How One Ohio Native Became the “Mother of Hollywood”

Thursday, February 20, 2014, by Hadley Hall Meares
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[Early Hollywood, via the LA Public Library.]

On a warm spring evening in April 1907, nearly 700 people representing the cream of Southern California society packed into the flower-strewn rooms of the Hollywood Club. They had traveled to the small town of Hollywood to celebrate an elegant woman “becomingly attired in a Paris costume of ruby red chiffon and lace,” as the Los Angeles Times described her, who stood at the head of the receiving line to greet them. Her name was Daeida Wilcox Beveridge, although she was often simply called “the mother of Hollywood.” Since 1887 she had worked tirelessly to build a temperate, cultured community in the wilds of the Cahuenga Valley. On this night, as “pretty misses in dainty frocks” waltzed to the music of the Hotel Hollywood orchestra, her “dream of beauty” reached its apex.

Daeida Hartell was born in 1861 in sleepy Hicksville, Ohio. Her father, a well-to-do landholder and farmer, was from one of the first pioneer families to settle the state. Her mother Amelia had travelled west from her home state of New York in a covered wagon. In December of 1883, Daeida, who had grown into an intelligent, assured young woman, married Harvey Henderson Wilcox, a widower 30 years her senior, in Topeka, Kansas. Harvey had a great deal of success in Topeka real estate and Republican politics. Despite their vast difference in age, Daeida and Harvey shared passionate religious beliefs, a love of nature, temperate ideals, and, most importantly, a pioneer spirit. The year they were married, Daeida and Harvey hitched a ride on the newly constructed Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railway out to the booming town of Los Angeles.

The couple initially settled into a handsome home on Figueroa Street in the heart of the city. Harvey opened a real estate office and began subdividing tracts he purchased, including a large tract by what is now USC. Daeida soon gave birth to the couple’s first child, a little boy. But only eighteen months later, the baby died. To console themselves, the couple would often take long Sunday carriage rides into the countryside, their team of white horses clomping down the primitive dirt roads. Daeida particularly loved the rural Cahuenga Valley, gently sloping and covered in fruit trees. At her urging, Harvey bought 120 acres of the valley, centered around what would become the world famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine.

Daeida and Harvey threw themselves into their new project, commuting from Los Angeles frequently. They began to lay the groundwork for a utopian subdivision for cultured, wholesome Midwesterners looking for fresh air and a second act in California. Chinese and Mexican laborers were hired to plant rows of pepper trees that would one day line dreamed-of streets. Daeida focused on cultivating the fig orchards, working with the trees and figuring out the best way to dry the fruit. At lunch, Daeida and Harvey would lean against an old fig barn and go over their plans, laying out streets, parks, and recreation areas. According to historian Gregory Paul Williams:

The two amused themselves creating street names … For a personal touch, there was a street for Harvey—Wilcox Avenue, and one for Daeida—Dae Avenue (later Hudson and Schrader Boulevard). They named two streets after the children of Mr. Weid, the Dane farmer … His two children crossed the Wilcox property daily on their way to a one room school at Sunset and Gordon. Daeida and Harvey named the children’s path after them, Ivar and Selma Avenues.

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[Harvey’s map of Hollywood, via the A Public Library.]

In February 1887, Harvey registered a map of his new subdivision with the LA County Recorder’s Office. It read, “Map of Hollywood.” It was Daeida who came up with the name, but no one is quite sure why. Most historians, including Williams and Bruce T. Torrence, assert that during a train ride back east Daeida struck up a conversation with a woman who told her of her Illinois country estate named “Hollywood.” Others, including several writers for the Los Angeles Times, say she named it for the California holly that grew on the Cahuenga Hills. Whatever the case, by the end of 1887, Hollywood tracts were for sale.

Daeida and Harvey’s new California life continued to flourish. They built a large, wood-frame country house in Hollywood and an eclectic showplace on Adams Boulevard in Los Angeles, in the style that later critics would call “California Crazy.” Many members of their families migrated to California, including Daeida’s mother and her sister. But the couple’s happiness would be short-lived. On March 19, 1891, Harvey died in the Hollywood farmhouse.

In her grief, Daeida surrounded herself with close friends who shared her love of nature and religion. She quickly become attached to a buff, blond blue blood named Philo Judson Beveridge. Philo’s father had been Governor of Illinois, and his mother Helen was an accomplished and well-travelled woman, a member of the “Women’s Congress,” and a self-taught expert on porcelain china. In March of 1894, Daeida became a part of this socially prominent family when she and Philo were married.

Daeida and Philo settled in Hollywood and persuaded Philo’s influential, well-known parents to permanently abandon the chilly Midwest and do the same. Daeida rededicated herself to the development of Hollywood and, with laid-back Philo’s help, launched Beveridge and Beveridge Real Estate out of a small office at the corner of Prospect (now Hollywood) and Cahuenga Boulevards. The next few years were a flurry of activity for Daeida as she gave birth to four children (two of whom died in childhood) and sold countless lots to Midwestern retirees and young families. Soon handsome Victorian and Craftsman-style homes with roomy garden yards were rising steadily in Hollywood and competing developments.

