A century ago, many of Los Angeles' defining landmarks, including the Hollywood sign, L.A. Memorial Coliseum, Disney and Mulholland Highway, were first established. The creation of these landmarks coincided with L.A.'s rise as a culturally influential major U.S. city.
Learn about the history of L.A.'s rapid development during this time, with UCLA Library Special Collections materials as a guide.
What is currently known as the “Hollywood” sign was originally a sign for “Hollywoodland,” a housing development in the Hollywood Hills designed by the architect S. H. Woodruff in 1923. The conception of “Hollywoodland” coincided with the rise of the Golden Age of Hollywood and the boom of film production in Los Angeles. In the 1920s, the city was still being established as a nationally recognized cultural hub. The developments of S. H. Woodruff during this time, particularly the construction of what would become the famous Hollywood Sign, contributed to the excitement and mythology surrounding the new city. Though the development was only 500 acres, its influence has spanned a century with the Hollywood Sign being one of Los Angeles’ central landmarks.
Harry Chandler, a Los Angeles Times publisher and real estate investor, funded the sign as a marketing tactic to advertise the housing development. In the early 20th century, the sign was unlike anything ordinary people had been exposed to in its grandiosity. After its initial construction, the pristine white sign shone in the LA sun by day and was lit with bright bulbs lining the letters by night. However, with the onset of the Great Depression in 1929, maintenance on the sign stopped and it seemed Chandler’s investment had failed. The dilapidated sign was thought to be symbolic of the immoral excess of Hollywood, which was crumbling as the economy tanked. Eventually, the sign was called an “eye sore” by some residents, and there was a petition to demolish it. In 1949, the city instead decided to restore the damaged letters and remove the “land” from the name, establishing its presence as the historic landmark we know today. The Hollywood Sign has undergone several renovations since, including a new coat of paint in 2022 ahead of its 100th anniversary.
The Huxley House, an estate previously owned by the famous writer, Aldous Huxley, appears in the photo alongside the “Hollywoodland” sign.
Beyond UCLA Library Digital Collections(opens in a new tab), you can find additional materials regarding the Hollywood Sign’s history through the collection “Album of photographs relating to development of Hollywoodland and Dana Point, California, 1923-1929(opens in a new tab).”
Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum
In 1921, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was commissioned as a memorial to the Los Angeles veterans of World War I, in a Joint Powers Agreement between the City and County of Los Angeles and the California Science Center. Construction began in late December 1921 and finally completed in May 1923. The photo above shows the initial phase of construction when the imposing landmark was a mere pile of dirt undergoing a massive transformation. A small trench appears nestled in the mound, marking what could be one of the first entrances into the stadium.
The Memorial Coliseum hosted its inaugural event, the World’s First Motion Picture Exposition, from July 2 to August 4, 1923. Since then, the venue has evolved, and it now hosts entertainment experiences, such as concerts with the biggest names in the music industry and major sporting events. The coliseum was the home stadium of the UCLA Bruins until 1982 when they subsequently changed stadiums to accommodate space for the Oakland Raiders during the NFL season. Today, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is home to USC.
The Hearst Metrotone News Collection(opens in a new tab) stewarded by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, a division of UCLA Library, includes clips of football games in the stadium from some of its early decades. In 1942, Hollywood comedians played against leading actors for charity and the U.S.O with Rita Hayworth and Betty Grable as rival captains, marking one of the stadium’s earliest existing recordings.
Chances are, if you’ve visited a Disney amusement park this past year, you’ve passed by decorations for Disney’s 100th anniversary! Walt Disney first founded the Walt Disney Company alongside his brother, Roy O. Disney, in 1923. That same year, Disney opened his first office in Los Feliz on Kingswell Avenue. This would serve as the foundation and creative hub for Disney until 1926.
While Disneyland isn’t celebrating its 100th anniversary until 2055, Disney’s first beginnings took place here in Los Angeles one hundred years ago.
