History of Hollywood, California

Hollywood sign

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 system.

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 Hollywood.

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..

Oscar

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 Picture."

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 Actress."

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.

Hollywood Today

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 purposes.

Points of interest

Hollywood continues to be the home of many historic and unusual points of interests. A sampling of places to visit, include:

  • Capitol Records
  • Charlie Chaplin Studios
  • Frederick's of Hollywood
  • Grauman's Chinese and Egyptian theaters
  • Griffith Park
  • Hollywood Bowl
  • Hollywood Forever Cemetery
  • Hollywood Heritage Museum
  • KTLA-TV
  • NBC Radio City Studios
  • Paramount Studios
  • Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Odditorium
  • Rock Walk
  • 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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