Hollywood is famous around the world as the one-time center of the American film industry. Although Hollywood isn’t the original home of the west coast film industry (nearby Edendale in Echo Park and Sycamore Grove in Highland Park both have stronger claims to that distinction), Hollywood has for almost a century continued to serve as a metonym for that industry (and inspire portmanteaus like Bollywood, Dollywood, Ghallywood, Kollywood, Mollywood, Nollywood, Tollywood, etc); even though that most of the film industry mostly long ago abandoned the neighborhood, primarily for the San Fernando Valley. Hollywood has done an excellent job of branding though. After all, you don’t have other countries referring to their film industries as “Bedendale,” “Nycamore Grove”, or “the Ghalley.”
The Hollywood neighborhood has expertly continued to pimp its association with the American film industry that formerly called it home where the other neighborhoods did not. In Edendale, the oldest studio was torn down and is now a vacant lot where the 2 Freeway meets Glendale. The old Mack Sennet Studio where Charlie Chaplin and Keystone Cops movies were made is now a public storage facility unceremoniously tucked behind a Jack in the Box. Hollywood, on the other hand, continues to bill itself as “The Entertainment Capital of the World” and adds industry-related tourist attractions like the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which was installed long after the last pieces of tinsel in Tinseltown had blown over the hills.
Today there are relatively few vestiges of Hollywood’s cinematic past not installed merely to attract tourists — of the film studios, only Paramount remains. Of the major label music industry, only Capitol Records remains. The aforementioned Walk of Fame — to me, at least — serves primarily as a testament to the ephemeral nature of stardom. Not to be hopelessly cynical but the first time I saw the names like Bryan Adams, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and Paula Abdul, I felt nothing but disinterest. However, for roughly ten million annual visitors it’s presumably something terribly exciting and I honestly don’t want to disparage that.
I would be very surprised, however, if much of Hollywood doesn’t disappoint the celebrity or glamor-chaser because it really has little of either. Along a particularly acrid stretch Hollywood Boulevard, low-end shops hawk photos of celebrities alongside stripper-wear, I Love Lucy lunch boxes, tacky cell phone cases, novelty license plates, T-shirts and other chintz. People dressed rather unconvincingly as superheroes attempt to bully clueless tourists into tipping them for posing in pictures. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s saddened by the spectacle.
But that’s only Downtown Hollywood. Though a relatively small district of Los Angeles County, Hollywood has about as much wealth disparity as your average banana republic and there are many diverse neighborhoods within the district.
Hollywood can generally be divided into three (or four) sections: Hollywood proper, East Hollywood and the Hollywood Hills (which are sometimes further divided into Hollywood Hills East and Hollywood Hills West). The Hollywood Hills neighborhoods nestled in the hills and canyons above Hollywood proper have long attracted the slightly bohemian wealthy of LA. Gritty East Hollywood is home to two of LA’s many officially-recognized ethnic enclaves, Little Armenia and Thai Town. The whole community boasts a diverse ethnic mixture, with large populations of Armenian, English, German, Guatemalan, Mexican, Russian, Salvadoran, and Ukranian-Americans. (Note: North Hollywood is a distinct district in the Valley which neither borders Hollywood nor is considered part of it. West Hollywood is an independent city and thus not part of Los Angeles.
There are other bright spots too. The Egyptian Theater is a treasure. The city’s stand-up and theater scenes continue to be centered there still. It’s also conveniently located geographically in Central LA alongside its neighbors Midtown to the south and the Mideast Side to the east. In addition, the San Fernando Valley lies to the north and the Westside lies to the west.
In 1853, a lone adobe hut stood in what’s now Hollywood but was then known as Nopalera. 17 years later the then-known-as Cahuenga Valley supported a growing agricultural community. It was named Hollywood by the so-called “Father of Hollywood,” H. J. Whitley. The town grew into a largely Mormon community in the 1880s although its population remained small and separated from Los Angeles by a two-hour train ride. Hollywood incorporated as its own city in 1903. The following year, a majority of 113 voters voted to prohibit alcohol, except for valid medical purposes.
