Issue: Winter 2024

Where is this Place Called Hollywood?

There are four Hollywoods. First, the Hollywood I call “from sea to shining sea”—the one that is not only gobbled up by Los Angeles, but as far south as Disneyland and west to the ocean; indistinguishable and enormous. Then there is Hollywood the Industry which has evolved from many studios scattered throughout bean fields and lemon groves into an international enterprise. Next there is the Hollywood of glitz and glamour that exists in the minds of millions who come looking for their vision of the town, only to leave confused or disappointed. And, lastly, there is Hollywood the Place, first named in 1887 by its first real estate developer, Harvey Wilcox’s wife Daeida.  

Annexed to the City of Los Angeles in 1910, it was a rural community populated by gentlemen (and women) farmers until the arrival of Cecil B. DeMille in 1912. Until Hollywood’s main street was established, its product—silent movies—were shown in converted vaudeville theatres in downtown Los Angeles. Gradually, more real estate developers built homes large and small around Hollywood’s many movie studios, a main street lined with shops, restaurants and movie theatres and a community was born and grew along with its signature industry. For a time, the two were one, but times change.

A giant sign erected on Mount Lee proclaimed HOLLYWOODLAND, and through the years (and the removal in 1949 of  ‘LAND’ from the famed sign), millions have come to Hollywood to seek fame and fortune or—in later years—to see its movie stars. At its roots, it was a factory town...but times change.

Los Angeles, in a continual identity crisis, markets itself using the sign and the town’s fame and allure. The millions who walk its streets searching for the magic often leave disappointed that their quest was not totally satisfied with sidewalk stars and footprints in concrete. So, where is Hollywood?

For over 40 years, Discover Hollywood has shared this enigmatic place with residents and visitors. Like a budding actor, musician, artist, or craftsperson who comes to Hollywood, it takes hard work, time, and patience to be discovered.

Like any town, Hollywood has its Main Street and rather than paved with gold, the stars that line it prove that for some, the dream is attainable. But like countless towns throughout the nation, its once shop-lined boulevard may have seen better days, but great possibility still exists in the many historic buildings awaiting restoration.

Much still remains from Hollywood’s Golden Age, its boulevard has landmark status with the National Trust as an early commercial corridor. Today, sadly, many property owners “land bank” their holdings while others see the promise and capitalize on the town’s buildings and history. Netflix’ recent $70 million restoration of the iconic Egyptian Theatre is an example of melding possibility with promise. Overseeing the 80 blocks in Hollywood’s central core, the Hollywood Partnership has a big job keeping the area clean, safe, and hospitable with innovative programs. Once mostly commercial, the addition of 10,000 new apartments and more being added, Hollywood’s center has attracted new residents who enjoy an urban lifestyle.

Like an archeologist, to find Hollywood, one has to dig around, venture off the main thoroughfares and into its neighborhoods. These streets, whether hillside and curvy or treelined and straight, capture the real essence. It’s here that one gets a sense of the place and can even experience its evolution.

Nearby throughout what is sometimes called “the flats,” south of Sunset Boulevard on land first developed by Senator Cornelius Cole—then known as Colegrove—small bungalow homes—some dating back well over one hundred years—remain. Scattered throughout are apartments that, in times past, were home to the town’s “New American” population and are now part of the gentrification of the community.

To the north, however, dotting the hillsides are numerous homes dating back to 1923 when the Hollywood Sign was built as an advertising gimmick to attract buyers to the Hollywoodland development. In the late 1990s, Madonna led the way renovating a home in the “new” Hollywood Hills and soon was followed by scores of other notables who enjoy the urban proximity, while battling coyotes, skunks, raccoons and other wildlife. Where else but Hollywood would a lone mountain lion become beloved as it roamed these hillside neighborhoods?  Here you can find the small commercial clusters known as Beachwood and Franklin Villages.

The larger village to the east, Los Feliz—while eschewing its Hollywood roots—is perhaps the most authentic and intact of its neighborhoods. Close enough to Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, notables from the early film industry lived here. Also going back more than one hundred years—when news barons Otis and Chandlers built large estates, later Cecil B. DeMille, Deanna Durbin, Norma Talmadge, W. C. Fields, and a host of others—stars, directors and producers lived the life of luxury and excess. By the 1930s, Hollywood’s streetcar accessibility to Los Angeles attracted doctors, lawyers, and business leaders. Commercial streets Hillhurst and Vermont have become a shopper’s delight dotted with restaurants and bars along the way. Madonna’s next property buy was here, and a host of A-list celebrities now call it home.  

Yes, this is the real place, one not made up of dreams, but of many people like any hometown, some famous, most not. They meet and mingle, walk and jog, catch an art opening, attend a live theatre performance, and love their small corner of this immense city. On Sundays, in the morning you’ll find them at the Farmers Market at Ivar and Hollywood Blvd. and later they’ll be browsing for treasures at the Melrose Trading Post.  

Perhaps more than anyplace, this famed town epitomizes the American dream...growing from bean fields and lemon groves to a name recognized around the world. Success can be found here, but so can failure—and that adds to its fascination.  I think this place will always be an enigma, but the quest to find it is an adventure worth pursuing.   DH