The Hollywood Sign (formerly the Hollywoodland Sign) is a landmark and American cultural icon 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 45-foot-tall (14 m) white capital letters and is 350 feet (110 m) long. It was originally created in 1923 as an advertisement for a local real estate development, but it garnered increasing recognition after the sign was left up. The sign was a frequent target of pranks and vandalism, but it has since undergone restoration, including the installation of a security system to deter vandalism. The sign is protected and promoted by The Trust For Public Land, 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, as reflected in the Hollywood Video logo, for example. 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 the location of the 1932 death of Hollywood starlet Peg Entwistle.
The sign was first erected in 1923 and originally read "HOLLYWOODLAND." Its purpose was to advertise the name of a new 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 Avenue. 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 13 letters on the hillside, each facing south. 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 m) high, and the whole sign was studded with some 4,000 light bulbs. The sign would flash in segments; "HOLLY," "WOOD", and "LAND" would light up individually, before lighting up entirely. 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 (about $300,000 in 2014 dollars).
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.
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 tall (15.2m) 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$250,000) 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 (14 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.
Following the 1978 public campaign to restore the sign, the following nine donors gave $27,777.77 each (which totaled $250,000):
- H: Terrence Donnelly (publisher of the Hollywood Independent Newspaper)
- O: Giovanni Mazza (Italian movie producer)
- L: Les Kelley (founder of the Kelley Blue Book)
- L: Gene Autry (actor)
- Y: Hugh Hefner (founder of Playboy)
- 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
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 preserving the iconic symbol of Hollywood history. Mack hopes to tour the H across the United States and find a permanent home for it in Hollywood. In 2012, Mack constructed a miniature (5' tall) replica of the H from the metal, painted with stars from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. It went on sale in Los Angeles in mid-December that year, and was expected to sell for around $200,000.
Some residents of the neighborhoods adjoining the sign are displeased with its presence, alleging that the congestion and traffic caused by tourists and sightseers attracted by the sign are a nuisance. Signs have been posted stating "Warning — Tourist-Free Zone — All Tourists Leave the Area" and "Tourists Go Away." 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."
Local groups have campaigned to make tourist access to the sign more difficult. The Hollywood Sign Trust convinced Google and other mapping services to stop providing directions to the location of the sign, instead directing visitors to two viewing platforms, Griffith Observatory and the Hollywood and Highland Center. Another, less remote area from which the sign can be viewed is Lake Hollywood Park on Canyon Lake Drive.
Suicide of Peg Entwistle
In September 1932, actress Peg Entwistle committed suicide by climbing a workman's ladder up to the top of the 'H' and jumping to her death. She was 24 years old.
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.
It is located at 34°08′02.56″N 118°19′18.00″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.
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, following the passage of a state law decriminalizing marijuana.
- HOLYWOOD – April 1977, for Easter sunrise service, viewable from the Hollywood Bowl.
- GO NAVY December 1983, when 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, 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.
- HOLYWOOD– September 1987, the second L was covered for Pope John Paul II when he visited.
- OIL WAR – 1991, for the Gulf War.
- A yellow ribbon was tied around the sign - 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 (23 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, 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 such variations such as "SALLYWOOD" and "SAVETHEPOOD" gained some notoriety.
Multiple other places have imitated the sign in some way.
- 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.
- 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 in Hollinwood, which is near Manchester in the United Kingdom, to celebrate the city's twinning with Los Angeles. The sign was erected during the night and then taken down by the Highways Agency, as the sign was considered a distraction to motorway drivers.
- In March 2010, it was 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. Wellington mayor Kerry Prendergast felt confident in proceeding with the production of the sign, having been given the blessing of Weta's Sir Peter Jackson and Sir Richard Taylor, but the proposed sign's widespread unpopularity with local residents has persuaded the airport staff to consider alternative ideas. On July 27, 2012, the city erected a modified version of the sign, which reads "Wellington" with the last letters blowing away. This pays homage to Wellington's ever present wind.
- 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 ft (82 m) wide and 50 ft (15 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.
- In promotion of tourism, Ivan Jakovljević duplicated the Hollywood sign (only one L was used because of copyright concerns) in a Serbian town. The sign is 2.8 metres (9 ft 2 in) tall) and is located on European route E763 in the small town of Rudnik (Gornji Milanovac).
- 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 campaign Likeable Lithuania.".
- The Chilean municipality of Renca erected a sign high on Renca Hill that reads "Renca la lleva" ("Renca rocks", in Spanish).
- There is an imitation of the sign at Hollywood, County Wicklow in Ireland.
In popular culture
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce claims trademark rights over the sign's image and demands license fees for commercial use. In several films and television shows, the Hollywood sign is seen 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.