The Municipal Feud That Made Hollywood

In 1937, a California city just southwest of Hollywood tried to change its name - to Hollywood

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Hollywood is the only neighborhood in Los Angeles with official boundaries. That's not because Jack Nicholson said so. It's because back in 1937, a city just southwest of Hollywood tried to capitalize on its contribution to the film industry by changing its name - to Hollywood.

Stephanie Frank, a doctoral student of planning and development at U.S.C., revives the lost history of this peculiar dispute in the January issue of the Journal of Urban History. Film companies flocked to Hollywood in the 1910s, in large part because it was close to the amenities of downtown Los Angeles but far enough away to be affordable. Hollywood quickly became the cultural capital of the film industry, with tourists rushing there to catch a glimpse of the gilded life.

But production companies themselves continued to expand outward into other areas - primarily Culver City, which became home to a number of major studios, including the giant Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Before long, some Culver City officials began to resent the fact that Hollywood's local economy reaped the benefit of its neighbor's hard work. This inferiority complex received official recognition in 1936, when Culver City adopted a municipal seal with the words "The Heart of Screenland" festooned across the center.

In early June the following year, the Chamber of Commerce adopted the slogan: Culver City, Where Hollywood Movies Are Made. At the very same meeting, Frank reports, one of the chamber's board members suggested taking the additional step of changing the city's name to Hollywood.

Needless to say, Hollywood's own Chamber of Commerce was none too pleased, and "a war of words between the two parties ensued in the local and national press," Frank writes. Hollywood leaders dismissed the move as a "publicity stunt," but Culver City leaders pressed their case - with the head of its Chamber of Commerce claiming that more than 30 percent of motion pictures credited to Hollywood were produced in Culver City. Politicians, post office officials, and even stars themselves got involved, as the dispute monopolized the pages of the Los Angeles Times

The truth, writes Frank, was that Hollywood really was more appealing for tourists than Culver City. In Hollywood proper, you could catch a film premiere at Grauman's Chinese or Egyptian theaters, or see a star out dining at a supper club. In Culver City, you found studios that looked "much more like airplane manufacturing sites than star-filled playgrounds." Undaunted, Culver City's Chamber of Commerce passed the name change by unanimous vote on June 6, 1937, and prepared a petition for its voters.

Ultimately the city of Los Angeles stepped in to settle the contest once and for all. On September 20, the city passed an ordinance establishing the legal boundaries for Hollywood: Hyperion Avenue, to the east, the border of Beverly Hills, to the west, Melrose Avenue, to the south, and Hollywood Hills, to the north. In October, representatives from both Hollywood and Culver City took part in a reconciliation ceremony - arriving at Grauman's Chinese in a "gilded coach drawn by four white horses," Frank reports.

That put an end to the scuffle, but in some sense the feud formed a foundation for what Frank calls "the larger tradition of intrametropolitan conflict that bore postwar neighborhood skirmishes and NIMBYism":

Los Angeles is hardly unique when it comes to boundary making, conflict, or competition. While we tend to focus on cities competing at regional, national, and international scales, the local level is often the most contested space. This is so when municipalities find themselves in competition for external economic infusions, such as jobs provided by national or international corporations (which control the film industry) or tourism.

Or, as Jack might put it: some places just can't handle the truth.

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