Director D. W. Griffith was the filmmaker to shoot in Hollywood with his film, In Old California, released on March 10, 1910. No matter that it couldn’t initially be seen in Hollywood, since the town squares had also seen fit to ban movie theaters. Later in 1910, the sleepy town was annexed by LA, primarily lured by their their reliable water supply. Once part of Los Angeles, movie theaters could open there too.
Nestor Motion Picture Company was the first Hollywood studio to shoot a film locally — an unnamed one, apparently — on October 26, 1911, directed by Al Christie and David and William Horsley. Nestor was started by New Jersey–based Centaur Company to crank out low budget westerns. They established their west coast studio at the corner of Sunset and Gower, in what was nicknamed the Gower Gulch, after a nearby roadhouse. The studio was demolished in 1936.
HOLLYWOOD’S GOLDEN AGE
By 1915, most American films were made in Los Angeles (displacing New York City). From the 1920s to the 1940s it was the center of American film production. It continued to be the center of the American pop music industry through the 1950s.
AFTER “THE INDUSTRY” LEFT
By the 1960s, both of those industries had for the most part completely abandoned the neighborhood. Nonetheless, even today, it still draws tourists hoping to catch a glimpse of its long-faded glamor, thanks largely to savvy marketing. The first stars on the Walk of Fame had been installed a few years earlier, in 1958. Also in the 1960s (and in the name of modernization, most of the beautiful art deco buildings in the area were destroyed to make way for boxier, less-stylized, modern structures. This move did little to attract tourists. However, head shops moved into the neighborhood and attracted hippies, who had at least as much a part in keeping Hollywood vibrant as the destructive redevelopers.
YEARS OF DECLINE
By the 1970s, most of the old hotels had become flophouses. Newly arrived, largely Latino, residents began to move in, attracted by the cheap rents as most remaining whites moved out. Around the same time, many of the sex stores, stripper-wear merchants and porn theatres moved in, followed by an influx of prostitution and drugs. The punk scene arrived not long after, centered around venues like The Masque.
CULTS, CRACK AND CRIME
In the 1980s, the cults arrived. First, The Night People took over an abandoned bank, which came to be known colloquially as Hotel Hell. Soon after, Scientologists and Screamers joined them on the increasingly dystopian scene. During the Crack Era, community groups like the Ivar Hawks, Cherokee Condors, Las Palmas Lions, Wilcox Werewolves, Whitley Rangers and Hudson Howlers fought to reclaim a neighborhood that included areas known as Crack Alley and a bar outside of which some two dozen people were murdered over a very short period of time. Hollywood suffered even further from looting during the 1992 LA Riots.
A COMEBACK OF SORTS
After decades of decline, the area has recently cleaned up considerably — some would argue at the cost of its character. It is undeniably safer and more bustling than it has been in some time. Once vacant lots are now covered with parking structures, malls, apartments, high rises and restaurants. By the mid-2000s, a number of nightclubs began attracting the trustafarian/hipster crowd and came to be known as the Cahuenga Crawl. Old fixtures like The Spotlight, Hollywood’s last old school gay bar, have fallen by the wayside as gentrification and homogenization continues. In another sign of the times, some at the LA Film School have waged an all-out war on the older, beloved, and arguably more useful Hollywood Farmers’ Market. Although Hollywood today may have very little to do with its film history past, and although hallowed institutions are regularly demolished and shut down, it remains a vibrant region with diverse neighborhoods and thriving energy. And for every slick, hangar-sized sushi joint or chain restaurant, there’s usually something more street-level happening around the corner.
And now for the neighborhoods:
Beachwood Canyon refers to a neighborhood nestled In the Hollywood Hills at the lower end of the actual Beachwood Canyon. Though mostly residential, it does have a small area known as Beachwood Village which includes a market, a coffee shop and stables. It has long been a popular neighborhood for celebrities, beginning with movie stars of the silent era. It’s also home to the Lake Hollywood Reservoir, created by the 1924 construction of the Mulholland Dam.
The Bronson Canyon neighborhood lies beneath a Griffith Park-adjacent park of the same name. The nearby Bronson Caves have for many years been a popular shooting location — primarily for low budget serials and films. The neighborhood itself is almost entirely residential.
