Walking past the First Baptist Church of Hollywood, April Clemmer pauses.
“This church is a survivor,” she tells the dozen or so people taking her Walk of Faith tour in a neighborhood better known for its movie-star-spangled Walk of Fame. “I will show you a lot of churches but very few” — First Baptist among them — “have been able to remain in their original locations.”
Clemmer, a Los Angeles resident and a Baptist herself, came up with the Walk of Faith tour last winter, after spending a decade researching Hollywood history. To her surprise, the deeper she looked, the more she found that the place synonymous with the American movie industry — and now clogged with lingerie stores, tobacco shops and fast-food outlets — was founded as an alcohol-free Christian community.
Clemmer starts each tour with a brief introduction and prayer — encouraging people to pray however they want. Then she takes people back to 1887, when the name Hollywood first appeared on an official document, and four years after Daeida and Harvey Wilcox, who had made a fortune in real estate in Topeka, Kan., moved to Los Angeles.
The couple bought 120 acres centered at what would become the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, and after Harvey’s death and Daeida’s subsequent remarriage, Daeida began creating her vision of a Christian preserve. On Nov. 14, 1903, Hollywood elected to become an official city by a narrow vote — Daeida, as a woman, was unable to participate.
The first laws passed by the town involved bans on liquor, pool halls, bowling alleys, riding bicycles on sidewalks, the use of firearms and speeding. In 1905, the Los Angeles Times described it as a place where “the saloon and its kindred evils are unknown.”
Instead, it was filled with churches that had taken up Daeida’s offer of free land, regardless of denomination. After growing tired of traveling to neighboring Colegrove to attend her Episcopal church, Daeida gave land along Hollywood Boulevard for St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which has since moved a few blocks off the boulevard.
The St. Stephen’s former site is now occupied by a family-owned restaurant named Juicy Wingz.
By 1910, Daeida’s town of 500 had expanded to about 5,000, and water scarcity forced Hollywood to incorporate into the booming city of Los Angeles. The detested saloons followed soon after, and by the time Daeida died in 1914, her vision was doomed as well.
But now some people are interested in getting back to some of the dream Daeida had. While the typical Hollywood tour might include tourists, the majority of the Walk of Faith attendees are locals — and that’s how Clemmer wants it.
“It’s important for local Christians to know there is a foundation of faith in Hollywood and that it’s something that can be reclaimed,” she said.
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Source: Religion News Service