What better way to celebrate LGBT History Month than to feature this pictorial map of West Hollywood, a city grounded in independent thinking and stubbornly committed to inclusive, progressive government represented by a true democracy. West Hollywood elected the first gay-majority city council in the country in December of 1984, but the movement to incorporate the city was as much about economics as it was about sexual orientation. While most Angelenos know WeHo as the center of gay nightlife, the place did not just pop out of the closet in 1984 with the rainbow flag flying. A long, determined struggle allowed the 1,981 square-mile plot of land to reach its current LGBT-friendly status; of the neighborhood’s 37,000-plus residents, about one third is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender—but all parties live in harmony.
Originally part of the big Rancho La Brea, the little stretch of land wedged between Hollywood and Beverly Hills was at one time a blue-collar settlement called “Sherman.” It was originally named for Moses Sherman, who ran a trolley connecting downtown L.A. to Santa Monica right through today’s “Boys Town” as far back as 1896. The then-Cahuenga Valley was surprisingly unpopulated despite boasting choice agricultural land, so Sherman subdivided the land and sold lots at $150 per parcel. Despite his hand in building the town from the ground up, local realtors thought West Hollywood sounded better than Sherman—the name was officially changed in 1925.
West Hollywood resisted the siren song of annexation, staying independent and rather dedicated to nightlife and the pursuit of fun of all varieties. Famed streets like Melrose and the Sunset Strip and historic clubs like the Whisky A Go Go and the Troubadour are actually in WeHo, not Hollywood. Despite repeated attempts by the money-changers to get the place to join big bad L.A., the locals defeated them time and time again. The hippies had their day, and eventually gay people found the freedoms of Santa Monica Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard to be irresistible.
The Stonewall riots in 1969 and the gay march on Washington in 1979 gave notice, and when WeHo declared itself an incorporated city in ‘84, more and more gay businesses set up shop in the area. Even this map, quite an early look at the neighborhood, shows 25 gay bars, 26 gay shops, and 69 gay-friendly restaurants. There are also internationally important institutions shown, including the powerful ONE Archives Foundation and the June Mazer Lesbian Archives.
These days, the streets here come alive for THE Halloween celebration in L.A.: the West Hollywood Halloween Carnival, which draws a staggering half million revelers. Lest we forget, however, there is also the LA Pride festival (taking place June 12-14 this year) and Outfest, a first-class film festival.
Los Angeles Public Library map librarian Glen Creason shares a map from the Central Library’s collection at CityThink each week.