The Cahuenga Pass neighborhood is located in the lowest pass through the Hollywood Hills. Cahuenga was a Tongva village and the name means “place of the hill.” It was the site of two Mexican skirmishes, the Battle of Cahuenga Pass in 1831 and the Battle of Providencia or Second Battle of Cahuenga Pass in 1845.
Less touristy than Downtown Hollywood to the north, Central Hollywood is nonetheless home to Amoeba Music and the Cinerama Dome, built in 1963 and located across the street. It’s also home to Hollywood’s tallest building, Sunset Vine Tower, which was featured prominently in the 1974 disaster film, Earthquake. Later it was plagued with problems including the presence of asbestos, electrical fires and the popular perception of it being the world’s biggest crackhouse. Nowadays it’s been nicely, if expensively, refurbished. Central Hollywood is also home to the Gower Gulch shopping center and a Ross that continually looks like it was looted during a massive earthquake.
Crescent Heights is the name of a tiny, mostly residential neighborhood located just above West Hollywood‘s Sunset Strip and below the mouth of Laurel Canyon.
Dayton Heights is a small neighborhood with a highly diverse scene, it would seem, as evinced by Chilean food (Rincon Chileno), Caribbean food (Cha Cha Cha), Japanese institutions (Bento Xpress and Fujiya Food Market), a leather bar (Faultline), a playhouse (Moth Theatre Company), Koreaninstitutions (Garam restaurant and the headquarters of the Korean Christian Press), the Slavic Baptist Church of Hollywood, Romero’s Rotisserie Chicken-N-Donuts, and Pizza Pauls.
Downtown Hollywood is centered around the intersection of Hollywood and Vine (aka Bob Hope Square). At the other end is Hollywood and Highland Center. Downtown is where most of the tourist traps are, including the Walk of Fame and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, whose forecourt famously features about 200 handprints, footprints, and autographs left by celebrities over the years. Across the street is the Egyptian Theatre, which opened five years earlier, in 1922.
One of Hollywood’s several, nominal “villages,” this one located at the base of Bronson Canyon. Unlike Virgil Village, Franklin Village actually feels a tiny bit more like a village… or at least a cohesive collection of businesses and residents distinct from its neighbors. It’s the home of Upright Citizens Brigade, Scientology’s Celebrity Centre [notice the “r” before “e” spelling which is posh, OK?] International, Counterpoint Records and Books, the 101 Coffee Shop and Hollywood Tower — the inspiration for Disney‘s Twilight Zone Tower of Terror which itself inspired the first of Disney’s based-on-a-ride films, 1997’s Tower of Terror (followed by 2002’s The Country Bears, 2003’s The Haunted Mansion and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise).
Hel-Mel is an East Hollywood neighborhood named after the intersection of Heliotrope Drive and Melrose Avenue. It’s home to LACC. And even though Pure Luck Vegan sadly closed (and is much missed), it still has the Bicycle Kitchen, Scoops, and tattoo and tobacco places. Plus there are several art galleries and hip here-today-gone-tomorrow music venues and thus it attracts a certain element… you know, militant bikologists.
Hollywood Dell is a Hollywood Hills neighborhood that was home, at various times, to Mary Astor, Charlie Chaplin, Roy Rogers, members of The Rolling Stones, Minnie Driver, Marilyn Manson, Davy Jones, Goldie Hawn, Lindsay Lohan and Doris Roberts. One of the residences was prominently featured in the film, Double Indemnity, as the location of Philip Marlowe‘s home.
Hollywood Heights is roughly bounded by Highland Avenue, Outpost Drive, Franklin Avenue, and south of the beloved Hollywood Bowl. Within it is Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Samuel Freeman House, The Magic Castle, Yamashiro Restaurant, and the Highland-Camrose Bungalow Village. It’s also home to the Highland Gardens Hotel, where Janis Joplin died. The High Tower Apartments were featured in films including The Long Goodbye and Villa Bonita.
HOLLYWOOD STUDIO DISTRICT
Only one major film studio remains in the Hollywood Studio District – Paramount, which moved into the facility in 1926. Sunset Bronson Studios, formerly Warner Brothers Studios, are occupied by KTLA, which was originally owned by Paramount. Other studios include Nickelodeon, EastWest, and Sunset Gower.
