The Hollywood Sign (formerly the Hollywoodland Sign) is an American cultural icon and landmark located in Los Angeles, California. It is situated on Mount Lee, in the Hollywood Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains. The sign overlooks Hollywood, Los Angeles.
"HOLLYWOOD" is spelled out in 44-foot (13.4 m)-tall white capital letters and is 352 feet (107.3 m) long. The sign was originally created in 1923 as an advertisement for a local real estate development, but due to increasing recognition and symbolism, the sign was left up. 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. 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.
From the ground, the contours of the hills give the sign a wavy appearance. When observed at a comparable altitude, the letters appear nearly level.
The sign makes frequent appearances in popular culture, particularly in establishing shots for films and television programs set in or around Hollywood. Signs of similar style, but spelling different words, are frequently seen as parodies.
The sign was erected in 1923 and originally read "HOLLYWOODLAND." Its purpose was to advertise the name of a new segregated housing development in the hills above the Hollywood district of Los Angeles. 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 (1890–1984), designed the 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. Cost of the project was $21,000, equivalent to $301,629 in 2017.
The sign was officially dedicated in 1923. It was intended only to last 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.
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. (October 2014)
In the 1970s, the sign reached its most dilapidated
state.This image was taken shortly before the sign's 1978 restoration.
Over the course of more than half a century, the sign, designed to stand for only 18 months, sustained extensive damage and deterioration.
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 1978, in large part because of the public campaign to restore the landmark by Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, the Chamber set out to replace the severely deteriorated sign with a more permanent structure. 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 (see Donors section below).
The new letters were 45 feet (13.7 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.
Refurbishment, donated by Bay Cal Commercial Painting, began again in November 2005, as workers stripped the letters back to their metal base and repainted them white.
Satellite view of the sign
Following the 1978 public campaign to restore the sign, the following nine donors gave $27,777.77 each (which totaled $250,000):
The original sign and restoration of the "H"
The original 1923 sign was presumed to have been destroyed until 2005, when it was put up for sale on eBay by producer/entrepreneur Dan Bliss. It was sold to artist Bill Mack, who used the sheet metal as a medium to paint the likenesses of stars from the Golden Age of Hollywood. In August 2012, Mack constructed an exact replica of the letter H from the metal. On August 9, 2012, Herb Wesson and Tom LaBonge of the Los Angeles City Council presented Mack with a Certificate of Recognition for his restoration efforts and preservation of the iconic symbol of Hollywood history.
Some residents of the neighborhoods adjoining the sign are concerned about the congestion and traffic caused by tourists and sightseers attracted by the sign due to its location in what the Los Angeles Fire Department characterizes as an extremely high fire risk area lacking in the basic infrastructure (parking, restrooms, potable water) to handle the high number of visitors. As of 2013, "there are more than 40 tour companies running buses and vans in and out of the canyon..." and residents "...are most concerned about safety issues because the curving hillside roads were not designed for so many cars and pedestrians."
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.
Suicide of Peg Entwistle
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.
2000 Millennium Celebration
The sign was the focal point for the Pacific time zone as part of a worldwide, coordinated series of events for the 2000 Millennium celebration. The sign was illuminated in various colors, one of the rare times the sign became lit. The colored light sequence was an alternative to the firework displays at several of the other world icons due to concerns about fire in the dry conditions.
A view of the back side of the sign from the top of the hill.
The sign is located on the southern side of Mount Lee in Griffith Park, north of the Mulholland Highway, and to the south of the Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Hollywood Hills) cemetery.
The sign is located on rough, steep terrain, and there are barriers to prevent unauthorized access. In 2000, the Los Angeles Police Department installed a security system featuring motion detection and closed-circuit cameras. Any movement in the marked restricted areas triggers an alarm that notifies the police.
Penalties for trespassing include a $1000 fine, restitution to the City agencies involved in the trespasser's arrest, a one-year probation period and 20 days on a Cal Trans highway crew. Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu is currently working with the Los Angeles City Attorney to increase the penalty.
It is located at 34°08′02.56″N 118°19′18.00″W / 34.1340444°N 118.3216667°W at a 1,578-foot (481 m) elevation.
