On February 9, 2020, I was able to visit the beautiful city that is now known as West Hollywood. As I roamed the streets, it was hard to miss the fact that the entire area was painted in rainbows. Crosswalks, walls, restaurants, and various pieces of artwork sprawled around town assumed the colors of the rainbow, all beautifully incorporated by the LGBTQ+ community and supporters that now enjoy this city as one of great representation, progression, and freedom. Here are some pictures, before I delve deeper into the history of “WeHo”:
All of the following information pertaining to the history of West Hollywood is referenced from the West Hollywood Preservation Alliance.
The history of West Hollywood begins in the 1780s, when one of the main roads connecting el Pueblo de Los Angeles to other ranchos near the Pacific Ocean, known now as the “Sunset Strip,” first came about. The area remained without much change until 100 years later.
Then, in the 1880s, Mexican Dons began selling their ranchos to migrants from the rest of America and Europe. I was able to connect this to the information presented in class; how individuals such as Mr. Irvine came to Southern California as settlers, proceeding to purchase many of the rancho lands as investments.
Shortly after, in the 1890s, the Los Angeles Railroad began developing, allowing for much more development and progression in the region. The main railroad yards for this railroad were situated in Sherman – a town that has now become West Hollywood.
Continuing into the 1900s, Sherman was still an individual town, separate from the City of Los Angeles. Therefore, during periods such as that of the Prohibition, alcohol was still available in Sherman. I connected this to the information learned in class, about how the Prohibition led to many people accessing alcohol in various ways despite the ban; ranging from speakeasies, to smugglers on boats, to going to areas where drinking was still legal. During the Prohibition, Sherman was one of these areas where drinking was allowed, and it became a widely known – though frowned upon – city for its such differences and deviation from the socially constructed “norm.” It is inspiring to look at the century-old history of such a progressive area and see that from its very beginnings, it was known for its individuality and freedom from unreasonable social constructs.
In the 1920s, West Hollywood finally became a place, replacing the town of Sherman. It still maintained its separation from the City of Los Angeles, thus its freedom from rules imposed on Angelenos, such as the ban on alcohol. As such, the Sunset Strip became a popular area for bars and nightclubs, where people would congregate and freely drink as they pleased. The area continued to develop in its nightclub life, artistry, design, and its incorporation of the entertainment industry – many nightclubs turned into hubs for entertainment (singing, comedy, shows, etc.). It finally became an official City in 1984.
Since it became an official City, West Hollywood has become an important and progressive area for members of the LGBTQ+ community. In the 1980s, there was a growing population of gay and lesbian individuals who joined together to fight for various rights, and over time as this community expanded into the collective LGBTQ+, it has become a famous city in which individuals can learn, celebrate, represent, and be free when it comes to gender identity. This is a crucial moment in history; a group that has been persecuted for decades, now have a city that celebrates them and encourages other individuals to experience the beauty of the community.
Walking through these colorful streets, I felt a smile stretch across my face as I realized that I was not only learning about history, but that I was also living in it. WeHo is a depiction of acceptance, hope, progression, and perseverance. It is a place where all can be accepted and loved, without conditions for such love.
– Written by Alara B.