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ANNALS : A Star Is Born

January 04, 1987|JOHN D. WEAVER | John D. Weaver is the author of " Los Angeles : the Enormous Village. "

After helping his fellow Prohibitionists enact legislation cutting off his neighbors' liquor supply in Kansas, Harvey Henderson Wilcox lit out for Southern California in 1883 with his wife, Daeida, who shared her husband's dedication to sobriety, church work and the laying up of worldly goods. Four years later, on the first day of February, Wilcox filed a tract map for a sober, God-fearing community that, in 1905, the Los Angeles Times described as a place where "the saloon and its kindred evils are unknown." Mrs. Wilcox had supplied the subdivision's name. On a train trip east, she'd struck up a conversation with a woman who told her about her summer home near Chicago. "Hollywood," the woman called it.

Hollywood was one of 60 Southern California town sites put on the market in 1887, the boom year in which subdividers filled 20 map books in the county recorder's office while spreading the message: "Buy land in Los Angeles and wear diamonds." Wilcox died in 1891, leaving a wealthy widow who "managed her vast realty interests with rare judgment," according to local annalist Edwin O. Palmer. She built the Hollywood Club, a couple of banks and a post office. She also donated the grounds for three of Hollywood's churches and for its city hall and public library. She died in the summer of 1914, "a staunch, active and progressive Republican and a valued ally in all civic progress," Palmer writes.

The Cahuenga Valley, as it was in the years before the Wilcoxes arrived, survived in the memories of such pioneers as Boyle Workman, who as a child had prowled hills covered with "chaparral, yucca and holly berries" and flatland "forests of cactus, mustard stalks, sage and more holly berries." In the 1870s, farm families whose names are memorialized on Hollywood street signs (Gower, for example) were plowing and planting acreage now taken up by film studios, antique shops and expense-account restaurants. The prime land, as Bruce Torrence points out in "Hollywood: The First Hundred Years," was "slightly to the south of the hills, near what is now Santa Monica Boulevard, known then as Foothill Road. The land north of Sunset Boulevard was considered useless for anything but sheep grazing."

In the 1890s, a new generation of settlers moved to Hollywood, drawn by sales pitches featuring the oranges and lemons that had beaten the best the world could offer at the New Orleans Exposition. "The oranges ripen in December and the lemons are a continuous crop," the Cahuenga Suburban newspaper noted in February, 1896. "Anyone can grow strawberries and guavas between the trees and pay their grocery and meat bills. One should carry a goodly supply of poultry for their meat and eggs, and the hog will convert into food the unmarketable fruit. Your cow will devour the ill-formed melons and cantaloupes."

Urbanization crept up on the villagers in the summer of 1903, when the Hollywood Board of Trade suggested that the community incorporate. Daeida Wilcox, now Mrs. Philo Judson Beveridge, fought the proposal, but when incorporation was put to a vote that fall, proponents won, 88 to 77, and Hollywood became a city. Its corporate limits were bounded on the east by Normandie Avenue, on the west by Fairfax Avenue, on the north by the Santa Monica Mountains and on the south by De Longpre and Fountain avenues.

When members of the Board of Trade gathered at the Hollywood Hotel in late January, 1904, for what was to be their first annual banquet, they dined without wine. Later that year enfranchised males went to the polls to outlaw saloons and confine the sale of liquor to pharmacists filling a prescription. The electorate also subjected pool halls and bowling alleys to new regulations and banned glue factories, slaughterhouses and oil wells, along with slot machines and disorderly houses. That spring, the editor of the Cahuenga Valley Sentinel strolled down Prospect Avenue (later Hollywood Boulevard) with H. J. Whitley, "The Father of Hollywood," who owned the largest jewelry store in Los Angeles. Thanks to Whitley's "great propelling power," the Sentinel editor reported, the two-mile stretch of alfalfa fields west of Wilcox Avenue had given way to palatial homes, banks, churches, business blocks and "modern tourist hotels." Shortly before, "at great expense," Whitley had illuminated Wilcox Avenue "by the incandescent plan--a light suspended from each pole." Electric lighting, the editor found, created "a pretty scene." Five years later, in the fall of 1909, the Los Angeles Times reported that "Hollywood, one of the most beautiful of the environs of Los Angeles, is seeking to be admitted to the municipal household, and has a splendid prospect." The suburban movers and shakers coveted not only their sprawling, sinful neighbor's outfall sewer and its soon-to-be-completed Owens Valley aqueduct, but also, in the words of its mayor, Hollywood wanted to share "the prestige of the name, Los Angeles." Annexation won by a landslide in 1910.

A year later a roadhouse on the northwest corner of Sunset and Gower, closed by Prohibitionists, came back to life as the city's first motion picture studio. Humorist Anita Loos, author of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," later recalled how horrified Hollywood's elderly, conservative homeowners were when they saw this "troupe of scalawags." But the speculators and moneylenders, who had built Hollywood in their own image, soon found themselves in the midst of a new boom--their $700-an-acre lemon land was now worth $10,000 an acre. In the eyes of the rest of the world, Los Angeles had become an adjunct of Hollywood.

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