Sightseeing has long been the lifeblood of Hollywood and Los Angeles. Long before Gray Line Tours or even any of its poorer knockoffs came along, companies offered sightseeing around these areas, particularly those neighborhoods where movie stars or celebrities were known to live or work. Many companies printed and sold maps listing homes of the stars. Some sold lovely little lithographic brochures giving history, statistics and stories of the area, along with addresses and representative photographs. “The Key to Hollywood” was one such tourist souvenir, trying to promote a little more high-class tour of attractions.
The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce issued its first publication in December 1888 playing up the area, called “Los Angeles County — Facts and Figures From the Chamber of Commerce.” This bland, straightforward item soon gave way to elaborately produced, eye-catching images and brochures filled with hyperbole, luring tourists and hopefully residents to the golden city. Local organizations distributed and mailed out this colorful literature for decades, creating the myth of the ideal location in which to settle, filled with perfect weather, abundant citrus and other crops, and an exciting place to put down roots, as Tom Zimmerman elaborates in his book, “Paradise Promoted: The Booster Campaign That Created Los Angeles 1870-1930.”
Eventually, Hollywood, as the premier moviemaking industry, attracted visitors from around the world eager to glimpse one of its glamorous stars or luxurious studios. Buses carried tourists around Hollywood streets viewing the local sites, while other businesses distributed maps. The booklet called “The Key to Hollywood” focused on the movie aspects of the area, and amply demonstrates that everything old is new again under a section titled “Sightseeing in Southern California.”
“The days of the old, solid rubber tired, hard-riding, noisy rubber neck wagon, with its leather-lunged spieler, calling off any old thing and cracking a lot of stale jokes, has passed. Sightseeing today is a legitimate business, and it is as important to a large city as the Chamber of Commerce. The public want facts, courtesy and comfort: and they get them….Today the very best of motor cars are used in touring…. Each car is accompanied by a highly trained lecturer, who strives earnestly to conduct his tour in an intelligent and interesting manner.” Tourists really don’t know what they are seeing “unless they have someone with them who makes a specialty and a study of Sightseeing. This is especially true of Southern California, with all its history, romance and beauty.”
Published for approximately two years, “The Key to Hollywood” was targeted to tourists and paid for by advertising. As the publication promoted itself on its title page, “The “Key to Hollywood” is read by 15,000 different people every month. It is a free publication, and is “HANDED” to the Newcomers of Los Angeles who are interested in HOLLYWOOD and SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA.” In order to correct people’s false impressions of the “enchanted community,” was the reason publishers printed the magazine. “THE “KEY TO HOLLYWOOD” is YOUR magazine; in its pages you will find many of the “mysteries” on Filmland unfolded. It is our desire to give you correct information and interesting details concerning all SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA and HOLLYWOOD,” the film center of the world.”
This was a high-class brochure that sold advertisements to businesses, allowing what is now called sponsored stories or advertorials. For their fee, a business received an ad, along with mention in a story or text. Paulais Café bought the full inside page of the back cover promoting its tea room, candy department and fountain service, boasting, “Here, amid delightful surroundings, famous film folk and visitors passing through, are accorded an hospitality that only Paulais knows how to provide.” On Page 21, in a story about dining and dancing with stars, the publishers wrote, “Visitors to Hollywood have a mixed treat awaiting them at Paulais famous Confectaurant, next to the mammoth Egyptian Theatre. Here is a show place combining the matchless architectural art of the old world with the fine culinary art of the skillful chefs.”
Ads promoted diverse businesses, including theaters, restaurants, clubs, hotels, the town of Girard, Cawston’s Ostrich Farm, and the Hollywood branch of Security Trust and Savings Bank, which provided many of the photographs throughout the booklet from its publication, “The Valley of the Cahuengas.”
These ads were generously sprinkled throughout the publication, which focused on picturesque and important places to visit, with a long story on the “Hollywood Japanese Hilltop Gardens” and its “Yamashiro” Castle, a full page describing the Hollywood Bowl, where “Symphonies Under the Stars” entertained thousands, and small paragraphs detailing sightseeing opportunities at Griffith Park, Lookout Mountain, Letts Estate, Laurel Canyon, Beverly Hills, Whitley Heights, the Pilgrimage Play and Wattles Estate.
Another page saluted Sid Grauman, “master craftsman of the prologue,” and his elaborate stage shows at the glorious Egyptian Theatre. “The Egyptian, by its architectural beauty of original design as a playhouse and the magnificence and completeness of its appointments has spread the fame of Grauman throughout the world. Few world tourists visit Los Angeles without including on their itinerary an inspection of this most beautiful of theatres.” Currently, Grauman was presenting the prologue, “Charlie Chaplin’s Dream,” in conjunction with the release of Chaplin’s film, “The Gold Rush.”
“The prologue, “Charlie Chaplin’s Dream” opens with an elaborate panorama of the frozen North with icy cliffs and snowy crags as the background for igloos. Eskimos appear and perform a quaint dance on the icy floor.
“A snowstorm is ushered in by a frost sprite, in the person of dainty Lillian Powell, who presents a fascinating conception of the balloon dance amid the falling flakes.
“As if by magic, from the ice arise beautiful girls in marvelous crystal costumes of novel conception to fade from the picture under the play of iridescent lights.
“The sound of revelry announces the arrival of a score of men and maids in skating costumes of white, who perform a striking dance in imitation of ice-skaters.
“By clever stagecraft, without dropping the curtain, a replica of the famed Monte Carlo dance hall of the Yukon is introduced on the stage, and artists of song and dance entertain with numbers reminiscent of mining camp days.
“The dance hall is withdrawn as subtlety as it was introduced and the dream concludes with a panorama of gold seekers toiling up Chilkoot Pass, gateway to the Klondike.”
Helpfully included in the booklet were addresses and phone numbers of local photoplay, vaudeville and legitimate theaters, churches, hotels, clubs and film studios, ranging from Famous Players-Lasky at 1520 Vine St., to Buster Keaton Comedies at 1025 Lillian Way, Talmadge Productions at 5341 Melrose, and Hall Room Boys Comedies at 6070 Sunset Blvd.
While sightseeing companies distribute few booklets today, except for thin brochures, they amply list information on their websites or Facebook pages, and much information, while misinformed, can also be found online. These early publications promoted Hollywood as a local community, freely passing out legitimate information and history on sites, while today’s advertisements hawk individual businesses trying to establish a unique brand allowing them to stand out from the crowd, often by developing fictional stories of the buildings and residents that populated the area. Though the early publications overflowed with hyperbole, their aim was to boost education and spending throughout the whole city, benefiting everyone, while today, so much publicity is more about achieving individual fame and notoriety rather than benefiting anyone else.