The History of Hollywood

From top to bottom:
The iconic Hollywood Sign,
Hollywood in 1885,
Hollywood in 1905,
Hollywood in 1922,
The Kodak Theater,
Hollyweed? 2017.
Image source: Wikipedia, except Hollyweed image courtesy AP

No image quite defines and illustrates the American film industry as that of Hollywood. Hollywood had the great fortune of being settled by ambitious entrepreneurs and land developers, as well as being located in Southern California so the film productions of the burgeoning 20th century film industry could take advantage of its warm, moderate climate. Here is a look at the history of Hollywood.

Hollywood began its life as an agricultural village in the 1860s and 70s. Then in the mid 1880s entrepreneurs and land developers began to move in and soon the new town was named. The exact origins of the name has never been confirmed. One story has the name coming from the native stands of a tree known as California Holly. Another is that H.J. Whitley, considered the Father of Hollywood, came up with the name while on his honeymoon. Still another has the wife of developer H.H. Wilcox copying the name from another woman she met on a train, who said in passing she called her home in Ohio "Hollywood". The name first appeared in print on Wilcox's subdivision maps and Whitley opened the famous Hollywood Hotel. No matter the origin it goes without saying that Hollywood's future was tied to the efforts of these men and others like them who saw great opportunity in the area.

In 1910, only seven years after becoming incorporated as a town, Hollywood was annexed by Los Angeles which was located 10 miles to the east. This was mostly a forced annexation of necessity. Hollywood found that its growth was becoming sorely hampered by its lack of water resources and poor sewer systems. Soon after this annexation the main street of Hollywood, Prospect Avenue, was renamed to Hollywood Boulevard.

This exciting time also was the start of the influx of the movie industry. D.W. Griffith came to Los Angeles in 1910 to begin filming a drama. During the shoot they decided to explore the territory a little and proceeded northwestward to the village of Hollywood and discovered they were very welcome there. The resulting movie "In Old California" was the first ever shot in Hollywood. The first studio was opened the next year by a New Jersey based company and was called Nestor Studios. It was located at the corner of Sunset and Gower in a converted barn. In 1914 Cecil B. DeMille's film "Squaw Man" was finished and became the first to be completely produced in a Hollywood studio. During these years word went back east about the comforts of sunny and warm Hollywood, and studio after studio that had beforehand been located in the New York and New Jersey area, either opened up a western branch, or completely replanted to Hollywood.

Soon numerous service industries; banks, restaurants, hotels, clubs and movie houses sprang up to support the growing industry and town. Taller and larger buildings were being erected and the agricultural lands which were still predominant just south of town, were being sold to developers plot by plot to build more housing. Indeed, the famous Hollywood hill sign was erected in 1923 as a giant ad for real estate development and originally spelt out "Hollywoodland". Over the years the sign deteriorated until in 1949 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce became involved and repaired the sign and removed the last four letters. Since then the sign has taken on an iconic life of it's own to symbolize not only Hollywood the physical location, but Hollywood the American film industry.

Another boost came to the thriving town and industry with the inception of the Academy Awards, held for the first time at the Roosevelt Hotel in 1929. See our previous article on the Academy Awards for more information on this topic.

By this time the majority of American films were being produced in Hollywood and the surrounding area, but the movie industry was not the only segment of the entertainment business to have a major local presence. After the Second World War numerous television stations and studios began sprouting up, as well as music recording studios and their offices. The famous circular Capitol Records building was built in 1956 just off Hollywood Boulevard on Vine St. Also around this time many of the movie stars and major industry players began to move out of Hollywood proper and settle in nearby areas such as Beverly Hills.

Indeed, Hollywood has always been a very fluid area. By the 1980s and 90s few film studios remained in Hollywood itself but had moved to outlying areas. To this day though, much of the support industry, such as effects and sound, still remain in Hollywood. Hollywood has suffered some decline because of the emigration of the major studios, but with the turn to this century the businessmen of the area are coming to its rescue again. Hollywood is starting to be revitalized with new development in condominiums and trendy bars, retail stores and clubs. Also the construction of new large theatres such as the Kodak Theater has helped with the revitalization efforts.

With a history so vibrant as this, it certainly seems that one way or another Hollywood will always have a hand in the entertainment industry. Hooray for Hollywood!

2017 Addendum: Pranksters seem to abound around the iconic Hollywood sign on New Year's Eve. On January 1st 2017 Los Angeles residents awoke to find the sign altered with tarps to read 'Hollyweed'. This wasn't the first time this happened however. On the exact same day in 1976 a college student used curtains to make the same alteration.

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