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Hollywood Sign

Definition: It's fitting that the Hollywood Sign, the worldwide symbol of the entertainment industry, was conceived as an outdoor ad campaign for a suburban housing development called Hollywoodland.
It's fitting that the Hollywood Sign, the worldwide symbol of the entertainment industry, was conceived as an outdoor ad campaign for a suburban housing development called Hollywoodland.
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It's fitting that the Hollywood Sign, the worldwide symbol of the entertainment industry, was conceived as an outdoor ad campaign for a suburban housing development called "Hollywoodland."

After all, despite the high profile of the film biz, real estate has always been Hollywood's primary economic driver.

Although the Sign's appearance and purpose have evolved over the years, its basic aspirational message remains the same: This is a place where magic is possible, where dreams can come true.

Back then, the dream was a beautiful home and lifestyle. Today, the Sign's promise is more subtle- and can only be described as the parade of images, desires and ideas conjured by the word "Hollywood."

Imagine a time when the only stars in Hollywood were found in the crystal- clear night skies arching over rolling hills.

This was the setting for the area's native people, the Gabrielinos. Later, the Gabrielinos lived on missions for some time but reminders of their culture remain.

Before Hollywood became the world's entertainment mecca, it resembled other west frontiers- a landscape of farmers, cowboys, prospectors, bandits, and mostly undeveloped land. All land north of Sunset Boulevard, for example, was considered useless for anything but grazing.

With more and more Easterners drawn by the promise of sunny skies and mild, dry weather, the area's bedrock industry- real estate- soon kicked into high gear.

Subdivisions begat more subdivisions, and by the end of the 19th century Hollywood was taking on the contours of a recognizable town. Thanks to Daeida Wilcox, it also had a name.

In 1887, Mrs. Wilcox, wife of town founder Harvey Wilcox, met a woman on a train trip who referred to her Florida summer home, "Hollywood." She was so struck by the name that she suggested it to her husband - and the rest is history.

All was quiet until 1907, when bad weather drove a small Chicago film company westward to complete a shoot.

The first real studio, Nestor Film Company, soon followed from New Jersey, cranking out three pictures a week- one western, one eastern, and one comedy for a grand total of $1,200.

By 1912, word of Hollywood's ideal film-shooting climate and landscape spread, and at least 15 independent studios could be found shooting around town. Old barns were turned into sound stages and Hollywood's quiet time was over.

It wasn't just sunny skies that spurred the mass film migration to Hollywood. In 1897, famed inventor and early movie mogul Thomas Edison began suing rival producers who were utilizing filmmaking-projection devices based (he felt) on his Kinetoscope technology.

Many of these movie "pirates" fled from New Jersey (home of the Edison Company and the original movie capital), first to Cuba, then to California for good.

By 1915, America was officially film crazed, and Hollywood was shaping into the glamorous, sometimes surreal landscape we've come to know and love.

Hopeful actors and actresses filled the streets, dazzled by a new American dream: film stardom. Studios, meanwhile, sprung up like wildfires and engaged in a cutthroat battle for survival. As the industry matured, many of these independent companies merged, forming the big studios that would shape and control the industry moving forward.

By 1920, 40 million Americans were going to the movies each week. As the industry blossomed, Hollywood strove to keep pace physically. L.A. history buffs (and fans of the movie Chinatown) know the key to the area's explosive development during the early 20th century was the Owens Valley Aqueduct System, spearheaded by William Mulholland (who was the head engineer of the Municipal Water Department) and initially completed in 1913.

The controversial and violently opposed project diverted water from the Owens River, the lifeblood of a farming community. Furious Owens Valley residents (allegedly) dynamited the L.A. Aqueduct in 1924 and, later that same year, seized control of a critical aqueduct gate, shutting off the flow of the river. These acts of sabotage continued sporadically until 1928, when the chief backer of the opposition movement, the Owens Valley Bank, collapsed.

Still, the water flowed (usually), and Hollywood flourished. During the 20s, a whimsical skyline of movie set-inspired hotels and apartments rose along the big boulevards. The more prestigious addresses, including the opulent Garden Court Apartments, Chateau Elysee and Garden of Allah Villas, were imbued with the glamour of the stars that called them home.

The rise of the film aristocracy also meant suave new restaurants and nightclubs up and down Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards. Extravagant movie palaces completed the iconic Hollywood landscape.

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