Faith

The Hidden History of Christianity in Hollywood

Chicago Police Union Vice President Martin Preib. Image via YouTube.

Quick! Write down the first three words that come to your mind when you think of “Hollywood.” Here are my three words: debauched, greedy, and anti-Christian. What were your three words? I’m willing to bet that they were similar to mine and far away from any connection to Christianity. One Hollywood resident, though, is hoping to change people’s perceptions of her hometown by leading tourists on a “Walk of Faith” tour around Hollywood.

A committed Christian and a Baptist by doctrinal distinction, April Clemmer is fighting to change the perception of Hollywood. On one hand, I must admit that I’m a little puzzled by her need to rehabilitate Hollywood’s reputation. On the other hand, I appreciate her desire to make sure that the Holy Spirit’s work throughout Hollywood’s history isn’t completely upstaged by Tinseltown’s debauchery. Not to mention that her tour sounds interesting, to boot.

According to a report published by RNS, Clemmer waited to begin her “Walk of Faith” tour until she had researched the area’s Christian roots and past. Upon the completion of her study, she launched the tour almost a year ago. What she uncovered in her research is fascinating. RNS explains that after opening the tour in prayer, Clemmer:

[T]akes 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.

What a difference a few generations make! No doubt, Daeida Wilcox would be mortified to discover how the city she founded has evolved. However, she would assuredly approve of Clemmer’s motivation for her “Walk of Faith” tour. Speaking to RNS, the tour guide shared, “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.”

The tour walks people throughout the history of faith in Hollywood and includes sights not generally seen by the area’s tourists. At the moment, Clemmer leads the tour on a quarterly basis, but with interest picking up she may begin offering it more frequently. The next time you’re in Hollywood, the “Walk of Faith” tour sounds like something you might want to add to your itinerary.