Category Archives: California

The history of the Hollywood sign, from public nuisance to symbol of stardom



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George Brich/AP Photo

Leo Braudy, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Every year at the Oscars, the cameras pan to the famed Hollywood sign and its bold white letters.

Ask someone today what the sign symbolizes, and the same words will likely crop up: Movies. Stardom. Glamour.

But as I point in my book on the Hollywood sign, the sign didn’t always represent fame and fortune. As the city changed, so did the meaning of the sign, which, at one point, was even considered a public nuisance.

Come to … Hollywoodland?

California has long possessed the lure of material and personal fulfillment.

What started as a destination for those hoping to strike gold became, in the late 19th century, a mecca for anyone with real or imagined ailments. The state’s temperate climate and natural springs, guidebooks claimed, possessed “restorative powers for weakened dispositions.”

The state’s gold has since been drained, and the quest for perfect health has spread to rest of the country. But the erection of the famed Hollywood sign in 1923 marked the start of another phase, one still with us today.

During that decade, a real estate development group, one of whose principal backers was Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler, built a large sign – essentially a billboard – on an unnamed mountain between the Los Angeles basin and the San Fernando Valley.

“Hollywoodland,” the sign read. Its 40,000 blinking light bulbs advertised a new housing development built to accommodate the city’s surging population, which more than doubled during the 1920s to become the fifth largest in the country, as the city drew people from all over the country for its weather, open spaces and jobs.

A sweeping view of the Hollywoodland sign.
Breve Storia del Cinema

The city of Hollywood had been absorbed into Los Angeles only a decade earlier. At the time, it was a wealthy area that had grudgingly accepted the movie business. Many mansions dotted the hillsides below the sign, and utopian communities like Krotona, the U.S. headquarters of a mystical organization called the Theosophical Society, had sprung up in the foothills and on the flats.

Accordingly, early advertising for Hollywoodland emphasized the development’s exclusivity. It would offer an escape from the smog, dirt and unwelcome neighbors of downtown Los Angeles.

Saving the sign

Because the sign holds such a prominent place in the nation’s cultural imagination today, it may be surprising to learn that it wasn’t until fairly recently that it achieved its iconic status.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the sign makes an appearance in only a few of the movies that were about Hollywood or the movie industry. Other Hollywood institutions, like the Brown Derby restaurant, tended to represent the film world.

In the 1940s, Los Angeles – as both city and symbol – started to change. A dense smog settled over the metropolis, which would be featured as the grim, shadowy setting of noir films like “The Big Sleep” and “Double Indemnity.”

The sign – a little dingier, a little more unslightly – reflected the changing city. Since it was originally intended as an advertisement, few had considered its permanence or long-term significance.

The hillside where it had been built was dangerously steep; workers had cut the letters from thin sheet metal, which they tacked onto telephone poles. Heavy winds could easily rip the letters away, and by the late 1940s, there had been so much deterioration that the city of Los Angeles proposed to tear it down, calling it a dangerous public nuisance.

In this 1978 photograph, workers prepare to lower the last letter of the old Hollywood sign that had stood at the site since the 1920s.
Wally Fong/AP Photo

That dismissive view of the sign began to change in 1949, when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce told the city that it would take over its ownership and maintenance. With that exchange, the “land” suffix was dropped. We could say that this is the point that the Hollywood sign we know today was actually born.

However, improvements and maintenance occurred in fits and starts. By the early 1970s, committees were being formed to “save” the sign in order to restore it beyond shoddy paint jobs and patchwork repairs.

Finally, in 1978 a committee headed by Hugh Hefner and Alice Cooper collected the funds – about US$27,000 per letter – to not simply repair, but rebuild the sign.

Today the big white letters are a permanent fixture in the Los Angeles landscape, and it’s even withstood the attempts of adventurous vandals to emulate the art student who, in 1976, tweaked the sign to read “Hollyweed.”

The ConversationIn their own way, these vandals are trying to carve out their own slice of the Hollywood dream – a quest not for gold or for health, but for recognition and fame, whether by talent, ambition or selfie.

Today the Hollywood sign stands strong.
Reed Saxon/AP Photo

Leo Braudy, Leo S. Bing Chair in English and American Literature, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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How an earthquake in 1906 San Francisco sparked the invention of modern-day Chinatown



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louisraphael/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Joe Upton, University of Sussex

You pass through the Chinese gate and into the red wash of the main thoroughfare. Strings of lanterns hang above you, lighting your passage. To your left, a glaring neon sign blinks on and off, while on your right, pagoda roofing and latticed woodwork adorn an otherwise non-descript building.

It’s clear that you’re walking through Chinatown. But this small, highly-stylised slice of the Orient could be located in almost any Western city in the world – and perhaps surprisingly, almost nowhere in China.

There’s a reason that Chinatowns across the globe bear a strong resemblance to one another. They are a spectacle specifically built and replicated to attract tourists. And they were all spawned from a single event: the great earthquake of San Francisco, in 1906.

