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This year marks the 100-year anniversary of LA’s famed Hollywood Sign. From a real estate advertisement to a global icon.
1923: With the movie industry booming, the small neighborhood known as Hollywood was fast becoming its own industry, attracting newcomers to the city from across America and the world. Seeing the potential in selling affordable homes close to the studios, real estate developers began exploring new areas to build. One of these developers was Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler, who had his eye on a prime section of land in the Hollywood Hills, now known as Beachwood Canyon. Dubbing his new development “Hollywoodland” Chandler set about creating buzz by erecting a sign, unlike anything the city had ever seen.
The original Hollywoodland Sign was 30-foot-wide and 50-foot-high and illuminated by 4,000 light bulbs. At a cost of $21,000, the elaborate advertising gimmick was only intended to last for 18 months but its immediate popularity, and its role as a shining symbol for the growing movie industry, meant it would stand unchanged for the next four decades.
1932: As the Hollywood Sign continued to highlight the glamor and success of the movie industry into the 1930s, the tragic death of actress Peg Entwistle would illuminate the darker side of show business. After achieving moderate success as a promising Broadway performer, Entwistle set her sights on a movie career and moved to Hollywood in 1931. She thought she had it made when she was signed to RKO and cast in her first motion picture, Thirteen Women. but Entwistle’s big break never came, after the studio cut most of her scenes and dropped her from her contract. Overcome, she hiked up to the sign and threw herself from atop the letter H, just one year after she arrived in Hollywood.
1940s: By the early 1940s, the Hollywoodland real estate development had gone bust and its neglected sign was becoming more eyesore than inspiring beacon on the hill. The letter H was severely damaged, and calls were made for its removal or repair. In 1944, the city of Los Angeles took ownership of the sign, but World War II would delay any planned improvements. In 1949, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce stepped in to oversee repairs in a contract with the City that called for the removal of the “land” section to better reflect the neighborhood and the movie industry it had come to represent.
1960s: The Hollywood Sign once again fell to disrepair. By the end of the decade, the first “O” was splintered and broken, while the third had completely fallen over. No longer a shining example of Hollywood’s success, the sign now seemed to point to the end of an era.
1970s: The Hollywood Sign was looking worse than ever by the mid-1970s. It became the target of art student Danny Finegood, who hung curtains over its letters to read “Hollyweed” in a nod to the city’s new marijuana laws.
By 1978, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce determined that the original sign needed to be replaced with a brand-new version that could resist the passage of time and ensure its status as a Hollywood landmark. Enter Playboy’s Hugh Heffner who mounted a public campaign to raise the $250,000 needed for the project. With the genius idea to offer sponsorship for each of the nine dilapidated letters, Hefner enticed donors, including singers Gene Autry and Andy Williams, who each paid $27,778, and Alice Cooper, who sponsored an O in honor of Groucho Marx.
The Pacific Outdoor Advertising Company was contracted to rebuild the sign. At 44 ft high, the new letters were slightly taller than their predecessors. The new sign was officially unveiled on November 11, 1978, during a live CBS television special.
1990s: In an effort to preserve the sign from any further damage, The California Attorney General granted legal rights and responsibilities for maintaining it to three agencies: the City of Los Angeles, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Hollywood Sign Trust, which was formed in 1992 to maintain and repair the sign for future generations while “educating the world about the sign’s historical and cultural importance.”
2000s: Sparking surprise across the city, the original 1923 Hollywood Sign, long thought to have been destroyed after its removal, turned up for sale on auction site eBay in 2005. According to its eventual owner, artist and memorabilia collector, Bill Mack, the sign had been quietly placed in storage in 1978 after the company hired to remove it recognized its cultural and historical significance. The sign remained unnoticed until it was eventually purchased by Mack in 2007.
2023: Now in its 100th year, and following a fresh new paint job, the Hollywood Sign is set for a year of celebrations. The official date for its centenary will be December 8, which marks the date the lights were first turned on in 1923, but Hollywood Sign Trust Chair Jeff Zarrinnam has confirmed “we are celebrating all year long.”
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