It's been touted as the world's most famous intersection. Radio station KFWB boasted that it broadcasted from the corner, and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper popularized it as a prime location for celebrity sightings. Given this glamorous past, it might seem unlikely that the rectangle of pavement where Hollywood Boulevard meets Vine Street began as the dusty crossroads of Prospect and Weyse avenues.
Hollywood was little more than a dream, a boom-time subdivision etched onto the Cahuenga Valley's fertile plain, when the intersection appeared on an 1887 map produced by town founders Horace and Daeida Wilcox. The Wilcoxes named Weyse Avenue (present-day Vine Street) after a real-estate developer -- likely Otto Weyse -- who impressed them with his ambitious but never-realized plans for a grand Hotel Hollywood. The name of the intersecting street, Prospect Avenue (now Hollywood Boulevard), meanwhile, was a holdover from an earlier subdivision, platted by onetime miner John Bower.
In its early years, the intersection sat among scented lemon groves, made possible by the Cahuenga Valley's frost-free microclimate. The quiet of the rural crossroads was interrupted only by the steam locomotives of the Cahuenga Valley Railroad, which passed through the intersection down the center of Prospect Avenue.
Years passed before the intersection acquired its now-familiar name. Weyse Avenue was the first of the two roads to acquire a new name. After the failure of Weyse's hotel, the road was rebranded as Vine Street, an appellation inspired by the grapevines then growing just north of present-day Santa Monica Boulevard. Prospect Avenue did not become Hollywood Boulevard until the once-independent city of Hollywood consolidated with Los Angeles in 1910. Finally, Hollywood and Vine was on the map.
The intersection's agricultural character gradually gave way to a more urban feel. In 1903, a Methodist church replaced lemon trees on the southeast corner. Twenty years later, the 12-story Taft Building -- Hollywood's first limit-height structure -- arose from the same spot. Its neighbors on the intersection soon followed: the southwest corner's Broadway Hollywood department store (built 1927) and the northeast's Equitable Building (1929) and Pantages Theatre (1930). Three of these structures topped out near 150 feet in height (then the legal limit in Los Angeles), giving the intersection a verticality that announced itself from afar. On the northwest corner, meanwhile, a succession of eateries -- Carl Laemmle's CoCo Tree Café, a Melody Lane restaurant, a Hody's diner, a relocated Brown Derby, and a Howard Johnson's -- fed Hollywood tourists inside low-slung buildings until a 2008 structure fire rendered the corner vacant.
But the intersection was mainly famous for association with the entertainment industry, one reinforced by its proximity to prominent production facilities. In 1913, Cecil B. DeMille produced the first Hollywood feature film one block away at Selma and Vine, inside a barn on Jacob Stern's citrus ranch. In 1938, NBC opened its West Coast radio studios another block south at Sunset and Vine, and the Capitol Records building has towered over Vine Street since 1956. Stargazing tourists flocked to "filmland's crossroads." But by the time its sidewalks became home to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the 1950s, it had already entered a long, painful period of decline -- one reversed only within the past decade and a half.
L.A. as Subject is an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, cultural institutions, and private collectors. Hosted by the USC Libraries, L.A. as Subject is dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden stories and histories of the Los Angeles region.