in a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court
ruled that studios could not own their own theaters where
they showed films made only by their studios and only with actors who had
exclusive contracts with those studios. That decision marked the unofficial
end of the "Golden Age of Hollywood."
Soon after, television proved itself to be a lucrative and permanent medium of entertainment, so that by the mid-1950s, these same studios began to provide content for TV.
McCarthyism takes hold of Hollywood
Always the hotspot of controversy, Hollywood was accused by the House
Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), of being a haven for communists.
The "Hollywood Blacklist" came into being in 1947, when that committee began
summoning certain Hollywood entertainment professionals to testify before
the committee, on the suspicion that their work was communist-inspired.
As the media began extensive coverage of the proceedings, some writers,
producers, and directors became known as the "Hollywood 10." All 10 served
time in prison in 1950, for up to a year, and were "blacklisted" from
finding a job anywhere in media-based production. The blacklist eventually
grew to 150 names and persisted up until the 1960s.
The landscape of Hollywood began to change with the mushrooming of the television industry in the 1950s. Television and music recording studios and offices sprung up
all over the city. KTLA, the first commercial television station west of the
Mississippi River, began broadcasting in January 1947. By the end of
that year, the first movie production made for television, The
Public Prosecutor, was broadcast from Hollywood.
While most of the studios remained in Hollywood, other television studios such as CBS Television City began to build there. Announcing their shows as having originated from
"Television City in Hollywood," the location of that station effectively stretched the district's southern border.
Over the last 40 years, Hollywood has been through a lot of changes. While
the studios have relocated to other Los Angeles areas, most motion picture
production still occurs within the district. Such significant ancillary
industries as film editing, effects, props, post-production, and lighting
companies remain in Hollywood. The only movie studio remaining in Hollywood
today, however, is Paramount Studios.
Among other changes was the designation of the Hollywood Boulevard
commercial and entertainment District of Fame, on the National Register of Historic Places in 1968, and the long-awaited Hollywood extension of the
Metro Red Line subway, which began running from Downtown Los Angeles to the
San Fernando Valley, with stops in Hollywood, in June 1999.
Attempts to re-incorporate Hollywood were tried in 2002 when the campaign to
secede from Los Angeles was unsuccessfully waged. A group of Hollywood
citizens felt that Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors was not
specifically addressing their needs. Voted on by all Los Angeles residents,
the referendums for the secession of Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley,
both failed by wide margins, in November 2002. Although Hollywood today does not
have a municipal government, it does have an "honorary mayor" for ceremonial
Points of interest
Hollywood continues to be the home of many historic and unusual points of
interests. A sampling of places to visit, include:
Charlie Chaplin Studios
Frederick's of Hollywood
Grauman's Chinese and Egyptian theaters
Hollywood Forever Cemetery
Hollywood Heritage Museum
NBC Radio City Studios
Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Odditorium
In addition to being the past home of many movie studios, Hollywood also was
home to many other famous individuals. Such writers as Carl Sandburg,
William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Maya Angelou, spent time in
Hollywood. Also, film directors Alfred Hitchcock, Walt Disney, and
Howard Hughes, made films in Hollywood.
Although many moviemakers have left Hollywood to set up shop in other
locations, Hollywood continues to conjure the image in the minds of the
public, of directors and glamorous movie stars on glitzy sets. Stately homes
and palatial monoliths located in nearby Beverly Hills, are filled with past
and present Hollywood celebrities, not to mention myriad tales of mischief
of days gone by.
It is safe to say the successes of the district, far exceeded the dreams of
Harvey and Daeida Wilcox.
*Some believe that the nickname "Oscar" came from Academy librarian Margaret Herrick, who thought the statuette bore a strong resemblance to her uncle Oscar. That idle thought said aloud caught on quickly and has been used with reverence ever since.
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