Hollywood Boulevard came into existence in 1910, when Prospect Avenue saw its name changed to Hollywood Boulevard. This was Hollywood’s main street, full of stores, churches and theaters. As the town grew, and especially when movie studios moved to the area, the street boomed, with ever larger businesses and hotels taking the place of mom-and-pop stores. Elegant, stylish boutiques soon lined the streets.
The merchants along the street hoped to maintain the positive momentum of busy shop-goers along the boulevard, and created the Hollywood Boulevard Assn. in April 1928 to publicize in Hollywood and Los Angeles newspapers, as well as to create special stunts to attract business. As one of their ads states in the June 10, 1928, Los Angeles Times, “Because of its enviable position as the main artery of Hollywood, the motion picture capital of the world, and also because it is the natural metropolitan center for a population of more than 350,000 people, Hollywood Boulevard is rapidly developing into one of the most exclusive business, shopping, and amusement thoroughfares in the entire country.” The group would help exploit Hollywood Boulevard from Vine Street to La Brea Avenue.
The association was headquartered at 6605 Hollywood Blvd., with Col. Harry Baine as President, C. E. Toberman as Vice President, and people such as B.H. Dyas, Gilbert Bessemeyer, H. H. Christie, Harold B. Franklin, Sid Grauman, Carl Laemmle, Sol Lesser and Joseph Schenck on the board of directors.
One of the first major promotional stunts to help promote the boulevard occurred in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre during the release of Warner Bros. feature film “Noah’s Ark.” According to the Dec. 22, 1928, Los Angeles Times, the studio allowed Grauman to electrify and place large golden statues employed in the film in front of the theater for the holiday season.
The major success story for the group that year was establishing Santa Claus Lane and a Christmas parade to increase sales traffic during the holiday season. It paid for special decorations, metal Christmas trees that were electrified and placed on light poles, and held a nightly parade for two weeks, with Santa riding in a sleigh down Hollywood Boulevard, accompanied by a movie star.
Hollywood building construction was exploding in 1929, with 20% of Los Angeles building permits for the first five months of 1929 coming from Hollywood. The Hollywood Boulevard Assn. continued its efforts, and even considered throwing a film festival that fall. On May 12, 1929, the group announced that it planned a Hollywood fall film festival to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the motion picture industry coming to Hollywood. Such members of the committee as Laemmle, Grauman, Schenck, Lesser, Franklin, and Toberman would organize and plan it. All studios would be asked to participate, a parade with floats would be organized, and the festivities would include a celebration of sound pictures. Unfortunately nothing seems to have come of the idea.
Another way to help promote the district was the creation of a song that would be performed in music revues along the street and possibly at conventions held in the city. Actor Earle Foxe and performer Lynn Cowan were hired to compose such a song. Cowan had appeared on the Los Angeles stage as early as 1917 with Blossom Seeley, composed songs for Olsen and Johnson’s stage show “Monkey Shines,” and by the late 1920s, wrote songs, created, and conducted music revues at the Boulevard Theatre in Culver City. From the description of him in articles in The Times, it appears he was the inspiration for the James Cagney character in “Footlight Parade.” Cowan was probably the first to perform on an airplane on March 22, 1929, when Fox Movietone News captured him performing on film. He and a band member were also writing songs for James Cruze films, in particular, “The Great Gabbo.” Foxe was a long time actor, appearing in films since 1913, usually playing sophisticated though smarmy characters. He acted in six John Ford films, starting with “Upstream” in 1927. He also composed songs and performed in Masquers Club revues in Los Angeles.
Foxe wrote the lyrics and Cowan composed the song “Hollywood,” or “Way Out West in Hollywood” in 1929, which the Hollywood Boulevard Assn. published. The cover featured a Fred Archer photo of Hollywood’s nighttime sky aflame with klieg lights, along with drawings of Indians and a film under production. The lyrics would be considered somewhat non-politically correct today, with mention of redskins and squaws, while mentioning to “jazz mad palefaces” about what Hollywood was like. The chorus and second verse go: “Hollywood, Hollywood, That’s the village where they make the Movies, Full of pep, Watch your step, You’ll find they treat you best, Out in the West they say you can’t be good in Hollywood, Now I ask you would you be good if you could. If on the street you think you see a Movie Queen, And you swear you’ve see her some place on the screen, You’ll find she’s just a tourist from Aberdeen, ‘Way out West in Hollywood.”
The July 10, 1929, Los Angeles Times noted, “Hollywood,” Lynn Cowan and Earle Foxe’s fox trot ballad dedicated to the lights and shadows of Hollywood Boulevard, is being featured for visiting Elks this week by Irving Aaronson’s Commanders, the far-famed entertaining orchestra in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel. The number is being played in courtesy of Col. Harry M. Baine, president of the Hollywood Boulevard Assn., who also arranged for 100,000 copies of the song to be distributed to the antlered brethren of B.P.O.E.”
Unfortunately, the stock market crash saw drastic decreases in spending everywhere, including Hollywood Boulevard. Stars also began moving away from the city, to plusher areas like Beverly Hills, Hancock Park, and further west. Hollywood Boulevard, which the Nov. 24, 1931, Hollywood Reporter stated had once been touted as “Fifth Avenue, Rue de la Paix, and Bond St. of the West,” was now becoming “bargain alley,” with shop owners abandoning smart goods for cheaper quality product that appealed to tourists and budget conscious spenders. The street slowly began sinking in prestige, before slowly starting to make a comeback in the last 10 years.