Saturday, March 19, 2011

Celebrity Grave: Founder of Hollywood Harvey Wilcox 1891

Harvey Henderson Wilcox (1832 - March 19, 1891) owned a ranch to the west of the city of Los Angeles, which his wife Daeida named their ranch Hollywood, and where the center of the American cinema industry developed in the early 1900s. She learned of the name from Ivar Weid her neighbor. Ivar Weid heard the name from HJ Whitley.


Harvey Henderson Wilcox was born in New York State, probably in Monroe or Ontario County, the son of Aaron and Azubah (Mark) Wilcox. The family moved to Michigan during the 1830s and Harvey was raised on his parents' farm in Ogden Township, Lenawee County, Michigan. He was stricken with polio in 1845 when he was about 13 years old and confined to a wheelchair the rest of his life. Whether in a wheelchair or not, Harvey accomplished great things during his lifetime, a testament to the Wilcox strength and spirit. He is described as being a Kansas Prohibitionist in histories written after his death, but that tells only a small, insignificant part of his story and there is no original source stating with any certainty that he actually was a prohibitionist.

In September 1850 Harvey was described as being an apprentice shoemaker in the Horace Sheldon household in Blissfield, Lenawee County. His apprenticeship was probably because he could not work on the farm due to his handicap. He completed his apprenticeship during the 1850s and in 1860 he was living near Edgerton, St. Joseph Township, Williams County, Ohio, and working as a shoemaker. On December 26, 1861, he married Ellen E. Young in Bryan, Williams County, Ohio. He got into politics in Williams County and ran for, and was elected to, several local offices, including County Recorder in 1860, Justice of the Peace (Magistrate) in 1860, and Notary Public for Williams County in 1866.

He also gave up shoemaking to deal in real estate in Bryan in the firm of Wilcox & Langel, a career that he would follow the rest of his life. Coincidently, Elon Langel later moved to Topeka, Kansas and died there of tuberculosis.

The local Bryan newspaper says in April 1868 that Harvey and Ellen Wilcox were moving to Topeka, Kansas where, in October, 1869, Harvey published "H.H. Wilcox's Real Estate Publisher" and in July 1870 he was described as a real estate agent and his wife a housekeeper. Before March 1875 they had added G.M. Stanley, the son of Ellen's sister, Alvira, to their family, but they never had any children of their own. In June 1880 Harvey was still in real estate and Ellen was running their boarding house on Kansas Avenue.

Harvey must have enjoyed being in politics in Bryan because in Topeka he got into politics again, serving as president of the city council for at least one term in 1870; joined several other men to found the town of Rossville, Kansas, in 1871; served as Topeka city clerk from at least 1877 through 1880; and owned a ranch and relatively large herd of cattle (that his adopted son, George M. Stanley, managed) near El Dorado in Butler County, Kansas.

Harvey and Ellen were in the 1880 census of Topeka with George M. Stanley, the son of Ellen's sister, Alvira Stanley, in their household. Ellen contracted tuberculosis and spent the winter of 1881-1882 in California, probably staying with her sister, Mary Jane (Young) Bond in Santa Barbara, "chasing the cure." Ellen returned to Topeka, uncured, in early 1882. She was kept alive on the train with "powerful stimulants" and died at the age of 37 soon after her arrival home. She is buried in Topeka Cemetery.

Harvey married as his second wife, Daeida "Ida" Hartell, a girl more than thirty years his junior, on December 6, 1882, in Topeka and in October 1883 it was reported that "Harvey Wilcox of Topeka, Kansas" was back in Ohio and Michigan visiting relatives and friends. This was probably the last time most of his relatives back East saw him and the trip was probably made in anticipation of his permanent move to California.

Harvey and Ida moved from Topeka to Los Angeles in early 1884 and tradition says that Harvey rode in the baggage car with two of his prized horses. In Los Angeles Harvey formed the real estate company of Wilcox and Shaw. Harvey and Ida had one child, a son named Harry, who died in 1886 at the age of 18 months. Family tradition says that to console themselves over the death of their baby, Harvey and Ida would take buggy rides to the beautiful canyons west of Los Angeles. Harvey purchased one of their favorite areas for $150 per acre. It was in an agricultural area of fig and apricot orchards. Harvey tried his hand at raising fruit, but failed and decided to subdivide the land, selling lots for $1,000 each. His wife named the tract "Hollywood." On February 1, 1887 Harvey filed a plat of the subdivision with the Los Angeles County Recorder's office.