This photo from UCLA Library Digital Collections shows Walt Disney and his granddaughter riding on a burro, a small donkey. From 1955-1973, Disneyland had attractions featuring park burros and mules, where the mules would carry children across the Frontierland terrain.
Devoted Disney fans can search through the Los Angeles Times Photographic Collection to discover photographs from Disney news coverage of years past. The Los Angeles Times Photographic Collection provides a visual historical record of movements, events, institutions and people in Los Angeles from approximately 1935-1990. The extensive coverage of the entertainment industry, including the Walt Disney Company, holds special importance and relevance to many Angelenos today.
Mulholland Highway Groundbreaking
The construction of two of Los Angeles’ most infamous roads, Mulholland Drive and Mulholland Highway, began a century ago in 1923. DeWitt Reaburn, the construction engineer responsible for the project, believed the Mulholland Highway was going to be one of the best-known and most traveled scenic roads in the United States. The roads were dedicated to William Mulholland, a civil engineer famous for his construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct.
Spanning 55 miles across Los Angeles County, the Mulholland Highway stretches along the City of Calabasas in the San Fernando Valley to the picturesque shores of Malibu running through the Santa Monica mountain range. The road offers views of Hollywood Park, San Fernando Valley and Universal City. Just past Topanga Canyon Boulevard (California State Route 27), Mulholland Highway splits off from Mulholland Drive and continues southwest. Its reputation today stands as a scenic mountain drive heading towards the Pacific Coast Highway.
This photograph above from a collection of Mulholland Highway, City of Los Angeles photographs, documents a phase of construction of the Mulholland Highway. It is one of many photographs from the collection illustrating the construction scenes of the period, with others showing workers blasting, drilling and digging using steam shovels and mule teams. There are also shots of construction camps with tents set up to house workers and mountain-top fire lookout stations manned by fire lookouts, while others document trees and plants in the area, such as eucalyptus trees and poinsettia gardens, and homes in various canyons, including the residences of "Mrs. Curlew" and film director Clarence Badger. The album is part of the larger Photograph Album collection in Library Special Collections.
For devoted UCLA Football enthusiasts, the Rose Bowl is definitely a recognizable location. Although it was built and finalized in late 1922, the Rose Bowl was not officially dedicated until January 1, 1923. Located in Pasadena, the Rose Bowl stands as California’s largest stadium and is among one of the top 20 largest stadiums in the world. Despite the word “bowl” in its name, ironically, it was originally built in the shape of a horseshoe. With several expansions over time, the stadium adopted its current bowl shape.
The location was designed by architect Myron Hunt, a notable figure who also constructed other iconic landmarks nearby Pasadena, such as the Huntington Library and Occidental College.
Much like the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Rose Bowl is renowned for its versatile hosting capabilities. It has been a venue for a wide array of entertainment events, ranging from concerts and music festivals featuring artists such as Beyoncé, to serving as a site for parts of the Olympic Games.
As of 1982, the Rose Bowl is the home stadium of the UCLA Bruins football team after they moved from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
UCLA’s First Graduation
A century ago, the academic landscape of UCLA was quite different from today. Back then, the school was known as the Southern Branch of the University of California and was located in downtown Los Angeles. It exclusively offered only two-year degree programs, with June 1923 being the first graduation for this program. Despite student demand, the UC Board of Regents and UC President were initially hesitant to introduce bachelor’s degrees to the Southern Branch. By the end of 1923, the administration approved the change, allowing the branch to develop a three-year and four-year bachelor's degree program.
The initial graduating class comprised only 28 students, despite the initial class in 1919 consisting of 1420 students, with the Bachelor of Education being the sole degree of graduating students. By 1925, 124 students graduated with the first Bachelor of Arts degrees offered by the Southern Branch via the College of Letters and Sciences.
To explore more collections and articles regarding Los Angeles history, visit our news section(opens in a new tab). More Los Angeles materials are available through UCLA Library Digital Collections(opens in a new tab) and collections held by UCLA Library Special Collections(opens in a new tab).