There are iconic landmarks around the globe that indicate hope, romance, and promise: The Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben. But few offer the glitter and glamour that comes with those nine letters perched across the top of Los Angeles’ Mount Lee: the Hollywood sign. A quintessential California landmark beloved the world over, the Hollywood sign’s 50-foot by 30-foot letters were first erected as “Hollywoodland” and officially dedicated on July 13, 1923.
The original sign was originally developed as a marketing ploy for a new housing development. America had caught movie fever by 1915, and by the early ‘20s the population was booming. Developers Eli P. Clark, “General” Moses H. Sherman, publisher Harry Chandler, Tracy E. Shoults (then Sidney Woodruff), and John D. Roche would be among those expanding housing into the hillside. Their development would be called “Hollywoodland,” possibly named for the proliferation of California holly in the area. It would feature homes in a variety of theatrical styles—like English Tudor and Mediterranean—as well as a Spanish-style shopping area.
The development began selling its first plots of land in March of 1923, promising an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The “Hollywoodland” sign would be built into the hillside a few months later to advertise it, which wasn’t uncommon at the time. Roche, who was also a publicist and a former typographer, sketched the sign out purposely scaled to match the size of Wilshire Boulevard, one of the city’s main thoroughfares. The developers hoped those stuck in traffic would dream of a life unencumbered in the hills and purchase plots in Hollywoodland. With 4,000 lightbulbs that lit it up at night, the sign was hard to miss.
The landmark was never meant to permanently inhabit the site that’s now known as Mount Lee: it was only supposed to stay up for a year and a half, and was built accordingly. By 1939, there was no money left to maintain it, and by 1944, Hollywoodland development itself ceased. The sign became rusted and decrepit—the “H” fell over, and stayed that way for probably longer than it should have. In 1949, the entire sign was repaired and the “Land” portion was removed. But the flimsy sheet metal would be dilapidated in another 30 years, the letters falling over once again, vandalized, pranked (as with the notorious “Hollyweed” alterations in 1976 and 2017), and falling apart. It needed to be torn down.
Eventually the classic sign would be totally refurbished in 1978, in part because efforts by none other than Hugh Hefner. After holding an “auction” in which celebrities would bid on letters in order to fund the sign (in particular, Alice Cooper “bought” the letter “O”), while others were funded by Warner Bros. Records and the Kelley Blue Book. In between, the sign’s hillside home was bare for three months, but the new letters arrived each 45 feet high, made entirely of steel, and painted in their signature white. It has regularly been repainted since.
For its 90th birthday in 2013, the sign saw another fresh coat of paint courtesy of Sherwin-Williams and 255 gallons of their “High Reflective White.” As the sign nears its 100th birthday, it remains a treasured icon of Americana, one that still bears all the hope of its original incarnation, if not more.END
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createdAt:Thu, 11 Jul 2019 20:01:52 +0000