The Hollywood Sign is a Special Type of Beacon
Originally erected in 1923, the Hollywood Sign, comprising nine white letters, each 45-feet tall, have become an icon, and helped define a city, and an industry. The sign has been featured in popular culture, and dozens of movies like Superman, Earthquake, and Escape from LA.
While the sign has had its ups and downs over the years, today its future is secure, and it is officially designated “Los Angeles Cultural and Historical Monument #111”. The sign is nestled on the side of Mount Lee, a peak in the Santa Monica mountain range that runs east through west into Griffith Park, the largest urban park in the United States. However, what some may not know is that it wasn’t originally created to promote the movies, or the geographic area of Los Angeles. It was actually created to advertize a real estate development called “Hollywoodland”.
The brainchild of real estate developers S. H. Woodruff and Tracy E. Shoults, the sign was meant to act as an advertisement to bring in potential homebuyers to area now known today as Beachwood Canyon. Meant to be in place for only 18 months until the plots of land were sold, the sign, which was even larger than the one in place today, had its own caretaker who would dutifully maintain it. However, the economy took a turn for the worse during the depression, and the Hollywoodland development went bankrupt.
The sign, once illuminated by 4,000 bulbs, went dark and fell into disrepair—at one point, a drunk driver even crashed into the “H”, toppling it over.
In 1944, the developers sold the entire 455-acre parcel to the City of Los Angeles, and the city considered razing the now very neglected sign. But citizens had come to have an affinity with it, and campaigned to keep it. The city agreed, replacing the broken “H”, and perhaps more importantly, removing the last four letters from the sign, shortening it to the configuration we know today.
Even in the city’s hands, the sign would fall into disrepair once again, but a fundraiser organized by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner helped raised funds for another restoration. Today, the sign’s future looks secure: it has its own trust fund and security, ensuring its upkeep and keeping pranksters at bay. Mischievousness led to the sign becoming “Hollyweed” in 1973, celebrating the decriminalization of Marijuana; and “Holywood”, commemorating a visit from Pope John Paul II.
Today, the Hollywood sign is kept in tip-top condition, and is now by far one of the most recognizable landmarks on the planet. While you’re not allowed to drive or hike right up to the letters, you do have some options.
You might sit outside for a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, or take a hike up Runyon Canyon. There are horse droppings everywhere, so be careful, but there’s a fantastic view of the L.A. River Basin beyond the sign to the south, as well as from the San Fernando Valley to the north. Climb the stairs to the top level of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and you will also have a great view of the sign.
While there, check out Griffith Park Observatory. You’ll have a great vantage point of the sign, and as a big bonus you’ll have an extraordinary view of the entire city of Los Angeles, lain out like a jewel in all its often-smoggy glory. The Observatory is where Rebel Without a Cause took place, too!
Amazingly, everything is free of charge, including parking, and the Observatory. If you grew up in Los Angeles, or are just visiting, a visit to the Hollywood Sign should be on your list—whether you choose to drive, or use your feet to get there.