Hollywood Becomes Tinseltown

The History of the Sign: Hollywood Becomes Tinseltown

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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