In the summer of 1924, the Parks Committee of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce thought they had come up with a real winner. For months they had been struggling to figure out a way to bring more public green space to Hollywood. Shockingly, the booming community had exactly zero, yes zero, public parks other than Griffith Park. Now there was a real irony: Right on Hollywood’s eastern border was not just any park, but the biggest municipal park in the entire world. But as the old adage of “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,” goes so went Griffith Park. It may have been called a “park,” but in reality it was little more than a wilderness, largely inaccessible with virtually none of the niceties the good citizens of Hollywood wanted, nay demanded, such as pretty green lawns, shade trees, fountains, tennis courts, swimming pools and the like. For months, the committee had been working diligently to find a solution to this glaring omission of civic responsibility, meeting with prominent landscape architects, city planners, and an endless stream of local officials, and constantly poring over maps looking for places where a series of small parks could be inserted throughout the district.
After struggling for some time with various locations, none of them satisfactory, the committee suddenly hit upon a plan they thought was sheer brilliance. Instead of a bunch of little parks scattered around Hollywood in some slapdash checkerboard fashion, what about one big park – a “strip” park that would snake its way through the entire length of Hollywood making it readily accessible to everyone who lived there? The park would be three hundred feet wide and run for three and a half miles right through the very center of Hollywood starting at Sanborn (Sunset) Junction all the way to La Brea Avenue, virtually cutting Hollywood into two parts divided by a neat green belt. In explainng their choice of locations, Dr. A.A. Hummell, chairman of the committee, explained that “The strip will be within three-quarters of a mile of everyone in the suburb living on both sides of it.”
Of course, certain homes and businesses would have to go, about 1,000 of them actually, but the committee believed that the buying out of affected property owners could be done for about $7,000,000 by paying the minimum appraisal values on each property. And who was to pay for this big project? Why, the other property owners, of course. Each lot adjacent to the park area would be assessed a fee of $200. After all, they’re the ones most benefiting from it, right? But the committee generously suggested that this could be paid over time and “when spread over a long period, will not be a burden.” Now, who could argue with that?
As it turned out, pretty much everyone. The Chamber, which had thought its idea would be received with open arms by the grateful citizens of Hollywood, found themselves under relentless attack by a wide range of the populace. The Chamber had, in fact, committed an incredible and fateful error. In all their planning and meeting with various officials, no one from the general public was consulted or even informed of the project until it was presented as a fate accompli. The property owners directly affected by the park were incensed and they made their anger known loudly and frequently, organizing mass meetings, distributing leaflet after leaflet and generally making themselves unpleasant to anyone associated with the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
Leading the attack was the South Hollywood Improvement Association, which claimed that not only would the actual cost be more than $20,000,000 rather than $7,000,000, they raised the specter of class warfare, claiming the Chamber was trying to divide Hollywood into the “haves” north of the park and the “have nots” south of it. Between 600 and 800 citizens attended the first protest meeting and there was more to come. Soon, a new organization appeared, the Central Hollywood Protective League, which was created solely for the purpose of fighting the plan. Mrs. William De Mille became one of the most prominent of the protesters as did Mrs. Theodore Roberts, wife of the then famous, but now forgotten Hollywood star. All of this seems to have caught the Chamber completely off guard and at each meeting, a hapless Chamber member tried to calmly explain how wonderful the park was going to be to the sounds of pistols cocking and the grinding of gritted teeth throughout the crowd.
By July, the park plan had cut Hollywood in half figuratively in the same way the park would have cut it in half literally with neighbor against neighbor in tensions that looked to be reaching the boiling point. As the Los Angeles Times declared, “Intercine discord, which threatens to disrupt commercial and social unity in Hollywood, which already has resulted in fevered and partisan discussions in neighborhood schoolhouses and in a flood of propaganda from civic organizations and community newspapers, and in some cases, threats of personal injury as well, prevails in that part of the city of Los Angeles” because of the park plan.
Finally, enough was enough. Something had to give in this war of nerves and it was the Chamber. At a meeting of the body on July 15, 1924, not one but two resolutions were put forth declaring that “the park-strip plan be tabled until public demand should revive it.” Both passed unanimously and Hollywood breathed a collective sigh of relief. Today, nearly ninety years after the great Strip Park battle of 1924, Hollywood remains a seriously park challenged community.