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The Rise of Stardom

The Rise of Stardom

By Luke Carothers

Stardom and Hollywood are inextricably linked in modern American culture.  Located just northwest of downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood has been the epicenter of the American film industry for more than a century.  Like most places, Hollywood has changed over time, and its progress has not always been linear.  The history of Hollywood as a community is indicative of the very industry it represents in that it speaks of the importance of connection and development.  

Three years after Los Angeles was incorporated the first structure was erected in what would later be known as Hollywood, but it wouldn’t be for another 30 years until the area was laid out for larger development.  The first plan for the area came in 1887 when Harvey Wilcox–a prohibitionist from Kansas–laid the area out as a real-estate subdivision.  In subsequent years, real estate developers such as H.J. Whitley made significant investments in the area, turning it into a wealthy residential neighborhood.  17 years after the area was laid out, it had grown into a bustling community complete with a hotel, post office, and newspaper.  In 1803, the population voted to incorporate Hollywood as a municipality, and it was incorporated the following year in 1804.

Despite an immediate boom, the future growth of Hollywood was hampered by the local terrain.  Its location between the Santa Monica Mountains and Beverly Hills meant that transportation to the newly established community was limited.  At the turn of the 20th century, Hollywood and Los Angeles were separated by almost ten miles of farms, groves, and vineyards.  This made travel between the two communities difficult, and infrequent transportation made the arduous journey last up to two hours.  Additionally, despite the area having state-of-the-art telephone, gas, and electric utilities, the future growth of the community was severely limited by inadequate access to water.

Around this time, the motion picture industry began to establish itself in the then-isolated suburb.  In 1908, the Selig Polyscope Company made the decision to move locations for their production of the Count of Monte Cristo.  Moving from Chicago, the production selected Hollywood as the place to finish their film.  Soon after, film studios began to appear in Hollywood, and, by 1915, it had become the center of the American film industry.  With a rise in industry and the population to support it, the leaders of Hollywood had to search for solutions to their lack of critical infrastructure.

At the same time the Count of Monte Cristo was finishing its production, the City of Los Angeles began construction on the Los Angeles Viaduct.  This massive infrastructure project–requiring nearly 4,000 workers–was designed to greatly improve the city’s water supply through a 215-mile long conduit system consisting of six reservoirs.  Seeing a solution to these infrastructure problems, Hollywood residents voted to consolidate with Los Angeles in 1910.  This vote granted Hollywood access to the Los Angeles’ water supply and sewer system, which supported its growing population and industry.  

The Los Angeles Viaduct was completed three years after the consolidation vote, and with it, both Los Angeles and Hollywood began to grow rapidly.  By the time of the Great Depression, this consolidation would also prove to benefit Los Angeles, as the money generated from the film industry shielded the city from the worst financial effects of the era.  And, in the time since, the vast network of groves and vineyards that separated the two communities gave way to a network of streets, highways, homes, and businesses.  Likewise, the Los Angeles Viaduct has also expanded, with a new portion completed in 1970.

What remains unchanged, however, is Hollywood’s position as the center for the film industry in the United States.  From the modern perspective, this position is unquestioned, but this ubiquity lies at the heart of the common misconception that stars are born that way.  In reality, stars need to be supported, cultivated, and empowered to shine to their true potential.  Like Hollywood itself, a star needs infrastructure and support to achieve its highest potential and rise above the others.  What started as an idea from a Kansas prohibitionist to form a community based on his religious beliefs has changed over time into a center for culture and industry, which has, in turn, influenced not only the development of greater Los Angeles but also the fabric of American culture. 

Luke Carothers is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at lcarothers@zweiggroup.com.