In 1853, one adobe hut stood in Nopalera, named for the Mexican nopal cactus indigenous to the area. By 1870, an agricultural community flourished in the area with thriving crops of many common and exotic varieties. The area was known to these residents as the Cahuenga Valley, after the pass in the Santa Monica Mountains immediately to the north. Soon thereafter, land speculation lead to subdivision of the large plots and an influx of homeowners.
In spite of the area's short history, it has been filled with events driven by optimistic progress. The name Hollywood was coined by H. J. Whitley, the "Father of Hollywood". Whitley arranged to buy the 500-acre (2.0 km2) E.C. Hurd ranch and disclosed to him his plans for the land. They agreed on a price and Hurd agreed to sell at a later date. Before Whitley got off the ground with Hollywood, plans for the new town had spread to General Harrison Gray Otis, Mr Hurd's wife, Mrs. Daeida Wilcox, and numerous others through the mill of gossip and land speculation.
Daeida learned of the name Hollywood from her neighbor in Holly Canyon (now Lake Hollywood), Ivar Weid, a prominent investor and friend of Whitley's. She recommended the same name to her husband, H. H. Wilcox. On February 1, 1887, Harvey filed a deed and map of property he sold with the Los Angeles County Recorder's office. Harvey wanted to be the first to record it on a deed. The early real-estate boom busted that same year, yet Hollywood began its slow growth.
By 1900, the region had a post office, newspaper, hotel, and two markets. Los Angeles, with a population of 102,479 lay 10 miles (16 km) east through the vineyards, barley fields, and citrus groves. A single-track streetcar line ran down the middle of Prospect Avenue from it, but service was infrequent and the trip took two hours. The old citrus fruit-packing house would be converted into a livery stable, improving transportation for the inhabitants of Hollywood.
Construction of the famous Hollywood Hotel, the first major hotel in Hollywood, was opened in 1902, by H. J. Whitley, by then-President of the Los Pacific Boulevard and Development Company of which he was a major shareholder. Having finally acquired the Hurd ranch and subdivided it, Whitley built the hotel to attract land buyers, and was eager to sell these residential lots among the lemon ranches lining the foothills. Flanking the west side of Highland Avenue, the structure fronted on Prospect Avenue, which, still a dusty, unpaved road, was regularly graded and graveled. The Hotel was to become internationally known and was the center of the civic and social life and home of the stars for many years. His company was developing and selling one of the early residential areas, the Ocean View Tract. Whitley did much to promote the area. He paid many thousands of dollars for electric lighting, including bringing electricity and building a bank, as well as a road into the Cahuenga Pass. The lighting ran for several blocks down Prospect Avenue. Whitley's land was centered on Highland Avenue.
Hollywood was incorporated as a municipality on November 14, 1903. The vote was 88 for incorporation and 77 against. On January 30, 1904, the voters in Hollywood decided, by a vote of 113 to 96, for the banishment of liquor in the city, except when it was being sold for medicinal purposes. Neither hotels nor restaurants were allowed to serve wine or liquor before or after meals.
By 1910, because of an ongoing struggle to secure an adequate water supply, town officials voted for Hollywood to be annexed into the City of Los Angeles, as the water system of the growing city had opened the Los Angeles Aqueduct and was piping water down from the Owens River in the Owens Valley. Another reason for the vote was that Hollywood could have access to drainage through Los Angeles' sewer system. With annexation, the name of Prospect Avenue was changed to Hollywood Boulevard and all the street numbers in the new district changed. For example, 100 Prospect Avenue, at Vermont Avenue, became 6400 Hollywood Boulevard; and 100 Cahuenga Boulevard, at Hollywood Boulevard, changed to 1700 Cahuenga Boulevard.
Filmmaking in the greater Los Angeles area preceded the establishment of filmmaking in Hollywood. The Biograph Company filmed the short film A Daring Hold-Up in Southern California in Los Angeles in 1906. The first studio in the Los Angeles area was established by the Selig Polyscope Company in Edendale, with construction beginning in August 1909.
Prolific director D. W. Griffith was the first to make a motion picture in Hollywood. His 17-minute short film In Old California, which was released on 10 March 1910, was filmed entirely in the village of Hollywood for Biograph. Although Hollywood banned movie theaters—of which it had none—before annexation that year, Los Angeles had no such restriction. The first film by a Hollywood Studio, Nestor Motion Picture Company, was shot on October 26, 1911. The Whitley home was used as its set, and the unnamed movie was filmed in the middle of their groves on the corner of Whitley Ave and Hollywood Boulevard by directors Al Christie and David and William Horsley.
Various producers and filmmakers moved bases from the east coast to escape punitive licensing from the Motion Picture Patents Company.
The first studio in Hollywood was established by the New Jersey–based Centaur Co., which wanted to make westerns in California. They rented an unused roadhouse at 6121 Sunset Boulevard at the corner of Gower, and converted it into a movie studio in October 1911, calling it Nestor Studio after the name of the western branch of their company. The first feature film made specifically in a Hollywood studio, in 1914, was The Squaw Man, directed by Cecil B. DeMille and Oscar Apfel, and was filmed at the Lasky-DeMille Barn among other area locations.
By 1911, Los Angeles was second only to New York in motion picture production, and by 1915, the majority of American films were being produced in the Los Angeles area.
Four major film companies — Paramount, Warner Bros., RKO and Columbia — had studios in Hollywood, as did several minor companies and rental studios. Hollywood had begun its dramatic transformation from sleepy suburb to movie production capital. The residential and agrarian Hollywood Boulevard of 1910 was virtually unrecognizable by 1920 as the new commercial and retail sector replaced it. The sleepy town was no more, and, to the chagrin of many original residents, the boom town could not be stopped.
