First erected in the early 1920s as an advertisement sign, the Hollywood sign later underwent deterioration and was almost left to waste. Restorations have brought it back to its present venerable state.
The Hollywood sign is one of the United States of America’s famous landmarks, perhaps as famous as the Statue of Liberty or Mount Rushmore.
The sign perches high on Mount Lee on the Hollywood Hills (part of Santa Monica Mountains), and overlooks the similarly-named district of Los Angeles, the home to film-making and television, not to mention its biggest stars. The name evokes glitz and glamour, and could be considered synonymous to the whole US entertainment industry. A sign of hope and future not only for aspiring actors and actresses, but also directors, screenwriters, etc., from the US as well as many parts of the world.
Most people all over the world know that it as an American icon, but many of us never bother to know the Hollywood sign’s history, which is a pretty interesting one. You may be a bit surprised about its rise and fall, as well as its fall and rise…almost, literally.
In 1923 (or some sources cite 1924), Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler built this massive and enormous sign at a cost of $21,000 (which would be about $265,000 today), initially “HOLLYWOODLAND.” The original purpose of the sign was to advertise Chandler’s new and high-priced real estate development named Whitley Heights. The sign was made of light materials such as wooden and metal panels and metal squares that were supported by scaffolding frames and telephone poles, which were hauled by mules up to the lofty site.
Each of the “HOLLYWOODLAND” sign’s letters was measured 50 feet high and 30 feet wide. The sign was embellished with about 4,000 light bulbs which blinked the sign in three segments: “HOLLY,” “WOOD,” and “LAND,” before the entire sign lit up. To add some spectacular effect, some searchlights were installed below the sign so that it could be better seen from afar during the evening, thus attracting more attention.
The sign was originally intended to stand for only 18 months. However, as the district experienced a rise in the film industry especially highlighted by the Golden Age of Hollywood, the sign came to be globally recognized as well and has never been removed.
We bet you wonder, “How did HOLLYWOODLAND become just HOLLYWOOD?” Well, for a time, the sign had been completely abandoned by the real estate group due to the 1930’s Great Depression, and was now deteriorating fast.
In 1949, the sign was bequeathed to the city of Los Angeles. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce stepped in to make an offer to remove the “LAND” and keep the “HOLLYWOOD” to promote the the city’s thriving film industry. Since the City of Los Angeles Parks Department, with whom the Chamber entered a contract, declared that all following illumination of the Hollywood sign would come from the Chamber’s expenses as well, the Chamber decided not to replace the lightbulbs. The 1949 restoration was completed at that time and the new HOLLYWOOD sign stood proud, but then over the years the sign continued to deteriorate as its relatively light structure was unable to withstand the open air of the Hollywood Hills. Eventually, the first “O” had broken into half, resembling a lowercase “u”, and and the third “O” had been destroyed and completely fallen off. For a time, the sign became an eyesore.
The simple billboard sign in 1923 was now elevated into a historical and cultural landmark, exactly fifty years later, by the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission as one of its Historic-Cultural Monuments. But it was obvious that the sign was in need of another new “lease of life,” so to speak.
The Hollywood sign had sustained great damage and was badly deteriorated
because of the weather as well as vandalism committed from mindless individuals; some of the letters were dilapidated or even destroyed altogether.
So during the late 1970s an extensive effort for its full restoration occurred with the help of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who launched a public campaign to refurbish the severely damaged HOLLYWOOD sign. Because of Hefner’s intense campaign, donations (including those from Hefner’s own pockets) enabled the permanent restoration of the HOLLYWOOD sign. The structure this time would be made of steel, which was guaranteed to last much longer than the light metal and wood that had been previously used.
Since then, restorations and refurbishments on the Hollywood sign have been periodically carried out, such as repainting the letters. To avoid future incidences of pranks and vandalism, a state-of-the-art security system was installed by Panasonic Corporate Security in 1999 to protect the iconic landmark.
It has also become a registered trademark and it cannot be used unless with expressed permission from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, who is also in charge of another famous landmark, the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
With its deteriorating and almost-neglected past behind it, the venerable Hollywood sign is now mightily standing, high and proud, once again a legend on its own, and a symbol of the Hollywood area and the film industry.