Perhaps the most recognizable string of letters in the world. A Real Estate Advertising gimmick turned into a Monument and saved by Hugh Hefner, not once but twice. What more fitting tribute to Tinseltown could you ask for? I love The Hollywood Sign.
On Friday the Thirteenth, July 1923, they dedicated The Sign. Thomas Fisk Goff, owner of the Crescent Sign Company, designed it at the behest of real estate developers Woodruff and Shoults. The whole crackpot scheme was the brainchild of H.J Whitley and Harry Chandler, owner of the L.A. Times.
I can almost picture Chandler, with a wild gleam in his eye, exclaiming, “Why, that’s just crazy enough to work!”
The original letters originally read “Hollywoodland,” were five feet taller than the current structure, and festooned with around 4000 light bulbs, plus a giant blinking dot below, 35 foot in diameter, to “catch the eye.” Because thirteen, fifty foot tall, white, blinking letters are far too subtle on their own.
They put it there to sell land in the hills. And when they were done, they just left it. Bastards! That’s so “ungreen.” Just leaving your garbage on the hill! What are you thinking!
I kid, of course, I love the thing, but that’s kinda what happened. It was never meant to be permanent, at all, let alone to stand up to decades of weather. And I’m sure many, many people felt that way about it as it started to deteriorate over the years. In the early Forties, the signs official caretaker got drunk, drove into the “H” and destroyed it. By 1949 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the City of L.A. parks Department had come to a deal to repair the sign. The eliminated the last four letters and removed the lightbulbs. The Chamber of Commerce would have had to foot the bill for lighting the thing, so, yeah; no.
But it was still the original letters and they continued to deteriorate into a complete eyesore. By the 1970’s it was determined that it needed a complete overhaul, costing a quarter of a million dollars. To raise the money, the band Fleetwood Mac pledged to do a charity concert on the hill in 1977, but local residents put a stop to it. So, the following year, Hugh Hefner stepped in and held a charity auction at the Playboy Mansion, auctioning off individual letters at $27,777 each.
Thus, in August of 1978 they tore down the old sign and put up the one that stands today, this time on purpose. The letters are 45 foot tall and from 31 to 39 feet wide. No light bulbs. Hugh Hefner owns the “Y,” Andy Williams spotted for the “W,” and Alice Cooper bought the third “O” in honor of Groucho Marx. Warner Brothers owns the second “O,” and I suspect they currently keep The Warner Kids trapped in there, instead of in their old water tower.
Recently, a proposal to develop the surrounding land prompted the “Save the Peak” campaign. $12.5 Million dollars was needed to keep 138 acres adjacent to the sign. Donations came from all over, but at the eleventh hour, the Hollywood Sign’s Number One Fan, Hugh Hefner stepped in again, this time donating the final $900,000 dollars to save it.
Thanks, Hef. I really, really appreciate it.
I would respectfully like to dedicate this post to the Memory of Peg Entwistle. Rest in Peace, Star.
This post is part of the L.A.’s Greatest Landmarks series – click here for the rest of the series!