Hollywoodland is home to the 45 foot tall Hollywood Sign mounted on Mount Lee. It was originally erected in 1923 to advertise Woodruff and Shoults‘s then-newly-developed Hollywoodland subdivision. The “land” part of the sign was removed in 1949 so that the remaining Hollywood sign could serve as an icon of the entire Hollywood district and entertainment industry. The Hollywood sign that stands today was erected in 1978 and quickly became popular in establishing shots for films set in LA. Because of its exposure, it attracts tourists eager to stand near a big sign. And the people living in the neighborhood, knowing this fact full well, often tear their hair and flesh, beat their breasts, and wake other pitiable demonstrations because of it.
Kingsley Vista is a small, residential neighborhood hemmed in between Normandie, the 101 and Santa Monica Boulevard. It’s home to a couple of restaurants including El Nuevo San Salvador Restaurante #1, Maria’s Ramada, and Sasoun Bakery.
Laurel Canyon came to life as home of some of the burgeoning film industry’s key photo-players and filmmakers. Subsequent generations of hippies in the ’60s, cocaine cowboys in the ’70s and yuppies in the ’80s later moved to the continually desirable location. To read more about Laurel Canyon, click here.
LITTLE ARMENIA – Լիթլ Արմենիայում
Physically-speaking, Little Armenia is one of the grayest, grimmest and grimiest corners of largely gray and grimy East Hollywood. Boxy and outwardly undistinguished strip malls dominate the commercial corridors but close your eyes and open your nose and ears. Home to a large Armenian-American population (and other ethnicities), it boasts numerous Armenian restaurants and bakeries as well as other businesses. To read more about Little Armenia, click here.
Above Laurel Canyon is the neighborhood of Lookout Mountain. It was formerly home of the Air Force-managed 1352d Motion Picture Squadron who used it to make films for the Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission from 1947 to 1963.
The Melrose District (or simply, “Melrose”) attracts tourists and shoppers in search of subcultural uniforms and vintage clothing. Behind the busy shopping district are streets of modest, attractive bungalows mostly built in the early 1920s. There are currently efforts to rename the neighborhood “Melrose Village” …everything needs to be designated a village.
In January 2003, Los Angeles Magazine named Melrose Hill one of Los Angeles‘s “10 Great Neighborhoods.” With cultural establishments limited to the porn-showing Tiki Theatre porn theater and the Met Theatre, it wouldn’t exactly rocket to the top of my list but it does have a healthy assortment of cuisines represented by Bangkok Market, La Casita Colombiana, Catalina’s Market, Choeng Wun, Cinderella’s, Khun Dom, Lucky Grocery Market, Mi Lindo Oaxaca, and now, Tid Lom Thai. There’s also the Lemon Grove Recreation Center and park overlooking the noisy, smoggy 101 freeway.
Mount Olympus is a Hollywood Hills neighborhood developed by Russ Vincent in 1969. It was featured in the mercifully little-seen film, Hollywood Homicide. It’s entrance is announced by a sign held aloft by faux-ancient-Greek columns that some want to destroy because they think it’s tacky. And?
Nichols Canyon is named after John G. Nichols, who served as mayor of LA twice and built the first brick home in the city, which he was also the first to expand the borders of. The Hollywood Hills neighborhood is entirely residential and is centered along winding Nichols Canyon Rd. One of the more famed residents was Father Yod, an ex-marine who founded the Source Family cult, which counted amongst its members, Sky Saxon of The Seeds.
Outpost Estates is a neighborhood in the Hollywood Hills centered along Outpost Drive. It was developed in the 1920s by Charles E. Toberman. As with its neighbor, Hollywoodland, Outpost Estates also advertised itself with a large sign. Unlike Hollywoodland, whose sign (after the removal of the “land”) remains a tourist destination, the once neon-lit Outpost sign lies in ruin, obscured by weeds.