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[The De Longpre residence. Photo via the LA Public Library.]

By the turn of the century Daeida’s “dream of beauty” was a reality. Hollywood was a prosperous enclave of 500 people. But Mrs. Wilcox-Beveridge, as she preferred to be called, was not just building an aesthetically pleasing housing development. She was creating an alcohol-free, cultured Christian community. To that end she offered free lots to Christian churches regardless of their denomination. When she met the famous, charming still-life painter Paul De Longpre at an exhibit of his work in Downtown Los Angeles, he told her of his love of rural Hollywood. Daeida offered him the site of her former home. She later gave him an adjoining lot in exchange for three paintings so that he could expand his gardens. The exchange was well worth it. The personal home, artist studio, and extensive, exquisite gardens De Longpre created would become Hollywood’s first tourist attraction and give the area a huge amount of cultural clout. The Beveridge and De Longpre families also became close friends.

There seems to have been nothing in Hollywood Daeida didn’t nurture. Shedonated the land for Hollywood’s first public library, city hall, post office, and police station, which housed the town’s two police officers and its one-cell jail. She financially backed and gave land to banks and schools. For all her high morals, Daeida was fully ready to get her hands dirty and often found herself at odds with rival tract developers. She built a business center at Prospect and Cahuenga to rival one being built at Prospect and Highland. When landowner Mary Moll offered land on Highland Boulevard for Hollywood’s first library, Daeida was overseas. Alerted to the situation, she quickly wired a business associate to offer a parcel of land on her property. When the city board favored Moll’s lot, Daeida’s associates urged her to act. She sent another telegram significantly increasing the size of her donation. The library was built on Daeida’s land.

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[Photo via LA Public Library.]

By the early 1900s, some in Hollywood and surrounding areas had begun to call for incorporation as a city. Daeida and many backers strongly opposed incorporation, believing it would be too costly and that it would give an upper hand to other developments. The vote was narrowly split, 88 to 77, but on November 14, 1903, Hollywood became an official city. Daeida, as a woman, was unable to vote.

Daeida was not the only woman to quietly but significantly shape early Hollywood. There was Daeida’s friend, Caroline “Grandma” Wakeman, a hard-drinking and smoking suffragette and realtor who claimed to have persuaded the Pacific Electric to extend their trolley to Hollywood by bribing them with $100. There was Mary Moll, who lived in a large Craftsman where the Roosevelt Hotel is now and who helped to develop the Prospect and Highland commercial section to rival Daeida’s project. And there was Daeida’s mother-in-law Helen Beveridge, whose elegant soirees and lectures brought prestige and many transplanted wealthy Midwesterners out to Hollywood.

Even if Daeida did not win the battle over incorporation, she temporarily won the war. The first laws passed by the new town all had the stamps of her and Harvey’s original vision. Liquor, the use of firearms, speeding, pool halls andeven bowling alleys were banned. The riding of bicycles and tricycles on sidewalks was prohibited—telling, given that the only sidewalks in Hollywood at the time were in front of the homes of Daeida and one other prominent developer. For all its infighting, the new town of Hollywood now entered its brief golden age. A woman who grew up during the time remembered a “country life,” where children ran through lemon, orange, and tomato fields and made snowmen during the rare snow of 1905.

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[Photo via the LA Public Library.]

Daeida and Philo were firmly established as this charming town’s king and queen, with several members of their family also filling prominent social roles. In 1907, the Beveridges hosted an entertainment at their home which the LA Times reported on with breathless abandon:

Artistic in every detail was the garden party given by Mr. and Mrs. Philo Beveridge, and the spacious grounds about the home at Prospect Ave. [now Hollywood Blvd] and Wilcox Ave. were thronged with guests representing Los Angeles and Hollywood society. The grounds, with their numberless strings of bobbing decorative balls of every color, were a delight to the eye, and the interior of the residence was also handsomely decorated.  The guests were received by host and hostess on one of the wide stretches of green lawn. Then they passed along winding walks to different portions of the grounds, where ices, punch, coffee and tea were served by groups of society maids and matrons.

This intimate elegance was not to last. By 1910, Hollywood’s population had expanded to around 5,000. That same year water scarcity forced Hollywood to become part of the city of Los Angeles. Prospect Avenue was renamed. Grandma Wakeman claimed she and Daeida fought bitterly over the renaming. Daeida wanted the street to be called De Longpre Boulevard, in honor of her greatest “get” and the prestige he had bestowed on her town. Wakeman was for the more literal and promotional Hollywood Boulevard. In the end, literal and promotional won.

Daeida died of cancer in Hollywood in 1914. She lived to see the beginning of the film industry and the arrival of the first saloons and penny arcades. She just missed the boom of the ’20s that would transform her temperate oasis into a sinful, infamous concrete jungle. One can only imagine what she would think of her brainchild now.

Further reading:
· The Story of Hollywood, an Illustrated History by Gregory Paul Williams
· Hollywood, the First Hundred Years by Bruce T. Torrence
· Images of America: Early Hollywood by Marc Wanamaker and Robert W. Nudelman

http://la.curbed.com/archives/2014/02/how_one_ohio_native_became_the_mother_of_hollywood_1.php

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