Harvey and Ida were not the only members of the family to move to California. At his encouragement, his sister, Sarah Luke, brother-in-law Elisha Luke, their daughter and son-in-law, Sam and Rosetta Young, with their young son, Almon, and Harvey's recently re-married brother Lewis, left Ogden in February 1887 to settle in Los Angeles where Elisha would also become a real estate agent and land developer. The "Blissfield [Michigan] Advance" said in its Friday, February 18, 1887, edition that "Sam Young and wife and Elisha Luke and wife started for California last Thursday. Thus Ogden loses two of its staunch farmers, and the Prohibs, two valuable members."

Their mother, Azubah, probably accompanized them. Lewis Wilcox would soon leave California to return to Lenawee County where he would continue as a minister of the United Brethren church in Dundee, Michigan until his death ten years later. Azubah died in Los Angeles in 1888 and was buried on the Luke family lot in Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery.

Harvey's brother, Horace, is often credited as being the founder of Hollywood, but Horace, who was one of Harvey's younger brothers, stayed in Michigan where he married first Amanda McCourtie and after her death in 1880, Martha Lord. Horace raised purebred Shropshire sheep on his farm in Woodstock Township, Lenawee County, Michigan, until his death in 1916.

Interestingly, there is no original source that says Harvey H. Wilcox was a Prohibitionist, although he probably was. The only known active Prohibitionists in the family were his sister, Sarah, and her husband, Elisha Luke, and almost certainly Harvey's brothers, twins Lewis and Luther, both of whom were ministers.

Harvey was about fifty-nine years old when he died at his sister-in-law Sylvia Connell's home where he had come two weeks earlier so he could be closer to medical care in Los Angeles. He left a twenty-eight year old widow. His funeral was held from the First Methodist church in Hollywood, of which he was a member.

Harvey's obituary in the Adrian newspaper, Michigan Messenger, April 1, 1891, says that he left a fortune of $100,000 ($2.37 million in 2008 dollars), so obviously he did not die penniless as some histories suggest. This obituary also confirms his place in the Aaron and Azubah Wilcox family, mentioning his brother, Lewis Wilcox, who at that time lived in Adrian.

He was buried next to his mother on his sister Sarah Luke's lot in Rosedale Cemetery (now called Angelus-Rosedale Cemedtery). His remains were moved by his second wife's family to what is now Hollywood Forever Memorial Park on November 13, 1922.

Three years after Harvey's death, Daeida, then aged 31, married Philo J. Beveridge, the son of a former governor of Illinois, and a man thirteen years her senior. They had three children.


The city of Hollywood was incorporated in 1903. In 1910, the city of Hollywood was incorporated into the city of Los Angeles because the former was in need of a water supply. Hollywood became a suburb of Los Angeles at that time.

Though it is commonly thought that Wilcox named the subdivision "Hollywoodland", it wasn't until 1923 that real estate developers Woodruff and Shoults decide to build a housing development in Beachwood Canyon above Hollywood. They call their development "Hollywoodland" and advertised it as a "superb environment without excessive cost on the Hollywood side of the hills." Some historians claim that Hollywood was originally named by H.J. Whitley in 1886, but there is no documentation to support the claim.

In 1924, they contracted the Crescent Sign Company to erect a huge sign on the hillside reading Hollywoodland. The sign company owner Thomas Fisk Goff (1890-1984) designed the sign in letters 50 feet (15 m) high and illuminated by 4,000 bulbs. The light bulbs lasted only until they burned out or were stolen a year or two later and were never replaced.

In 1949 the sign was refurbished and the end of the word Land was omitted.

In 1978, the sign was fully rebuilt with sheet metal and steel beams and have been repainted and repaired regularly to this day.

The Hollywood sign is a landmark that is known around the world.


Wilcox was originally buried alongside his mother, Azubah (Mark) Wilcox, in Rosedale Cemetery, but on November 13, 1922 his remains were moved to Hollywood Memorial Park Cemetery, today named Hollywood Forever Memorial Park where he is interred next to his second wife, Ida. Harvey's first wife, Ellen, is buried in Topeka Cemetery in Topeka, Kansas.


No comments:

Post a Comment