*Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
High upon Mount Lee in the Santa Monica Mountains, a group of thirteen 45-foot-tall letters were dedicated as an advertisement on July 13, 1923. Reading “Hollywoodland,” the $21,000 sign has become a symbol for the glitz and glamour of the American movie industry and a favorite subject for tourist photos – all this despite being created as a temporary structure designed to draw people to a new housing development and be taken down after just eighteen months.
The idea for the iconic sign originally came from H.J. Whitley, a real estate magnate who had used a similar ad to promote his Whitley Heights neighborhood at Highland and Vine Avenues. When his friend Harry Chandler was looking for ways to raise the profile of his new development, Whitley suggested he take a page out of his advertising book. Chandler took the concept back to his fellow investors, which led the Woodruff and Shoults development team to pay Crescent Sign Company to build a “Hollywoodland” sign on the hills.
Billed as a “superb environment without excessive cost on the Hollywood side of the hills,” the sign became an instant hit. Flashing in three segments before lighting up as a whole, it would turn out to be $21,000 (a quarter of a million dollars today) well spent. Presiding from on high upon the Golden Age of Hollywood, the sign became just as famous as Greta Garbo, Humphrey Bogart, Katherine Hepburn and Clark Gable.
Over the next fifty years, the Hollywood sign would fall into disrepair. The H, for example, was knocked down by a drunk driver. The first O broke nearly in half and the third O fell over completely. Despite being under the care of the City of Los Angeles Parks Department, the weak metal and untreated wood were beyond salvaging. It was not until the late 1970s, when musician Alice Cooper undertook a significant effort to bring attention to a restoration effort, that the sign could be brought back to life as the recognizable landmark it is today.
Five feet shorter than the original sign and manufactured out of steel, the sign was unveiled during a live broadcast to commemorate the film district’s 75th anniversary on November 14, 1978. Nine people – among them Hugh Hefner and singer Gene Autry – each donated $27,777 to have the Hollywood sign stand over the district once again. The 45-foot-tall letters are located in Griffith Park, just north of Mulholland Highway, protected by a wide restricted area filled with motion-detecting sensors and closed-circuit cameras to prevent vandalism.
Some enthusiasts hope to one day see the sign restored to its original dimensions, though the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce has stipulated “land” would no longer be attached to the end of the sign and, thanks to a quirk in the contract negotiated in 1949, the Chamber has refused to pay for lighting the sign since. Of course, the original has long since been taken down from Mount Lee, with the remains being sold at auction in 2005 to eBay entrepreneur Dan Bliss.