Hollywood is a district in Los Angeles, California, U.S.A., situated west-northwest of Downtown. Due to its fame and cultural identity as the historical center of movie studios and stars, the word “Hollywood” is often used as a metonym for the American film and television industry. Today much of the movie industry has dispersed into surrounding areas such as Burbank and the Westside, but significant ancillary industries (such as editing, effects, props, post-production, and lighting companies) remain in Hollywood.
Many historic Hollywood theaters are used as venues to premiere major theatrical releases, and host the Academy Awards. It is a popular destination for nightlife and tourism, and home to the Walk of Fame.
There is currently no official boundary of Hollywood, but the 2002 secession movement and the current Neighborhood Council boundaries can serve as guides. There is a sign at the northeast corner of Fairfax Avenue and Melrose Avenue indicating that one is entering Hollywood. Generally, Hollywood’s southern border follows Melrose Avenue from Vermont Avenue west to Fairfax Avenue. From there, the boundary continues north on Fairfax, wrapping east around the separate City of West Hollywood along Willoughby Avenue then wrapping around on La Brea and heads west along Fountain Avenue before turning north again on Laurel Canyon Boulevard into the Hollywood Hills. The eastern boundary follows Vermont Avenue north from Melrose past Hollywood Boulevard to Franklin Avenue. From there, the border travels west along Franklin to Western Avenue, and then north on Western into Griffith Park. Most of the hills between Laurel Canyon and Griffith Park are part of Hollywood. The commercial, cultural, and transportation center of Hollywood is the area where La Brea Avenue, Highland Avenue, Cahuenga Boulevard, and Vine Street intersect Hollywood Blvrd. and Sunset Blvrd. The population of the district is estimated to be about 300,000. As a portion of the City of Los Angeles, Hollywood does not have its own municipal government, but does have an appointed official that serves as “honorary mayor” for ceremonial purposes only. Currently, the “mayor” is Johnny Grant.
1853, one adobe hut stood on the site that became Hollywood. By 1870, an agricultural community flourished in the area with thriving crops. In the 1880s, Harvey Henderson Wilcox of Kansas, who made a fortune in real estate even though he had lost the use of his legs due to typhoid fever, and his wife, Daeida, moved to Los Angeles from Topeka. In 1886, Wilcox bought 160 acres (0.6 km²) of land in the countryside to the west of the city at the foothills and the Cahuenga Pass.
Accounts of the name, Hollywood, coming from imported English holly then growing in the area are incorrect. The name in fact was coined by Hobart Johnstone Whitley, the Father of Hollywood. He and his wife Gigi came up with the name in 1886 while on their honeymoon. They were standing on the hill overlooking the valley which is now Whitley Heights. It is part of the California Historic Preservation Overlay Zone. With a hand shake a deal was secured to purchase 500 acres from Mr. Hurd whom they shared the name of their new town. Over the years Whitley had established more than 140 towns. (from Margaret Virginia Whitley’s memoir) A locally popular etymology is that the name Hollywood traces to the ample stands of native Toyon, or “California Holly,” that cover the hillsides with clusters of bright red berries each winter.
Harvey Wilcox drew up a grid map for a town, which he filed with the county recorder’s office on February 1, 1887, the first official appearance of the name Hollywood. With his wife as a constant advisor, he carved out Prospect Avenue (later Hollywood Boulevard) for the main street. Whitley lined it and the other wide dirt avenues with pepper trees, and paved them. Whitley then had the name changed to Hollywood Boulevard. By 1900, Hollywood also had a post office, a newspaper, a hotel and two markets, along with a population of 500 people. Los Angeles, with a population of 100,000 people at the time, lay seven miles (11 km) east through the citrus groves. A single-track streetcar line ran down the middle of Prospect Avenue from Los Angeles, but service was infrequent and the trip took two hours. The old citrus fruit packing house would be converted into a livery stable, improving transportation for the inhabitants of Hollywood. The first section of the famous HollyWood Hotel, the first major hotel in Hollywood, was opened in 1902 by H. J. Whitley, a subdivider, eager to sell residential lots among the lemon ranches then lining the foothills. Flanking the west side of Highland Avenue, the structure fronted on Prospect Avenue. Still a dusty, unpaved road, it was regularly graded and graveled.
Hollywood was incorporated as a municipality in 1903. Among the town ordinances was one prohibiting the sale of liquor except by pharmacists and one outlawing the driving of cattle through the streets in herds of more than two hundred. In 1904, a new trolley car track running from Los Angeles to Hollywood up Prospect Avenue was opened. The system was called “the Hollywood boulevard.” It cut travel time to and from Los Angeles drastically. By 1910, because of an ongoing struggle to secure an adequate water supply, the townsmen voted for Hollywood to be annexed into the City of Los Angeles, as the water system of the growing city had opened the Los Angeles Aqueduct and was piping water down from the Owens River in the Owens Valley. Another reason for the vote was that Hollywood could have access to drainage through Los Angeles’ sewer system. With annexation, the name of Prospect Avenue was changed to Hollywood Boulevard and all the street numbers in the new district changed. For example, 100 Prospect Avenue, at Vermont Avenue, became 6400 Hollywood Boulevard; and 100 Cahuenga Boulevard, at Hollywood Boulevard, changed to 1700 Cahuenga Boulevard.