Eight block Spaulding Square‘s borders are Fairfax Ave on the west, Stanley Avenue on the east, Sunset Blvd on the north, and Fountain Avenue on the south. Almost entirely residential, it is nonetheless home to Sam’s on Sunset. It’s named after architect Albert Spaulding, who developed the area between 1916 and 1926. Many of the early residents were silent film stars and filmmakers. In 1993, it was designated a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone.
SUNSET FLATS (aka HOLLYWOOD-SUNSET FLATS)
I’m not entirely sure about the location and boundaries of Sunset Flats – I think it refers to the neighborhood between Hollywood and Sunset, north of Spaulding Square. I’ll add more when I’m positive.SUNSET HILLSSunset Hills is a tiny celebrity enclave looking down from the western Hollywood Hills region onto West Hollywood. According to its Wikipedia entry, “Now [when?] Sunset Hills boasts the largest concentration of celebrities residing in Los Angeles .”
Sunset Junction, originally known as Sanborn Junction, is named after a Pacific Electric Railway stop on the border of Silver Lake and Hollywood. Several neighborhood staples such as the Akbar, El Cid, Solutions(with the “Elliot Smith Mural“) and the Sunset Junction Street Fair are almost always considered to be within Silver Lake but according to both the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council and the placement of the City of Los Angeles‘s Hollywood neighborhood signs suggest otherwise. Further west in the neighborhood is the Little Temple, Point-Point Joint and Sheila Klein‘s outdoor lamppost installation called Vermonica, which appeared fifteen years before Chris Burden‘s similar and better-known Urban Light sculpture at LACMA.
Sunset Plaza is a Hollywood Hills West neighborhood presumably centered along Sunset Plaza Drive which winds up just about the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood all the way to Wonderland Ave.
Los Angeles has the largest Thai population outside of Thailand. It is also home to the world’s first Thai Town which is the cultural, commercial and culinary heart of Thai-America. Every year the streets are closed to cars for a large-scale Songkran festival/สงกรานต์. To read more about Thai Town, click here.
The film industry may have long ago abandoned Hollywood but live theater continues to flourish there. Theater Row is home to Artworks Theater, Celebration Theatre, Elephant Theatre Company, Hudson Theatres, McCadden Place Theatre, National Comedy Theatre, Open First Theatre, The Blank’s 2nd Stage Theatre, The Complex Hollywood, The Lounge Theatre, The Village at Ed Gould Plaza, Theatre East at The Lex Theatre, and Unknown Theatre.
Virgil Village is a neighborhood in East Hollywood with significant numbers of Pinoy and Central American-Americans. It’s located between Hoover, Santa Monica, Vermont and the 101 (bisected by Melrose). It’s home of Amalia’s Guatemalan Restaurant, Cafe 50’s Hollywood, California Bowl, Wah’s Golden Hen, Golfo De Fonseca Restaurant, La Luna Banquet Hall, and Taqueria El Charrito. It’s served by several tiny markets including Lee & Oh Foodmart, Reny Market and Virgil Market. It’s also home to the attractive Ukrainian Orthodox Church of St Vladimir and the well-known karaoke dive bar, the Smog Cutter. The designation was coined around 1994 and soon after, Huell Howser filmed an episode of Visiting… with Huell Howser devoted to it.
So hooray for Hollywood!
To vote for any communities you’d like to see covered in California Fool’s Gold, let me know in the comments. If you’d like a bit of inspiration, there are primers for:
- Imperial County
- Kern County
- Los Angeles County
- Angeles Forest
- the Antelope Valley
- the Channel Islands
- the Eastside
- the Harbor
- Mideast Los Angeles
- Northeast Los Angeles
- Northwest Los Angeles
- the Pomona Valley
- the San Fernando Valley
- the San Gabriel Valley
- the Santa Monica Mountains
- the South Bay
- South Los Angeles’s Eastside
- South Los Angeles’s Westside
- Southeast Los Angeles
- the Verdugos
- the Westside
- Orange County
- Riverside County
- San Bernardino County
- San Diego
- San Diego County
- San Diego City
- San Luis Obispo County
- Santa Barbara County
- Ventura County
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LA, Amoeblog, Boom: A Journal of California, diaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft Contemporary, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, the book Sidewalking, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, CurbedLA, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Ameba, Duolingo, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Mubi, and Twitter.