A bad reputation

Chinatown existed in San Francisco before the earthquake, too, but the area was despised by the rest of the city. Although the stories of underground tunnels, brothels and opium dens were mostly fabricated, they gave Chinatown an aura of notoriety which marked it out as different and debased.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Arrest_in_chinatown.ogv?embedplayer=yes

Public health investigations found or invented faults fuelled by racist invective. Chinatown was declared a “cancer in the heart of the city”, crowded with the “filth” of an “infamous race”.

In 1882, the widely-supported Chinese Exclusion Act became the first (though sadly not the last) law to exclude a group from the United States on the basis of race or religion: a testament to the levels of antipathy harboured towards the Chinese, and Chinatown.

When the earthquake struck San Francisco, the inhabitants of Chinatown were not even included in the death toll.

Disaster zone: San Francisco’s Chinatown, after the 1906 earthquake.
Chicago Daily News/Wikimedia Commons

Less than one minute’s worth of seismic activity was all it took to change the face of Chinatown forever. Space opened up in the heart of San Francisco. Where once had stood the buildings and streets of Chinatown, there now lay an opportunity to build – and to capitalise.

Influential figures such as mayor E E Schmitz saw a chance to claim the central space for their own, proposing that Chinatown be rebuilt in Hunter’s Point, on the very margins of the city.

A new vision

Nevertheless, the leaders of Chinatown managed to secure the previous location for their community, and began to refashion San Francisco’s Chinatown as an exotic wonderland for non-Chinese visitors. Look Tin Eli and other Chinatown leaders had a vision of an “Oriental city [of] veritable fairy palaces filled with the choicest treasures of the Orient.”

Unlike the brick, Italianate buildings of pre-earthquake Chinatown, which were common throughout the city at the time, Look commissioned buildings that would imitate Chinese design elements. The process was continued two decades later, with Chingwah Lee’s popular seven step plan to make Chinatown a “tourist magnet”.

Amateur hour.
mariosp/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Yet the architects initially responsible for designing this Oriental scene were, in fact, white men who had never visited the Orient; and their designs betray an inexperience with Chinese architecture.

Nevertheless, Look’s creation of an Oriental city was a success. The design of San Francisco’s new Chinatown reestablished a centre of business for the Chinese community, and enticed non-Chinese customers to explore the exotic-looking streets and shops within.

A real phoney?

Throughout the 20th century, most of the West’s Chinatowns went on to mimic San Francisco’s successful, tourism-based model. There are unique features to be found in each of these Chinatowns, yet many of the aesthetic and commercial genes of San Francisco’s post-quake enclave are expressed in its offspring.

New Chinatowns are still being designed and proposed today. For instance, the city of Liverpool in the UK is anticipating the construction of the New Chinatown project, which advertises itself as a “distinctively Chinese urban quarter” and “an utterly unique shopping experience”. The project is designed and managed by UK-based, non-Chinese community companies, but has sought investors from China and Hong Kong.

Chinatown has come to represent a clear, cohesive and supposedly “authentic” idea of the Orient. But it’s based on a version of “Chineseness” designed for consumption by tourists. The identity of Chinatown’s inhabitants is, in fact, far more diverse than its name implies.

What lies beneath?
Thomas Hawk/Flickr, CC BY-NC

In San Francisco, the area is inhabited by migrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China, their American-born offspring, people of other Asian backgrounds and increasingly, people of non-Asian descent. All bring their own political, cultural and social allegiances to the space.

Yet the skyline of modern Chinatown can also be viewed as a response to decades of discrimination; a protective surface defending a vital inner world. San Francisco’s new Chinatown was designed and marketed as a beautiful and fantastical vision, to encourage a new outlook on the space and to make it a more attractive area.

The ConversationUnder threat of relocation to the outskirts of the city, the reconstruction of Chinatown atop its old site was a declaration of fortitude, and its stylised Oriental design was a means of survival. Chinatown’s exotic aesthetic attracted custom and ensured a Chinese presence in the centre of San Francisco — and other cities across the world — for well over a century, and continues to do so today.

Joe Upton, Doctoral Researcher in Chinese American Literature, University of Sussex

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


USA: Sunken Steamship in California



Article: USA – Fort San Juan


The link below is to an article reporting on the discovery of Fort San Juan in northern California, USA.

For more visit:
http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1112905408/archaeologists-find-european-fort-in-the-appalachians-072413/


Article: Bubblegum Alley


The link below is to an article that considers the history of Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo, California, USA.

For more visit:
http://mentalfloss.com/article/48709/sticky-history-san-luis-obispo-californias-bubblegum-alley


Today in History – 15 May 1940


USA: The First McDonald’s Restaurant Opens In San Bernardino, California

On this day in 1940 the first McDonald’s Restaurant opened in San Bernardino, California in the United States. This first restaurant was opened by Richard and Maurice McDonald. Ronald McDonald didn’t arrive on the scene until 1967.

Australia’s first McDonald’s restaurant opened in 1971 in Yagoona (Sydney), New South Wales, Australia. There are now almost 800 McDonald’s restaurants around the country.

For more on McDonald’s and there history visit:
http://www.mcdonalds.com

http://www.aboutmcdonalds.com/mcd/our_company/mcd_history.html

For more on McDonald’s in Australia visit:
http://mcdonalds.com.au

McDonald’s on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/McDonalds

 


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