Hollywood and the motion picture industry
The famous HollyWood Sign originally read “Hollywoodland”. It was erected in 1923 to advertise a new housing development in the hills above Hollywood. For several years, the sign was left to deteriorate. In 1949, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce stepped in and offered to remove the last four letters and repair the rest. The shape of the text on the sign, which is located near the top of Mount Lee, has been registered as a trademark by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for certain uses, including cosmetics, clothing, and souvenirs. The same organization also manages the venerable Walk of Fame.
In the early 1900s, motion picture production companies from New York and New Jersey started moving to California because of the reliable weather. Although electric lights existed at that time, none were powerful enough to adequately expose film; the best source of illumination for movie production was natural sunlight. Besides the moderate, dry climate, they were also drawn to the state because of its open spaces and wide variety of natural scenery which could, of course, come in handy during film-making. Another factor in Hollywood’s development was its great distance from New Jersey, which made it more difficult for Thomas Edison to enforce his motion picture patents. At the time, Edison owned almost all of the patents relevant to motion picture production and, in the East, movie producers acting independently of Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company were often sued or enjoined by Edison and his agents. Thus, movie makers working on the West Coast could work unencumbered by Edison’s control. If Edison sent agents to California, word would usually reach Los Angeles before the agents’ arrival and the movie makers could simply escape to nearby Mexico.
In early 1910, director D. W. Griffith was sent by the Biograph Company to the west coast with his acting troop consisting of actors Blanche Sweet, Lillian Gish, Mary Pickford, Lionel Barrymore, and others. They started filming on a vacant lot near Georgia Street in Downtown Los Angeles. The Company decided to explore new territories and traveled several miles north to a little village that was friendly and enjoyed the movie company filming there. This place was called “Hollywood”. D. W. Griffith then filmed the first movie ever shot in Hollywood called In Old California, a Biograph melodrama about Latino/Mexican-occupied California in the 1800s. Biograph stayed there for months and made several films before returning to New York. After hearing about this wonderful place, in 1913 many movie-makers headed west. With this film, the movie industry was “born” in Hollywood which soon became the movie capital of the world.
The first motion picture studio in the region was built in 1909 by the Selig Polyscope Company. The Selig studio was located in Edendale, just east of Hollywood. The first studio in Hollywood proper was Nestor Studios, founded in 1911 by Al Christie for David Horsley in an old building on the southeast corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. The first motion picture to be filmed in Hollywood was filmed at the Whitley home located on the corner of Prospect (now Hollywood Blvd) and Wilcox. In the same year, another fifteen Independents settled in Hollywood. Creators of dreams began arriving by the thousands; cameras cranked away, capturing images of custard pies, bathing beauties, comedy and tragedy, villains leering, heroines with long curls and heroes to save the day; and they built a new world to replace the lemon groves. Thus, the fame of Hollywood came from its identity with the movies and movie stars; and the word “Hollywood,” a word that, when spoken in any country on Earth, evokes worlds, even galaxies of memories, came to be colloquially used to refer to the motion picture industry.
In 1913, Cecil B. DeMille, in association with Jesse Lasky, leased a barn with studio facilities on the southeast corner of Selma and Vine Streets from the Burns and Revier Studio and Laboratory, which had been established there. DeMille then began production of The Squaw Man (1914). It became known as the Lasky-DeMille Barn and is currently the location of the Hollywood Heritage Museum.
The Charlie Chaplin Studios, on the northeast corner of La Brea and De Longpre avenues just south of Sunset Boulevard, was built in 1917. It has had many owners after 1953, including Kling Studios, who produced the Superman TV series with George Reeves; by Red Skelton, who used the sound stages for his CBS TV variety show; and by CBS, which filmed the TV series Perry Mason with Raymond Burr there. It has also been owned by Herb Alpert’s A&M Records and Tijuana Brass Enterprises. It is currently The Jim Henson Company, home of the Muppets. In 1969, The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board named the studio an historical cultural monument.
The first Academy Awards presentation ceremony took place on May 16, 1929 during a banquet held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywod rosevelt hotel on Hollywood Boulevard. Tickets were $10.00 and there were 250 people in attendance.
Hollywood and the movie industry of the 1930s are described in P. G. Wodehouse’s novel Laughing Gas (1936) and in Budd Schulberg’s What Makes Sammy Run? (1941), and is parodied in Terry Pratchett’s novel Moving Pictures (1990), which is a takeoff of Singin’ in the Rain.
