Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood sign is celebrating it's 89th anniversary this month.  I've tried 3 times to get up close and personal with it, the first time we were run off by what I think were park rangers, the second time there were helicopters flying overhead every 5 minutes, and the 3rd time, trying to be sneaky and come at it from the backside of the hills, I fell and busted my ass so bad I gave up on it.  I guess you have to either be well connected or a ninja to get close.  I am neither.

Out with the old - 1978

To most people, it's a symbol of the American dream, and a carryover from old Hollywood. To some it's the ultimate logo for crushed hopes, dashed dreams, and the darker side of the city.  It's gone through many phases over the decades and was even almost removed, but it still looms over the city today just as it did when it was first built in 1923.

It used to say "Hollywoodland", and wasn't meant to be a cultural icon, it was meant to advertise new housing developments in the hills below.  The owner of the development, HJ Whitley, had seen an uptick in traffic to the newly developed Whitley Heights neighborhood thanks to a large sign, so he decided he'd try the same marketing ploy again. It cost 21,000. to build, each letter was 30' x 50', and it was adorned with over 4000 light bulbs. It was only meant to stay up for a year, but obviously it outlasted it's expiration date.

The sign was lit until 1939.  It would flash in 3 sections until the city deemed it too expensive and the neighbors below saw it as a traffic hazard and annoyance. In the 40's the Beachwood neighborhood hated it so much they petitioned the city to take it down, as it hadn't been kept up and was an eyesore amongst the million dollar homes adorning the hillside and below.  In 1949 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce repaired it and removed the "land". Faced with having to foot the bill for illuminating the sign, the city decided to not replace the bulbs.

In 1973 Gloria Swanson funded a complete rehab of the sign, but 5 years later due to termites, arsonists, and inclimate weather, it had fallen again into a state of disrepair.  The city decided in 1978 that it would have to be completely rebuilt, this time costing 250,000. In August, after celebrity fundraising and sponsorship for the sign, the original was demolished and the hill sat empty for the first time in 50 years. The steel and concrete enforced replacement is erected in November to celebrate the city's 75th anniversary.

They've added a fence, a high tech security system, Angelenos have repeatedly had to petition to save the land around the sign from over-development (most notably, Hugh Hefner and the Save the Peak campaign - some idiot developer wanted to build luxury condos right behind it). It's been driven into, set on fire, jumped off of, petitioned for removal, and almost eradicated by bugs and natural causes, but unlike many historic monuments around town, this is one we apparently aren't willing to let die.


  1. Thank goodness common sense prevailed. To remove the Hollywood sign is to loose a large part of both the history and charm of LA. It's the one thing that most people want to see when you mention Hollywood.

  2. Thanks for all the great info! We were in LA earlier this year and thought we could hike to the sign (as if!). The "Warning: Rattlesnakes" sign was also a bit of a deterrent. The sign really is fascinating, isn't it? It's so ugly, yet so iconic and it gave me a chill when I finally saw it in person.