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.
The origin of movies and motion pictures began in the late 1800’s, with the invention of “motion toys” designed to trick the eye into seeing an illusion of motion from a display of still frames in quick succession, such as the thaumatrope and the zoetrope. In 1872, Edward Muybridge created the first true “motion picture” by placing twelve cameras on a racetrack and rigging the cameras to capture shots in quick sequence as a horse crossed in front of their lenses.
The first film for motion photography was invented in 1885 by George Eastman and William H. Walker, which contributed to the advance of motion photography. Shortly thereafter, the brothers Auguste and Louis Lumiere created a hand-cranked machine called the cinematographe, which could both capture pictures and project still frames in quick succession.
The 1900’s were a time of great advancement for film and motion picture technology. Exploration into editing, backdrops, and visual flow motivated aspiring filmmakers to push into new creative territory. One of the earliest and most famous movies created during this time was The Great Train Robbery, created in 1903 by Edwin S. Porter.
Around 1905, “Nickelodeons”, or 5-cent movie theaters, began to offer an easy and inexpensive way for the public to watch movies. Nickelodeons helped the movie industry move into the 1920’s by increasing the public appeal of film and generate more money for filmmakers, alongside the widespread use of theaters to screen World War I propaganda. After World War I ended and ushered the United States into a cultural boom, a new industry center was on the rise: Hollywood, the home of motion pictures in America.
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 movie ever shot in Hollywood, DW Griffith’s silent film In Old California was released on March 10 1910, exactly 105 years ago. It was a melodrama about the Mexican era in California, and starred such early celebrities as Marion Leonard and Henry B Walthall, who also appeared in Griffith’s later film, The Birth of a Nation. Griffith continued to make films until 1931, and lived in Hollywood until his death in 1948, aged 73.
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.