If you’ve spent any time in Los Angeles driving along The 101, then you’ve likely noticed the giant, illuminated cross on top of a hill just to the north of the freeway as you pass the Cahuenga exit. Every time I would drive by this sign, I felt the urge to climb up that hill and get a closer look at it. So one day, I did just that.
Hollywood Pilgrimage Memorial Monument
The official name of the Hollywood Cross is recorded as the Hollywood Pilgrimage Memorial Monument. That’s a title that gets one wondering just what a Hollywood Pilgrimage entails and why such an event needs its own memorial. To get to the bottom of this, we have to go back in time to the the early days of Hollywood and its beginnings as a community of cloistered Christians.
A Brief History of Theatre in the Cahuenga Pass
The Hollywood Cross is a memorial to Christine Stevenson, a founding member of the Theatre Arts Alliance, the group who built the Hollywood Bowl. Although the Alliance started out by staging plays exclusively with religious themes (including the Stevenson-penned Light of Asia), some members wanted to branch out with some productions of a more secular nature.
Ms. Stevenson had no interest in that nonsense. So in 1920 she walked across the Cahuenga Pass and started another venue. She named this new venture the Pilgrimage Theatre, named not because of her short pilgrimage across the pass, but after her new production, the Pilgrimage Play.
Although Stevenson died in 1922, the Pilgrimage continued to put on the Pilgrimage Play until 1964 when a lawsuit brought the play’s run to its end. This legal action stemmed from concerns about the separation of church and state that came about in 1941, after the County of Los Angeles was deeded the theatre and the land it was on.
In 1976, The Pilgrimage was renamed John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in honor of the former L.A. County Supervisor and his support for the arts in Los Angeles. Today it’s known simply as The Ford, and in addition to being an active music and performance space managed by the L.A. Philharmonic, is a part of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation system.
The Many Iterations of the Hollywood Cross
In 1923, in honor of Ms. Stevenson, a giant wooden cross was placed on the hilltop above the Pilgrimage Theater. It was lit up in the evening when her play was performed in the amphitheatre below. Sometime in the early 1980s, the cross fell into disrepair and was demolished. But you can’t keep a good cross down, and in the late 80s a new cross sprung up, built from remnants of the old cross that had been left on the hill.
In 1993 the current monument — a 32-foot tall memorial of steel and opaque plastic — was put in place and dubbed the Hollywood Pilgrimage Memorial Monument. Two years later, it was named the Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument #617.
An Exploration to the Hollywood Cross
To visit the Cross from the Ford Theatre, walk south along Cahuenga Boulevard East. Right before the intersection with Cahuenga Terrace, on top of a retaining wall, you’ll see a narrow trail leading up the hill. This isn’t the most obvious of trails, so you’ll have to look closely.
Although the hike up the hill is not a long one, the route is quite steep. The path isn’t well marked or well groomed, and you’ll almost certainly end up with dirt inside your shoes. If you’re going to undertake this exploration, I recommend wearing decent footwear (avoid sandals and flip-flops).
Even with good shoes, traversing the path may prove to be a little challenging. Along the way there are a few places you’ll need to scramble up earthen embankments and carefully navigate around prickly cacti and spiky century plants.
Reaching the top is also subject to the false summit effect. That’s when you can see your destination just over the top of the hill but, upon cresting the rise, you realize you still have a little further to climb.
But stick with it, and in the end, you’ll come out on top of the hill at the base of the Hollywood Cross.mFrom the top of the hill you have clear views of the Cahuenga Pass, The 101 (also known as The Hollywood Freeway) and the Hollywood Bowl just across the pass.
Today the Hollywood Cross is supposedly owned and maintained by The Church On The Way, a Foursquare church out of Van Nuys (though there’s nothing about it on the church’s website).
Interestingly, the Foursquare Church was originally founded by evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson in 1923. She has a rich history in Los Angeles, and we’ll discuss her L.A. legacy in some upcoming explorations.
Where to Park When Hiking to the Hollywood Cross
There’s no parking along Cahuenga Boulevard, and cars tend to fly by quickly. You can probably find a parking sport on Cahuenga Terrace, a small side street just to the south of the cross. Or, depending on the time of day (and if you’re feeling bold), you can park in the Ford Theatre’s nearby lot. For all you Metro Riders out there, Ford Theatre is a short bus ride from Hollywood & Highland.
- 2580 Cahuenga Boulevard East, Los Angeles
- GPS Coordinates: 34.113343, -118.333923 [ Google Maps ]
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