The building and tower located just behind and to the right of the sign is the City of Los Angeles Central Communications Facility, which supports all cellphone, microwave and radio towers used by the Los Angeles Police Department, the Fire Department, the Los Angeles Unified School District and other municipal agencies. The building itself has no name and is essentially a large maintenance building for the antennas. From 1939 to 1947, this site was the location of the studios and transmitter of the first television station in Los Angeles, W6XAO (now KCBS-TV), founded by The Don Lee Network, hence the name Mount Lee. The TV studio left this location in 1948, and the transmission facility left in 1951, moving to the higher Mount Wilson.
The sign in February 2010 during a donation drive raising money to preserve surrounding land.
Land in the vicinity of the sign was purchased by Howard Hughes in 1940, who planned to build a hilltop mansion at Cahuenga Peak for actress Ginger Rogers. Before long Rogers broke off their engagement and the lot remained empty. Hughes' estate sold the property that lies to the left and above the sign for $1.7 million in 2002 to Fox River Financial Resources, a Chicago developer that planned to build luxury mansions along the ridgeline. It put the property on the market in 2008 for $22 million. As a result, the City of Los Angeles considered buying it, possibly by raising money from celebrities as was done for the 1978 restoration.
Environmentalists and preservationists were concerned about the possibility of real estate development in the area. In April 2009 The Trust for Public Land (TPL) signed an option to buy the 138 acres (0.56 km2) property for a discounted price of $12.5 million. On February 11, 2010, as part of a campaign to help raise money and with the full support of both the city and the Hollywood Sign Trust, the organization covered each letter of the sign with large banners reading "SAVE THE PEAK". On April 26, 2010, the Trust for Public Land announced it had raised enough money, with Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner stepping forward to donate the final $900,000. Hefner later gave an additional $100,000 donation. After the purchase, the parcel became an extension of nearby Griffith Park.
It is illegal to make unauthorized physical alterations to the sign. Although the city has occasionally allowed it in the past for commercial purposes, current policy does not permit such changes to be made. This is largely due to neighborhood opposition and to past accidents. However, the sign has been unofficially altered a number of times, often eliciting a great deal of attention. Among the more famous modifications:
- HOLLYWeeD – January 1976 and January 2017: The sign was first altered in 1976 following the passage of a state law decriminalizing marijuana. The sign was altered again on New Year's Day in 2017, possibly done as a homage to a new California law making recreational marijuana legal that was passed during the 2016 election.
- HOLYWOOD – April 1977 and September 1987: The 1977 alteration was for Easter sunrise service, viewable from the Hollywood Bowl. And the 1987 alteration was for Pope John Paul II when he visited; the second L was covered.
- OIL WAR – 1991, for the Gulf War.
- GO NAVY – December 1983: A group of Midshipmen, with permission, covered the sign for the Army-Navy football game's first and only West Coast appearance.
- RAFFEYSOD – in 1985, an obscure rock band from New Orleans named the Raffeys altered the sign in an act of unauthorized self-promotion.
- FOX – April 1987, promotion for the primetime launch of the Fox television network.
- CALTECH – May 1987: Occurred on Hollywood's centennial (of its incorporation as a municipality), also one of Caltech's many senior pranks
- OLLYWOOD – July 1987, during the Oliver North and Iran-Contra hearings.
- A yellow ribbon was tied around the sign in April 1991, in celebration of the end of the Gulf War. This act also supported the Hollywood Salutes Gulf Veterans Celebrations (D. Weiss, USNA'85/instigator & PM)
- A 75-foot (22.9 m)-tall cutout of Holli Would, main character from the film Cool World (1992). The cutout, which appeared to sit on the sign, was added as part of a promotion for the film. The alteration angered local residents, who said the cartoon character was "appalling" and an insult to women.
- PerotWood – 1992 and 1996, to support Ross Perot and his presidential campaign.
- GO UCLA – 1993, for the annual UCLA-USC football game. Twenty members of UCLA's Theta Chi fraternity achieved the prank, and were subsequently charged with trespassing. This incident prompted the 1994 installation of a $100,000 security system featuring video surveillance and motion detection.
- SAVE THE PEAK – February 11, 2010, the original letters were covered with a series of large banners reading "SAVE THE PEAK", part of a campaign by The Trust for Public Land to protect the land around the Hollywood Sign from real estate development (see above). As the changeover progressed, variations such as "SALLYWOOD" and "SAVETHEPOOD" caused some hilarity.