From about 1930, five major “Hollywood” movie studios from all over the Los Angeles area, Paramount, RKO, 20th Century Fox, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Warner Bros., owned large, grand theaters throughout the country for the exhibition of their movies. The period between the years 1927 (the effective end of the silent era) to 1948 is considered the age of the “Hollywood studio system”, or, in a more common term, the Golden Age of Hollywood. In a landmark 1948 court decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that movie studios could not own theaters and play only the movies produced by their studios and only with their movie stars. With that, an era of Hollywood history had unofficially ended. By the mid-1950s, when television proved a profitable enterprise that was here to stay, movie studios started to produce programming in that TV, which is still the norm today.
n January 22, 1947, the first commercial TV station west of the Mississippi River, KTLA, began operating in Hollywood. In December of that year, the first Hollywood movie production was made for TV, The Public Prosecutor. And in the 1950s, music recording studios and offices began moving into Hollywood. Other businesses, however, continued to migrate to different parts of the Los Angeles area, primarily to Burbank. Much of the movie industry remained in Hollywood, although the district’s outward appearance changed. In 1952, CBS built CBS Television City on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard on the former site of Gilmore Stadium. CBS’s expansion into the Fairfax District pushed the unofficial boundary of Hollywood further south than it had been. CBS’s slogan for the shows taped there was “From Television City in Hollywood…” The famous Capitol Records building on Vine Street just north of Hollywood Boulevard was built in 1956. It is a recording studio not open to the public, but its unique circular design looks like a stack of old 45rpm vinyl records. The now derelect lot at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Serrano Avenue was once the site of the illustrious Hollywood Professional School whose alumni reads like a Hollywood who’s who of household “names”.
The hollywood walk of fame was created in 1958 and the first star was placed in 1960 as a tribute to artists working in the entertainment industry. Honorees receive a star based on career and lifetime achievements in motion pictures, live theatre, radio, television, and/or music, as well as their charitable and civic contributions.
In 1985, the Hollywood Boulevard commercial and entertainment district was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places protecting important buildings and ensuring that the significance of Hollywood’s past would always be a part of its future. In June 1999, the long-awaited Hollywood extension of the Metro Red Line subway opened, running from Downtown Los Angeles to the Valley, with stops on Hollywood Boulevard at Western Avenue, at Vine Street and at Highland Avenue.
The Kodak Theatre, which opened in 2001 on Hollywood Boulevard at Highland Avenue, where the historic Hollywood Hotel once stood, has become the new home of the Oscars.
While motion picture production still occurs within the Hollywood district, most major studios are actually located elsewhere in the Los Angeles region. Paramount Studios is the only major studio still physically located within Hollywood. Other studios in the district include the aforementioned Jim Henson (formerly Chaplin) Studios, Sunset Gower Studios, and Raleigh Studios. Several local broadcasters such as KTLA also maintain studios there, while ABC still has a studio facility on Hollywood’s east side; but most of that network’s programming is now produced out of the Walt Disney Studios in Burbank. The Los Angeles ABC affiliate, KABC also moved to a new studio in Glendale, California.
In 2002, a number of Hollywood citizens began a campaign for the district to secede from Los Angeles and become, as it had been a century earlier, its own incorporated municipality. Secession supporters argued that the needs of their community were being ignored by the leaders of Los Angeles. In June of that year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors placed secession referendums for both Hollywood and the Valley on the ballots for a “citywide election.” To pass, they required the approval of a majority of voters in the proposed new municipality as well as a majority of voters in all of Los Angeles. In the November election, both referendums failed by wide margins in the citywide vote.
A serious problem for Hollywood since the 1960s has been its attractiveness for desperate runaways. Every year, hundreds of runaway adolescents flee broken homes across North America and flock to Hollywood hoping to become movie stars, as portrayed by the lyrics of the 1960s Burt Bacharach song “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” whose lyrics include the words: “All the stars / That never were / Are parking cars / And pumping gas.” Such individuals soon discover that they have extremely slim chances of competing against professionally trained actors. Many of them end up sinking into homelessness, which is a problem in Hollywood for adults as well as youth. Some return home, while others linger in Hollywood and join the prostitutes and panhandlers lining its boulevards; others go to Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles; and yet others end up in the large pornography industry in the San Fernando Valley. This side of Hollywood was portrayed in Jackson Browne’s 1980 song, “Boulevard”, whose lyrics include reference to a notorious hustler hangout of the 1970s, with the words: “Down at the Golden Cup / They set the young ones up / Under the neon lights / Selling day for night.” This phenomenon is also portrayed in the books of Charles Bukowski and pop artist Katy Rose additionally references it in the song “Overdrive” with the words: “They all come here to find a scene / But end up girls on methedrine / Naked on a TV screen.” This is also expressed in a song by the band System of a Down, titled “Lost in Hollywood” It deals with the fact that people run away to Hollywood looking for fame, but end up being tricked by someone trying to get them to do work in the porn industry. “They find you / Two time you / You should have never gone to Hollywood.”