Monday, December 9, 2013

GlamAmor-ous Holidays--Christmas in 1920s Hollywood

Happy Holidays!  With my Christmas cards now out the door, I couldn't think of a better way to kick off this year's celebration on GlamAmor than going back to the early days of Hollywood and the festivities of the 1920s.

For the first time in November 1928, Hollywood Boulevard changed its name to "Santa Claus Lane" to celebrate the Christmas holiday. For one month, street signs at every intersection along the mile-long stretch between La Brea and Vine were swapped out and merchants even updated their mailing addresses to reflect this special time of year.  Even Mary Pickford took part, changing the sign across the street from the Roosevelt Hotel (above), which she then co-owned with Douglas Fairbanks, Louis B. Mayer, and others.

Though, not surprisingly, commerce was the original motivator--businessman Harry Blaine and the Hollywood Boulevard Association conspired to lure shoppers away from the more popular Broadway district downtown--it launched a tradition that Los Angeles residents enjoy to this day.  Of course this would also include the beloved Hollywood Christmas Parade that is now known and seen around the world.  Historian Nathan Masters spoke to our local PBS station KCET on the annual event: 

The first year, 100 living firs were dug up from the forest near Big Bear and placed along Hollywood Boulevard in wooden planters. Once fully dressed in nearly 10,000 incandescent light bulbs, the trees lit the path for a nightly parade. Joined on his sleigh by a silver screen star, Santa Claus greeted passersby as a team of six live reindeer pulled him down the boulevard. After New Year's Day, the trees were replanted on the grounds of the Hollywood Bowl.
In later years, metallic decorations replaced the living trees. Drawings of film stars' faces smiled at shoppers from the center of tin wreaths hung from lampposts. Whimsical, shiny toy Christmas trees blinked with colorful lights. At the annual promotion's peak, organizers boasted that Hollywood Bouleavard was the most brightly lit street in the nation.
Though the elaborate decorations are no more, Santa Claus Lane gave birth to a Tinseltown tradition that survives today. In 1931, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce expanded Santa Claus' nightly procession into an annual extravaganza, since renamed the Hollywood Christmas Parade. And in 1946, grand marshal Gene Autry, who rode on horseback just paces in front of the parade's main star, turned the screams of delight he heard from children into a classic holiday tune: "Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)."

You can see several photographs of Hollywood Boulevard in 1928 below along with some of the decade's most glamorous stars.  This is my first post of the season and I'll be sharing so much more, including cinema style from holiday classics.  In the meantime, you can enjoy my Classic Holidays playlist on the GlamAmor YouTube channel, which has film clips, vintage videos, and even radio programs from the era of Old Hollywood.  Cheers!

The first year that Hollywood Boulevard was transformed into "Santa Claus Lane"

1920s superstars Gloria Swanson (above), Louise Brooks, and Clara Bow

Nighttime along "Santa Claus Lane" in 1928

Images courtesy of USC Libraries, KCET, and Nathan Masters


Silver Screenings said...

The 1920s Santa Claus Lane sounds like a truly wonderful place to be. I feel kind of nostalgic for it, if that makes any sense?

Kimberly Truhler said...

I feel the same way, Silver Screenings! That's why I do these kinds of posts...I want us all to feel that nostalgia. I know I romanticize Los Angeles all out of proportion (to borrow from Woody Allen's MANHATTAN) and tend to cast things only in their best light, but that's the way I want to see the world. Especially for the holidays. :)

KC said...

Sometimes I think that's what a lot of the holiday celebrating is about: seeing things in the best light, sometimes literally. Maybe that's why cozy thoughts of nostalgia like this fit the time of year so well.

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