Multiple other places have imitated the sign in some way.
- Mosgiel, a satellite suburb of the New Zealand city of Dunedin, erected an imitation of the Hollywood sign – reading MOSGIEL – in 1987.
- Since its opening in 1993, Mickey's Toontown at Disneyland has a faux hill with a sign that reads TOONTOWN and resembles the Hollywood sign.
- During the 2003 Scottish Parliament Election, the Scottish Conservative Party ran a billposter campaign depicting the Salisbury Crags of Holyrood Park with the message "FOLLYROOD" (in the style of the Hollywood Sign), with the uncompleted Scottish Parliament Building in the foreground. The poster was intended as a jibe to the infamous cost overruns and alleged overly elaborate design of the Parliament building, which the Conservatives opposed.
- In May 2008, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce licensed exclusive rights to Plymouth Rock Studios of Massachusetts to merge “Hollywood” with “East”, creating Hollywood East, a new industry trademark that represents the growing film industry in New England. The studio plans to find a site in Plymouth, Massachusetts for the permanent installation of the sign.
- In 2009, a Hollinwood sign was erected by the side of the M60 motorway going through Hollinwood, Greater Manchester, to celebrate the City of Manchester's twinning with Los Angeles. The sign was erected during the night and then taken down by the Highways Agency, as it was considered a distraction to motorway drivers.
- In March 2010, authorities announced that the Wellington Airport in New Zealand would erect a WELLYWOOD sign on the hillside of the Miramar Peninsula. This was to reflect the filmmaking community in Wellington, notably Weta Digital, which produced effects for Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and Avatar. However, the proposed sign's widespread unpopularity with local residents persuaded the airport staff to consider alternatives. On July 27, 2012, the city erected a sign that reads "Wellington" with the last letters blowing away to pay homage to Wellington's ever present wind.
- In November 2010, the Chilean municipality of Renca erected a sign high on Renca Hill that reads "Renca la lleva" ("Renca rocks", in Spanish).
- In 2010, in the hope of promoting new businesses in the town of Basildon in Essex, England, Basildon District Council erected the letters reading the name of the town alongside the A127 road at a cost of £400,000.
- In 2010, Paddy Power, a large Irish betting company, erected a 270 feet (82.3 m) wide and 50 feet (15.2 m) high Hollywood-style sign reading Paddy Power on Cleeve Hill, in the regency town of Cheltenham, as part of a publicity campaign for Cheltenham Festival. It became the world's largest free-standing sign of its kind.
- In May 2011, a replica of the Hollywood sign was erected on a South Florida waste management site to serve as a backdrop for the filming of the movie Rock of Ages. The garbage mound, known locally as Mt. Trashmore, was selected because there are no other suitable mountains in South Florida.
- 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 2014, Bristol, England imitated the sign by erecting a "Bristoland" sign on the cliffs of the Avon Gorge.
- In 2014, Druskininkai, Lithuania opened a sign to celebrate social media in the resort town Druskininkai, that was voted the most likeable by the followers of the "Likeable Lithuania campaign."
- There is an imitation of the sign at Hollywood, County Wicklow in Ireland. Hollywood is the Irish word for "Kevin's little church", named after the 6th century Irish Saint who lived at nearby Glendalough.
- Bowen in Australia has the parody "BOWENWOOD" painted onto an old water reservoir in recognition of the production of Australia being based in Bowen.
- There is another imitation of the sign above the Harbor in Keelung, Taiwan located along the Huzi Mountain trail.
In popular culture
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce claims trademark rights over the sign's image and demands license fees for commercial use.
In films and television shows, the Hollywood Sign is often shown getting damaged or destroyed from the events of a particular scene; period pieces may show just the "LAND" portion of the original sign being 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), Sharknado (2013), San Andreas (2015), and countless other films.
Other movies came up with fictional explanations for the elimination of the original LAND part of the sign.
- 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.
- The TOONTOWN sign at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, is modeled after the Hollywood sign including the fake mountain in the background.
- The Vinewood Sign in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Grand Theft Auto V in the city of Los Santos is also based on the Hollywood sign.
- The show BoJack Horseman, set in Los Angeles, depicts a scenario in which the last D gets taken from the sign; from then on, everyone in the show says "Hollywoo" instead.
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