The Hollywood Sign (formerly the Hollywoodland Sign) is an American landmark and cultural icon revered around the world. It is located on Mount Lee in Los Angeles, California, in the Hollywood Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains. The gargantuan white letters are 44-feet (13.4 m)-tall and the sign currently standing is 352 feet (107.3 m) long.
FUN FACT #1 The Hollywood Sign is located at 34°08′02.56″N 118°19′18.00″W34.1340444°N 118.3216667°W at a 1,578-foot (481 m) elevation to be exact!
FUN FACT #2 The Hollywood sign has been declared “L.A. Cultural and Historical Monument #111.”
FUN FACT #3 It’s all about perspective… Viewed from lower ground, the contours of the hills give the sign a wavy appearance. When viewed from the same height, the word appears nearly straight.
THE BIRTH OF A CULTURAL ICON
The sign was established in 1923 and originally read "HOLLYWOODLAND." It was constructed to advertise the name of a new housing development. H.J. Whitley had already used a sign to advertise his development Whitley Heights, which was located between Highland Avenue and Vine Street. He suggested to his friend Harry Chandler, the owner of the Los Angeles Times newspaper, that the land syndicate in which he was involved make a similar sign to advertise their land. Real estate developers Woodruff and Shoults called their development "Hollywoodland" and advertised it as a "superb environment without excessive cost on the Hollywood side of the hills."
They contracted the Crescent Sign Company to erect thirteen south-facing letters on the hillside. The sign company owner, Thomas Fisk Goff, designed the sign. The original Hollywood sign was larger than the current sign. Each letter was 30 feet (9.1 m) wide and 50 feet (15.2 m) high, and the whole sign was studded with around 4,000 light bulbs. The sign flashed in segments: "HOLLY," "WOOD," and "LAND" lit up individually, and then the whole. Below the Hollywoodland sign was a searchlight to attract more attention. The poles that supported the sign were hauled to the site by mules. The cost of the project was $21,000, equivalent to $301,629 in 2017.
The sign was officially dedicated in 1923. It was only intended to stand for a year and a half, but after the rise of American cinema in Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the sign became an internationally recognized symbol and was left there.
Over the course of more than half a century, the sign, designed to stand for only 18 months, sustained extensive damage and deterioration – some of it from weather, but some damage was caused from way more interesting events!
FUN FACT #4 During the early 1940s, Albert Kothe (the sign's official caretaker) caused an accident that destroyed the letter H. Kothe, driving while inebriated, was nearing the top of Mount Lee when he lost control of his vehicle and drove off the cliff directly behind the H. While Kothe was not injured, his 1928 Ford Model A was destroyed, as was the original 50 foot (15.2 m) tall illuminated letter H.
In 1949, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce began a contract with the City of Los Angeles Parks Department to repair and rebuild the sign. The contract stipulated that "LAND" be removed to spell "Hollywood" and reflect the district, not the "Hollywoodland" housing development. The Parks Department dictated that all subsequent illumination would be at the Chamber's expense, so the Chamber opted not to replace the lightbulbs. The 1949 effort gave it new life, but the sign's unprotected wood and sheet metal structure continued to deteriorate.
By the 1970s, the first O had splintered and broken, resembling a lowercase u, and the third O had fallen down completely, leaving the severely dilapidated sign reading "HuLLYWO.D.
In the mid-1970s, the sign reached its most dilapidated state. This image was taken shortly before the sign's 1978 restoration.
In 1978, the Chamber set out to replace the severely deteriorated sign with a more permanent structure, in large part because of the public campaign to restore the landmark by Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine. Nine donors gave US$27,777.77 each (totaling US$249,999.93) to sponsor replacement letters, made of steel supported by steel columns on a concrete foundation.
The new letters were 44 feet (13.4 m) tall and ranged from 31 to 39 feet (9.4 to 11.9 m) wide. The new version of the sign was unveiled on November 11, 1978, as the culmination of a live CBS television special commemorating the 75th anniversary of Hollywood's incorporation as a city.
