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How the famous Hollywood neighborhood started as a segregated white town

May 17, 2019 at 05:00 pm | History

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson

Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson | Staff Writer

May 17, 2019 at 05:00 pm | History

Los Angeles Times, January 20, 1924.Photo- Los Angeles Times, January 20, 1924

From its acclaimed Walk of Fame to being home of the world’s biggest film and television industry firms, Hollywood pulls in thousands of people every year who either come for a tour to have a feel of the best things in life or hope to have a career in the biggest movie and entertainment industry on earth.

The name has inspired several other countries such as Nigeria and India to give their film industries a similar name, i.e. Nollywood and Bollywood. But how did this name and place actually come into existence?

Following the Great Migration that saw thousands of free blacks move from the south to the north for a better life, several cities that were generally of white population were inhabited by black people. Although several of the whites did not like this, they had no choice but to live among the blacks or move if they could afford to. Los Angeles was no exception.

Security Pacific National Bank Collection | Los Angeles Public Library
Photo- Los Angeles Public Library

Home to a great number of white elites, California’s several towns and cities including Los Angeles, were generally not racist communities and white settlers moved in during the late 1800s Gold Rush Era with their enslaved Africans to work for them. The Great Migration quickly increased the number of blacks in Los Angeles so that by 1900, over 2000 blacks lived in Los Angeles recording the second highest black population in California.

Photo: Hadley Meares

With its great Mediterranian-like weather, by the 1920s the black community had doubled to more than 4,000 which did not particularly sit well with several elites. Owing to this, a ‘holy land’ for whites was created.

In 1923, few rich landowners came together and got a land which was far enough from Los Angeles but still close enough for easy commuting and birthed the idea of Hollywoodland. The town was destined to be a segregated community, however, its discrimination towards blacks was not outrightly put out there but made evident in the cost of the lands and housing project.

Los Angeles Times, January 20, 1924. Photo- Los Angeles Times, January 20, 1924

The idea of the community was that of H.J. Whitley, an American estate developer who had gained success after using the famous Hollywood sign to advertise his Whitley Heights developments. After spending $21,000 which now equates to over $300,000 on the sign, it was lighted with 4,021 light bulbs standing 30 feet (9.1 m) wide and 50 feet (15.2 m) high just below Mount Lee.

The sign lit up at night and was meant to attract people and prospective buyers of the new settlement which was supposed to be free from any kind of inconvenience in any way. Originally meant to stay on display for only a year and a half, the sign stayed for over 10 years long after Hollywoodland had become a community of the past.

Image result for hollywood

After picking up between 1923 and 1929 becoming home to some of the huge names in the film and entertainment industry, the community gained its significance during the Great Depression but the sign still remained.

In the 1970s, the sign which had since deteriorated was redone after the ‘Land’ symbol was removed and 9 celebrities such as Warner Bros., Alice Cooper and Hugh Hefner contributed $27,700 for a letter each making it the symbol of the entertainment culture and later the industry in America.

Although this landmark has been widely written about, the idea of creating a segregated safe haven for white people who could afford it has been left out of many records.

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