Hollywood History

Origin of Hollywood

Hollywood was literally out in the country northwest of downtown in the late 1800s. Nobody gave it a thought except the locals, who were glad to be within a reasonable distance from town. They certainly did not expect it to become the movie capital of the world; what the heck was a movie?

Glen Holly Hotel in 1890

Glen Holly Hotel in 1890

We’ve included a photograph of the Glen-Holly Hotel, first hotel in Hollywood history, at the corner of what is now Yucca St. and Ivar Ave.; 1890.

The origin of the name is subject to debate; there’s a nice history of Hollywood in Wikipedia, including the photos presented here along with many others. If you’re a Hollywood buff, it would be worthwhile to check that out, along with some of the other websites and books we recommend, before you come to town.

But by the early 20th century, there was a small community in Hollywood that was very hospitable to a New York film crew headed by D. W. Griffith that came out to create some short movies. The word got out in the east that this was a great place (much better weather than in NY!) for filming.

We’ve included a photograph from 1907 of where Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue meet. This would become the location of the current Hollywood and Highland complex and a center of Hollywood tourism today. They never would have dreamed of the Kodak Theater and American Idol in the early 20th century!

The first feature film made in Hollywood history, in 1914, was called “The Squaw Man”, directed by Cecil B. DeMille. Prior to then the films made in Los Angeles were short subjects only. This film put the community on the map with film makers and the Hollywood movie industry was born.

By the end of the First World War, it became the movie capital of the world. Since then it has had ups and downs, but in recent years has enjoyed a rejuvenation resulting from new entertainment/retail projects and much effort from the local community and city of Los Angeles.

Intersection of Hollywood & Highland in 1907

Intersection of Hollywood & Highland in 1907

Historical Hollywood Studios

So much of Hollywood history wraps around the studios; while you’re in Los Angeles, you might want to find a few of the several studios still to be found.

Nestor Studios in Hollywood, 1913

Nestor Studios in Hollywood, 1913

The Hal Roach Studios Site

Back in the 1920s and 1930s Hal Roach was in the center of the Hollywood universe, with his Our Gang series and films with Laurel and Hardy, Harold Lloyd, Will Rogers and many others. Later he did war films with the likes of Ronald Reagan. The studio was long ago torn down, but there is a plaque under a tree in a small park, at the southwest corner of National Boulevard and Washington Boulevard in Culver City.

The Culver Studios

Not far from the Hal Roach studios are the Culver Studios. It has changed names over the many years since they filmed Gone With The Wind, owners have been RKO Pictures and Desilu Studios (Desi and Luci). Other films included the original King Kong, Citizen Kane and E.T.- The Extraterrestrial. The lot is now owned by Sony Pictures, unless they have merged with somebody. The address is 9336 W. Washington Boulevard, at Ince Boulevard. No tours are available.

Walt Disney’s First Los Angeles Home and Workshop

In 1923 little-known artist Walt Disney came west from Kansas City to find his fortune; little did he know then what his place would be in Hollywood history with his animated masterpieces. He stayed with his uncle Robert in this bungalow at 4406 Kingswell Avenue, just west of Commonwealth Avenue in Hollywood.

Walt found an opportunity to create cartoon shorts to be shown in vaudeville theatres and set a studio in his uncle’s garage. Shortly thereafter he moved to his own studio (see below). The garage has been moved to the Stanley Ranch Museum in Orange County, not far from Disneyland in Orange County. But you can see where Walt got his start.

Walt Disney’s First Real Studio

The original Walt Disney studios were built at 2719 Hyperion Avenue, after he found success and could move from his uncle’s garage. This is where he started the full-length features to be shown in theatres (instead of the cartoon shorts done previously). This site is now a retail center, but there is a memorial sign on a light pole in front of the parking lot at the corner of Hyperion Avenue and Griffith Park Boulevard.

The “New” Disney Studios

Walt Disney had this complex built in the late 1930s. Although he was obviously doing well, he had it built with wide hallways, potentially to be used as a hospital if he found the need to sell it off. This is where some of the all-time favorite movies were made, such as Cinderella, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins and the Little Mermaid.

Walt came up with the idea of Disneyland originally for this location, but realized the site was too small to do that and serve as a studio. So he later found an orange grove out in the sticks of Orange County, a place called Anaheim. So Disneyland was almost another part of Hollywood history.

This is now a major studio complex that can be seen from the 134 freeway. The address is 500 S. Buena Vista Street, Burbank. You can reach Robert Iger, the Chairman of the Board, on his cell phone at 818/560-1000 (a receptionist may pick up on his behalf).

The CBS Studio Center

Back before the mid-1930s, this facility was run by Mack Sennett, who churned out hundreds of silent films over a good portion of Hollywood history. Republic Pictures took over in 1935 and filmed The Sands of Iwo Jima and The Quiet Man, among other movies. Subsequent to that, a vast number of television shows have been shot here.
Remember Gilligan’s Island? The opening scene was shot down near Long Beach Harbor, but the set was here, maintained until 1994. The Wild Wild West, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Seinfeld, The Bob Newhart Show, Hill Street Blues—the list goes on. No tours are given but it’s near the famous Farmer’s Market shopping complex so check it out.

20th Century-Fox Studios

Cowboy Tom Mix apparently first owned this acreage. The studio was built in 1935 and since has hosted hundreds of TV and film projects, including All About Eve, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The King And I, The Poseidon Adventure, Patton, Die Hard and The X-Files. Star Wars and Cleopatra were other big-budget pictures. Star Wars was a big winner and Cleo devastated the studio financially. No tours are offered. You can check it out from the outside at 10201 Pico Boulevard, at Avenue of the Stars in Century City (west side of L.A.).

Paramount Studios

In the old days, most of the Hollywood studios were actually in Hollywood. Over the years, many of them have moved to the outlying areas noted elsewhere on this page. There are still lots of post production studios, photographic studios, prop warehouses and many other industrial entertainment companies in Hollywood. But the only true, full-blown film studio from the old days of Hollywood history is Paramount Studios at 5555 Melrose Avenue.

Paramount occupies the block bounded by Gower Street, Melrose Avenue and Van Ness Avenue. This place is still used for many productions, including the Dr. Phil Show. There are some tours of the place, which you can check out at 323/956-1777 or the Paramount Studios web site. This is worth seeing, if only for the cool entrance gate on Melrose Avenue. It’s where Lucy and Desi went during their famous TV trip to Hollywood (where they spent time with Bill Holden).

Universal Studios

The working studio part of this facility is overshadowed by the fact that Universal figured out how to make money on the notion of the Hollywood studio tour. So they created the theme park, which does take you on trams through some old film and TV sets. But the rides, stunt shows, shops and restaurants are what they advertise, along with the Universal Amphitheatre.

Universal is actually one of the largest studios in the world. Take the Hollywood Freeway (101) north past Hollywood and get off at either the Universal Center Drive and Lankershim Boulevard exits. The signs will suck you in.

Warner Bros. Studio

One of the most respected and successful motion picture and television studios in the world, Warner Bros. Studios began when the four Warner brothers (Albert, Sam, Harry and Jack L.) incorporated on April 4, 1923. In 1927, the release of the first “talkie” in Hollywood history, The Jazz Singer, changed the film industry forever. The 110-acre studio offers tours and can be found most days at 3400 Riverside Drive, Burbank, CA 9152

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS).

This is the center of the universe for performers and workers in the TV trade. The headquarters is located at 5220 Lankershim Boulevard, at Magnolia Boulevard. There’s a cool front plaza that’s visible at all times.