FUN FACT #5 Following the 1978 public campaign to restore the sign, the following nine donors gave $27,777.77 each (which totaled $250,000):
H: Hugh Hefner (founder of Playboy)
O: Giovanni Mazza (Italian movie producer)
L: Les Kelley (founder of the Kelley Blue Book)
L: Gene Autry (actor)
Y: Terrence Donnelly (publisher of the Hollywood Independent Newspaper)
W: Andy Williams (singer)
O: Warner Bros. Records
O: Alice Cooper (singer), who donated in memory of close friend and comedian Groucho Marx, and who joked that he would also donate an "O" from his last name
D: Dennis Lidtke (businessman) donated in the name of Matthew Williams
IN POPULAR CULTURE
For decades, aspiring stars and celebrities have made the trek up Mount Lee to touch the sign and gaze upon the City of Angels; a city synonymous with dreams, success and glitz and glamor. While it has been the site of new beginnings for many successful stars, it has also witnessed Hollywood tragedy. A not-so-fun fact - In September 1932, 24-year-old actress Peg Entwistle committed suicide by climbing a workman's ladder up to the top of the 'H' and jumping to her death.
The sign has made frequent appearances in popular culture. It is often shown getting damaged or destroyed; It is an example of national landmarks being destroyed, a common feature seen in many disaster movies to increase the drama and tension. It is frequently a shorthand device to indicate the destruction of all of Los Angeles or the state of California. The sign has been depicted getting destroyed in the movies Earthquake (1974), Independence Day (1996), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 10.5 (2004), Terminator Salvation (2009), Sharknado (2013), San Andreas (2015), and countless other films.
The Hollywood sign has inspired multitudes – not just to pursue the American dream but in terms of design as well. Signs of similar style, but spelling different words, are frequently seen as parodies:
- The TOONTOWN sign at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, is modeled after the Hollywood sign including the fake mountain in the background.
- Entertainer Dolly Parton has many times cited the Hollywood Sign as the impetus behind her own Dollywood theme park, telling Spin Magazine in 1986, "When I first saw the Hollywood Sign, I thought, how wonderful would it be if I could change the 'H' to a 'D' for the day."
- In the Shrek franchise, the Far Far Away Sign is based on the Hollywood Sign.
- In Matt Groening's The Simpsons, the Springfield sign is based on the Hollywood sign.
- In Steven Spielberg's film 1941 (1979), the LAND part was shot down in a dogfight over Los Angeles involving John Belushi's character.
- In Joe Johnston's The Rocketeer (1991), the character played by Timothy Dalton (a Hollywood star working for the Nazis) is about to exit a crashing zeppelin with faulty jetpack and his final words are, "I'll always miss Hollywood." He then jumps out of the zeppelin and crashes into the LAND part of the sign, destroying it.
Fun fact #6 The sign is a trust fund baby! The sign is protected and promoted by The Hollywood Sign Trust, a nonprofit organization, while its site and the surrounding land are part of Griffith Park. The sign has been a frequent target of pranks and vandalism across the decades, but it has since undergone restoration, including the installation of a security system to deter vandalism.
In an effort to reduce the impact of tourism on the local neighborhoods, an aerial tramway to the top of Mount Lee and the sign has been proposed numerous times. In June 2018, Warner Bros. proposed to fund an estimated $100 million tramway that would run from their Burbank studio lot and up the north face of Mount Lee to a new visitors area near the sign. Other proposals include establishing an official visitor's center for the sign and a public shuttle service to lead tourists to the sign or trails.
Looking for the best view? The Hollywood Sign Trust directs visitors to two viewing platforms, Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood and Highland Center. Visitors can hike to the sign from the Bronson Canyon entrance to Griffith Park or from Griffith Observatory. There is also a trailhead near the Lake Hollywood Reservoir located outside of Griffith Park, and although not an access point in itself, there is a popular scenic vista point around Lake Hollywood Park near the trailhead.