By 1920, Hollywood had become world-famous as the center of the United States film industry. In 1918, HJ Whitley commissioned architect A.S. Barnes to design Whitley Heights as a Mediterranean-style village on the steep hillsides above Hollywood Boulevard, and it became the first celebrity community. The neighborhood is roughly bordered on the north and east by Cahuenga Boulevard, on the west by Highland Avenue, and on the south by Franklin Avenue. Among Whitley Heights' many famous residents have been Rudolph Valentino, Barbara Stanwyck, W.C. Fields, Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, William Powell. Tyrone Power, Gloria Swanson, Rosalind Russell, Judy Garland, and Marlene Dietrich.
From the 1920s to the 1940s, a large percentage of transportation to and from Hollywood was by means of the red cars of the Pacific Electric Railway.
On January 22, 1947, the first commercial television station west of the Mississippi River, KTLA, began operating in Hollywood. In December of that year, The Public Prosecutor became the first network television series to be filmed in Hollywood. In the 1950s, music recording studios and offices began moving into Hollywood. Other businesses, however, continued to migrate to different parts of the Los Angeles area, primarily to Burbank. Much of the movie industry remained in Hollywood, although the district's outward appearance changed.
In 1952, CBS built CBS Television City on the corner of Fairfax Avenue and Beverly Boulevard, on the former site of Gilmore Stadium. CBS's expansion into the Fairfax District pushed the unofficial boundary of Hollywood farther south than it had been. CBS's slogan for the shows taped there was "From Television City in Hollywood..."
During the early 1950s the famous Hollywood Freeway was constructed from Four Level Interchange interchange in downtown Los Angeles, past the Hollywood Bowl, up through Cahuenga Pass and into the San Fernando Valley. In the early days, streetcars ran up through the pass, on rails running along the central median.
The famous Capitol Records Building on Vine St. just north of Hollywood Boulevard was built in 1956. The building houses offices and recording studios, which are not open to the public, but its circular design looks like a stack of 7-inch (180 mm) vinyl records.
The now derelict lot at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Serrano Avenue was once the site of the illustrious Hollywood Professional School, whose alumni reads like a Hollywood Who's Who of household "names". Many of these former child stars attended a "farewell" party at the commemorative sealing of a time capsule buried on the lot.
The Hollywood Walk of Fame was created in 1958 as a tribute to artists and other significant contributors within the entertainment industry. Official groundbreaking occurred on February 8, 1960, and the first star to be permanently installed was that of director Stanley Kramer (not Joanne Woodward, as commonly related). A detailed history of the Walk can be found in the Walk of Fame main article. Honorees receive a star based on their achievements in motion pictures, live theatre, radio, television, and/or music, as well as their charitable and civic contributions.
In 1985, the Hollywood Boulevard Commercial and Entertainment District was officially listed in the National Register of Historic Places protecting important buildings and ensuring that the significance of Hollywood's past would always be a part of its future.
In June 1999, the Hollywood extension of the Los Angeles County Metro Rail Red Line subway opened, running from Downtown Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley, with stops along Hollywood Boulevard at Western Avenue, Vine Street and Highland Avenue.
The Kodak Theatre, which opened in 2001 on Hollywood Boulevard at Highland Avenue, where the historic Hollywood Hotel once stood, has become the new home of the Oscars.
While motion picture production still occurs within the Hollywood district, most major studios are actually located elsewhere in the Los Angeles region. Paramount Pictures is the only major studio still physically located within Hollywood. Other studios in the district include the aforementioned Jim Henson (formerly Chaplin) Studios, Sunset Gower Studios, and Raleigh Studios.
While Hollywood and the adjacent neighborhood of Los Feliz served as the initial homes for all of the early television stations in the Los Angeles market, most have now relocated to other locations within the metropolitan area. KNBC began this exodus in 1962, when it moved from the former NBC Radio City Studios located at the northeast corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street to NBC Studios in Burbank. KTTV pulled up stakes in 1996 from its former home at Metromedia Square on Sunset Boulevard to relocate to Bundy Drive in West Los Angeles. KABC-TV moved from its original location at ABC Television Center (now branded The Prospect Studios) just east of Hollywood to Glendale in 2000, though the Los Angeles bureau of ABC News still resides at Prospect. After being purchased by 20th Century Fox in 2001, KCOP left its former home on La Brea Avenue to join KTTV on the Fox lot. The CBS Corporation-owned duopoly of KCBS-TV and KCAL-TV moved from its longtime home at CBS Columbia Square on Sunset Boulevard to a new facility at CBS Studio Center in Studio City. KTLA and KCET, both located on Sunset Boulevard, are the last broadcasters (television or radio) with Hollywood addresses.
In addition, Hollywood once served as the home of nearly every radio station in Los Angeles, all of which have now moved into other communities. KNX was the last station to broadcast from Hollywood, when it left CBS Columbia Square for a studio in the Miracle Mile in 2005.
In 2002, a number of Hollywood citizens began a campaign for the district to secede from Los Angeles and become, as it had been a century earlier, its own incorporated municipality. Secession supporters argued that the needs of their community were being ignored by the leaders of Los Angeles. In June of that year, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors placed secession referendums for both Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley on the ballots for a "citywide election." To pass, they required the approval of a majority of voters in the proposed new municipality as well as a majority of voters in all of Los Angeles. In the November election, both referendums failed by wide margins in the citywide vote.
Hollywood is served by several neighborhood councils, including the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council (HUNC) and the Hollywood Studio District Neighborhood Council. These two groups are part of the network of neighborhood councils certified by the City of Los Angeles Department of Neighborhood Empowerment. Neighborhood Councils cast advisory votes on such issues as zoning, planning, and other community issues. The council members are voted in by stakeholders, generally defined as anyone living, working, owning property, or belonging to an organization within the boundaries of the council.