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World Famous Plaques: Hollywood Walk of Fame

Plaques have been used for thousands of years to commemorate historical events, mark places of interest, and highlight notable persons or specific activities they performed. Consider, for example, London's famous blue plaques, which have been in use since 1866 to commemorate notable people who lived or worked in specific buildings across the city. Today there are over 900 such plaques attached to building exteriors to provide a piece of history to passersby.

All you have to do to find commemorative historical plaques throughout the United States is visit national monuments, where plaques are erected to describe the events and people who made specific sites a part of history. Plaques may be found at national parks, historical buildings, sporting venues, battlefields, or pretty much anywhere something notable happened or someone notable lived.

In short, there is no shortage of plaques to see throughout the world. However, there aren't too many places where you can see literally hundreds of plaques all in one place. If you're looking for a significant collection, you should definitely visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As of early 2017, this Hollywood, California attraction featured over 2,600 star-shaped plaques spread across 15 blocks of Hollywood Blvd. and three blocks of Vine Street.

Before you go, though, you might be interested to know a little more about this world-famous collection of plaques. When did it start? How has it grown and changed since inception? And why is it so famous that millions of people from around the world visit each year?

Humble Beginnings

The movie industry became an integral part of California history shortly after the turn of the 19th century, when studios first began moving to southern California for the mild weather conditions that allowed for outdoor shooting nearly year-round, not to mention cheap real estate and a proliferation of non-union labor (as opposed to higher costs on the east coast).

As the movie industry grew, so too did the glamor and obsession with Hollywood, the definitive home of cinema, and the many stars and starlets who called it home. Despite the relative power of the film industry in Hollywood, there would be setbacks along the way, most notably during the Hollywood blacklist years following WWII, when many notable entertainment professionals were caught up in accusations of communism, conspiracy, and un-American activities.

Perhaps in response to this backlash against Hollywood, E.M. Stuart, the volunteer president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in 1953, came up with the original concept for the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was ostensibly a marketing ploy to designed to bring tourists and public acclaim to the city. According to Stuart, the attraction would "maintain the glory of a community whose name means glamour and excitement in the four corners of the world."

An official proposal for the project was submitted to the Los Angeles City Council in 1956 and construction was set to begin in 1958. However, it was not smooth sailing.

Lumps and Bumps

In the early planning stages of the project, many changes were made to the original concept for the walk of fame. For example, the coral and bronze stars embedded in charcoal backgrounds that are so recognizable today were originally meant to come in shades of blue and brown. This color scheme was vetoed by real estate mogul Charles E. Toberman, aka Mr. Hollywood, who happened to be erecting a new building on Hollywood Blvd. that would have clashed with these colors.

In addition, the original stars were supposed to include caricatures of honorees, as evidenced by a 1956 prototype featuring John Wayne. However, this was deemed both overly difficult and cost-prohibitive, so the idea was scrapped. Further, there were only four categories for selection initially, including motion pictures (represented by a film camera icon), broadcast television (represented by a TV set), radio (represented by a microphone), and recording/music (represented by a phonograph record). The final category for theater/live performance (represented by comedy and tragedy masks) was added in 1984.

Of course, the Walk of Fame almost didn't happen. With construction set to begin in 1958, the process was brought to a halt by two lawsuits. The first suit came courtesy of several property owners in the area who were not keen to pay the sizable tax assessment required to construct the Walk of Fame, and it's no surprise considering it came in at a whopping $1.25 million.

There was also a lawsuit launched by Charles Chaplin, Jr., son of famed silent movie star Charlie Chaplin. He sought damages in the amount of $400,000 because his father had been notably excluded from the selection process, likely because of personal politics and scandals surrounding the star. Ultimately, both cases were dismissed and the project was free to continue. Charlie Chaplin received a star in 1972 at the age of 83, the same year he was given an Honorary Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Notable Inclusions

To date, only one honoree, Gene Autry, has stars in all five categories. Several celebrities have stars in multiple categories, including Bob Hope, Roy Rogers, Mickey Rooney, and Tony Martin, who each have four stars. There are even a number of same-name stars who are actually different people, including two different Michael Jacksons (one the famous singer and one the radio personality) and two Harrison Fords (both actors, although one was a silent film star).

The first official star on the Walk of Fame went to filmmaker Stanley Kramer and was installed on March 28, 1960. Most of the stars, about 47%, are in the Motion Picture category, and there are even stars for fictional characters like Mickey Mouse, The Muppets, and The Simpsons. Each star costs $30,000 for creation, installation, and maintenance.

Why is the Hollywood Walk of Fame So Famous?

Although Hollywood has had its ups and downs, the Walk of Fame persists as one of the biggest attractions in California, the United States, and even the world. People have long held a fascination with fame and celebrity, and the plaques dotting the walk of fame capture the imagination of an adoring public. Fans may not be able to reach the stars they see on the silver screen, but for the cost of a trip to Hollywood, they can take a picture alongside the terrazzo and brass stars that bear the names of their favorite celebrities.

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