Despite males dominating lead roles in Hollywood, we have a woman to thank for the vital beginnings of what we now know as the City of Hollywood.
Nearly 38 years prior to the Hollywood Sign adorning Mount Lee, the rumblings of Hollywood began brewing. Daeida Hartell married Harvey Henderson Wilcox, a prohibitionist 30 years her senior who had excelled in Kansas real estate and dominated Republican politics. The two shared religious beliefs, a sense of adventure and the love of land and architectural development.
Shortly after marrying in Topeka, Kansas, the newlyweds moved to Los Angeles to be closer to Harvey’s family. Despite him contracting polio at the age of 13 and being confined to a wheelchair, the couple welcomed a son named Harry. Harvey was unable to have children with his first wife, putting additional pressure on the newlyweds to start a family. Sadly, at just 18 months old the boy passed away due to unknown causes. To aid their heartbreak, the couple took weekly carriage rides through the Cahuenga Valley.
Daeida fell in love with the fruit baring countryside and requested her husband claim a portion. In 1886, Harvey purchased 120 acres for $18,000 which would be nearly half a million dollars by todays standards.
Following a failed attempt at developing fig and apricot orchards, they decided it would be best to turn to their passion — development.
As noted in The Beacon Journal and confirmed by The Chicago Tribune, Daeida took the train back to Kansas where her family had relocated to. A conversation sparked with a train passenger named Mary Peck who raved about her estate in Illinois dubbed “Hollywood”. Daeida instantly knew the name was a fit for their California development and upon arriving home, she shared the name with Harvey.
In February 1887, official plat documents outlining “Hollywood” were filed with the Los Angeles Recorder’s office. By August, Mexican and Chinese workers had successfully propagated pepper plants and the land was subdivided into lots priced at $1000 apiece.
Centered around what is now Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, the land sold quickly, much of it to wealthy families from eastern states who heard about the prestigious Christian community.
Daeida hadn’t given up on her fruit trees. With their real estate plan booming, she had time to plot fig trees and plan additional developments and amenities necessary for their new neighbors.
Harvey passed away in 1891 leaving a heartbroken Daeida to pursue further developments with the fortune of $100,000 ($2.7 million today) he left behind. Daeida maintained her and Harvey’s vision of a liquor free Christian community, free of firearms and questionable hangouts like bowling alleys and pool halls.
In 1894 she married Philo J. Beveridge, son of former Illinois Republican Governor John Lourie Beveridge. The pair continued Hollywood’s growth by establishing the first library, city hall, the Hollywood National Bank and Citizens Savings Bank, a police station that housed 2 officers and one jail cell, the post office which still stands today, and a primary school. She provided land, free of charge for 3 Christian churches, unconcerned with their denominations. Daeida donated portions of her personal estate to beloved artist Paul de Longpre which included a mansion with art gallery, in exchange for 3 of his paintings. Cyclists were strictly prohibited from using the newly constructed sidewalks.
The “Mother of Hollywood” as she was often referred to, had accomplished her dream. By 1903, Hollywood was established as an official municipality. Though the city was thriving, just 7 years later, residents pushed for incorporation due to water shortages. Daeida and several prominent figures in the community opposed incorporation, sighting the increased costs and loss of power to alien developers may be detrimental to the integrity of Hollywood. Though the vote was close, in 1910, Hollywood merged with the City of Los Angeles, gaining access to the water supply and sewer system. The Mother of Hollywood was powerless in the decision as women were not permitted to vote until 1920.
It took studios and production companies a year to realize the potential of Hollywood. With low prices, great weather and the beautiful mountainous backdrop, Hollywood was the place to be. Though Hollywood had banned theaters, the studios fell outside restrictions and were quick to put down roots. Paramount, Columbia, Warner Bros and RKO all took up residence in Hollywood in 1911.
Sadly, Daeida passed away in 1914 of cancer. With the Mother of Hollywood unable to maintain the core Christian values Hollywood once lived by, the city’s ban on alcohol was lifted and Tinseltown ushered in the roaring 20s and Golden Era.
In 1923, the Hollywoodland Sign graced Mount Lee, advertising a nearby development by the same name. Due to the recognition it gave the city, the sign was shortened to Hollywood and left standing for a miraculous 55 years. The sign wasn’t constructed to handle years of weathering and was replaced in 1978. The iconic sign oversaw the film industry’s growth from humble beginnings to the mega industry Hollywood is known for today.
Would Daeida and Harvey be proud of the colossal giant Hollywood has grown to? The glitz and glam the famous city oozes often struggles to overshadow the sin and misfortune the upscale lifestyle brings to Hollywood hopefuls. As arguably one of the most successful cities in the United States, Hollywood has surpassed Harvey and Daeida’s wildest dreams.