The History of the Hollywood Sign
The Hollywood sign is the definitive symbol of the move industry and all the glitz and glamour that goes with it.
For almost 100 years it’s stood like a beacon on the southern slope of Mount Lee in the Santa Monica Mountains attracting countless budding actors, all looking to make their fame and fortune in a town where seemingly, anything is possible.
As much as the sign embodies everything we think of when we think of the movie industry, in actual fact it originally had nothing to do with showbiz.
Its intended purpose was to act as a huge billboard to draw new home buyers to a new neighbourhood being developed in the hills called “Hollywoodland”.
That’s right, the sign originally read HOLLYWOODLAND.
Developers S. H. Woodruff and Tracy E. Shoults commissioned London born artist, Thomas Fisk Goff to create and construct the sign to draw people to their housing development. Goff immigrated to America in the early 1920s and set up his own business, the Crescent Sign Company. He got straight to work on the iconic landmark and it was finally constructed in 1923 during the “golden age of Hollywood”.
The sign cost around $21,000 (£15,000) to construct, which is roughly the equivalent of $325,000 (£234,000) in today’s money.
The original letters were as high as 50 feet tall and 30 feet wide and were made of large sections of sheet metal. They were held up with a complicated framing system that included wooden scaffold, pipes, wires and poles.
The sign even used to light up!
A total of 4,000 light bulbs were fitted to the original Hollywoodland sign and were timed to blink so that the words “HOLLY”, “WOOD” and “LAND” each lit up consecutively, followed by the entire word. As well as these lights there was a powerful spotlight that illuminated it from below. 💡💡💡
The sign was such a big deal that it had its own caretaker.
Albert Kothe was employed to perform general maintenance on the “billboard”, including changing any lightbulbs that burnt out (a pretty big task considering how many there were).
In 1944 the city of Los Angeles purchased 455 acres of land (including the bit the sign sits on) from the developers, and five years later decided to tear the now deteriorating Hollywoodland sign down. By this point however the area’s residents had grown so attached to it that they protested its removal.
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce stepped in and decided to take over the maintenance and ownership of the sign but it was agreed that the “Land” part of the sign be taken down.
Since they’d also now be footing the bill of powering the lights, they opted to have them removed too and in 1949 “Hollywood” was born.
Rather than a billboard for a development company the iconic sign would now represent the community instead.
By the late 1970s much of the sign had deteriorated after many years of neglect.
Playboy founder Hugh Hefner who was already a famous L.A. resident at that time decided to throw a lavish fundraiser and auctioned off each of the original letters for $27,000 each. Buyers included Hefter himself and celebrities such as rock star Alice Cooper, singer Andy Williams and actor Gene Autry who, along with several other deep pocketed individuals, coughed up enough cash to have each of the letters replaced with brand spanking new ones. The Hollywood hills were just “the hills” for about three months while the old sign was removed and the new one erected.
A billboard for a housing development had now become an American Landmark.
If you wanted to hike up to see the sign today you can, and there are even tours you can go on. However, you won’t be able to get anywhere near the letters themselves as they’re protected by a high-tech security system developed with the help of The Department of Homeland Security. The security system involves razor wire, infrared technology, motion sensors, alarms, helicopter patrols and 24 hour monitoring. You should also watch out for Rattle Snakes (not part of the security system obviously).
In 2023 the Hollywood sign will be 100 years old! Not bad going for a billboard that was only meant to be in place for 18 months.