Design and Preservation

by Victoria Hochberg, Chair, Design and Preservation Committee


For the first in a series of columns about the history of our neighborhood, following is an excerpt from a welcoming speech given by Victoria Hochberg to members of the Hollywood Heights Association.

I had been living in Hollywood for one week when I noticed a crew tearing down the beautiful old street lamps on Highland Avenue from the Hollywood Bowl all the way to Franklin Avenue.  I had just gotten my first film job, so I couldn’t have cared less about street lamps.  But the image of those old beauties disappearing and being replaced by sterile cobra lights kind of ate at me.  I kept saying to myself, “Why get involved?  I have more important things to do with my time.”

I wrote a letter to the Director, Bureau of Street Lighting. He replied in prose that, though designed as a sleeping aid, actually began to wake me up: “All project processing has been done in accordance with program guidelines which do not require notification of the communities of the removal of street lights.”  By the time I got the letter, all the old lamps were gone.  Still, I said to myself, “Why get involved?  I have more important things to do with my time.” 

I was fascinated by Hollywood.  Not the glitter.  The geography.

A long time ago, Hollywood was a vast, empty cactus-strewn land.  The narrow pass that cut through the prehistoric hills was the feeding ground for dumb, powerful animals who went for the jugular.  (I want to state unequivocally that I am not referring to executives at Universal Studios.)

Then came man. 

The native Indians lived in a settlement called Cabueg-na.  There was a stream that ran down the hill into the flatlands.  Many disputes were fought over who could drink from it.  And do their laundry. (Water disputes in Southern California never cease.) When Junipero Serra walked from Mexico to Alta California, he strolled through our neighborhood.  At the end of the procession was a man whose job was to fling mustard seeds every few steps.  That way, when the group staggered back the following spring, the bright mustard blossoms created a kind of botanical yellow brick road for them to follow home. 

Once the Missions were in place, the narrow cut in the hill was more frequently traveled, first by mule, then horse and wagon. Cattle and sheep grazed in the cactus forest called La Nopalera.  When Mexico freed itself from Spain, there was infighting among leaders who sought to rule over more territory.  This was the era of the ‘ranchos’. (Today known as ‘supervisory districts.’) 

In 1853, one adobe hut stood in the area we now call Hollywood. The first house was the “Out-Post’, built in 1855.  But the Americans proliferated. One settler named Weid came with two children, a son named Ivar and a daughter named Selma.  Ditto a sugar cane farmer named John T. Gower.  Early residents took sections divided into 160 acres each.  The corner of what is now Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga cost less than $1.25 an acre.  (Current value per acre: more than $8 million.)  

Travel through the pass was a problem, so an entrepreneur named ‘Greek George’ developed a thriving business using camels to carry people and goods.  (This was the original rent-a-neck.)

In 1887 Horace Wilcox bought a large tract of land, laying out streets lined with pepper trees to create a ‘sylvan glade’.  His wife, Daeida, while traveling back East on a train, met a woman who spoke of her home in Ohio called ‘Hollywood’.  Daeida loved the name and bestowed upon her Wilcox ranch.  The more popular but disputed legend is that Hollywood was named for the native ‘Toyon’ (California Holly) that covered the hillsides.

Hollywood, and The Hollywood Hills, and the Hollywood Heights Association would soon follow.  But that part of the story shall be continued next time.......




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