A short history of the ‘Hollywood’ sign: Fourth in a SmartSign blog series on famous signs and their origins

Many know the famous Hollywood sign as one of the most historic landmarks in Los Angeles and a worldwide symbol of the entertainment industry. What most people don’t know is that it was actually originally built as a real-estate advertisement.

The original sign read “Hollywooodland” and was created in 1923 to advertise the upscale real-estate development of the same name. The sign cost $21,000 to build, equivalent to over $250,000 in today’s money. Ownership of the sign eventually passed to the city and in 1949, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce decided to remove the last four letters so that it would simply spell out “Hollywood”.

The sign is located on the southern side of Mount Lee in Griffith Park. The building, and tower, located behind and to the right of the sign is the City of Los Angeles Central Communications Facility, which supports all cell phone and radio towers used by the LA Police Department and Fire Department.

Since the sign sits atop a very steep hill and lacks a safe infrastructure for visitors, the LA Fire Department characterized this as an “extremely high fire risk area” and visitors are no longer able to walk right up to the sign. In order to safeguard the sign, a security system was put in place, complete with razor wire, infrared technology, 24 hour monitoring, alarms, and helicopter patrols.

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Despite the added security, the sign has been no stranger to mischievousness throughout the years. In 1976, a group of pranksters altered the sign to read “Hollyweed” to celebrate a newly passed law that decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. They went on to change the sign a few more times, including to “Holywood” in 1987 when Pope John Paul II visited and to “Oil War” in 1991 to represent the Gulf War.

In 1978, Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner campaigned for restoration of the landmark, forcing the Chamber to replace the sign, which had deteriorated immensely. Each of the existing letters was auctioned off for $28,000 to raise money for the renovation. They were replaced with new 45-foot letters made out of steel, supported by steel columns.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce owns trademark over the image and charges fees for commercial use, such as the several films and TV shows that the sign is featured in. You can see the Hollywood sign get destroyed in a number of disaster movies, like The Day After Tomorrow, Sharknado and Terminator: Salvation, just to name a few.

Currently, the sign has its own trust fund, which was created to maintain and promote it. In 2013, in celebration of the sign’s 90th anniversary, the sign received its latest renovation which included a new paint job and webcams that allow internet visitors to have 24/7 surveillance.

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