December 20, 2011 at 2:00 am 6 comments

By Chad Upton | Editor

The HOLLYWOOD sign in Los Angeles, California needs little introduction.

Although it is often associated with movies and television it was originally erected in 1923 as an advertisement for a new housing development named Hollywoodland. It originally cost $21,000 to build the 50-foot high letters on Mount Lee, including the four thousand 20 watt bulbs that illuminated them.

The letters quickly became a symbol of the movie industry. Ironically, actress Peg Entwistle became famous when she climbed a workman’s ladder to the top of the “H” and allegedly jumped to her death in 1932. She was apparently unhappy about her failure as an actress. It’s true, she was not well known — it took two days for police to identify who she was, and only then because her uncle contacted them to see if it could be her.

In 1944, the housing developers transferred ownership of some land, including the Hollywoodland sign, to the City of Los Angeles. By 1949, the sign was in grave disrepair. As the city was demolishing it, public outcry turned the demolition into a refurbishing project, during which time it was shortened to HOLLYWOOD. The letters were shortened too, now standing 45 feet tall, instead of the original 50. More residents could identify with HOLLYWOOD since that was the name of the city from 1903 to 1910 and remains the name of the district today.

The 1949 sign was built from sheet metal and wood, which fared well considering its materials, but was falling apart by 1978. At this time, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce began a campaign to replace the sign with a more permanent version. Nine generous donors including, Hugh Hefner; Warner Brothers Records and Alice Cooper, each paid $27,700 to reconstruct a letter. In 2009, Hugh Hefner saved the sign again when he donated $1 million to The Trust for Public Land, an organization formed to protect the area from further real estate development.

Decades of temporary alterations to the sign began in 1976, some authorized and some not. A few of the more famous modifications include: HOLLYWEED, HOLYWOOD, GO NAVY, CALTECH, OLLYWOOD, OIL WAR, PEROTWOOD, GO UCLA, SAVE THE PEAK, JOLLYGOOD. To prevent further unauthorized modifications, the LAPD installed a motion detector alarm system in 2000.

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Photo: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid (cc)

Sources: Wikipedia (Hollywood Sign, Peg Entwistle), Film Bug, Beachwood Canyon

Entry filed under: Entertainment, History and Origins. Tags: , , , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Catalyst  |  December 20, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Oops, one misspelled word. It is “fared”, not “faired”.

  • 2. n.darling  |  December 20, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    I spent many summers there as a child, yet knew non of this!
    That is some awesome information!
    Thanks Chad:)

  • 3. Bearfoot  |  December 21, 2011 at 1:26 am

    Jokes about suicide?

    Dude, not funny.

  • 4. Hollywoodland–Here we come again! | breathelighter  |  January 28, 2012 at 11:45 am

    […] The HOLLYWOOD Sign Originally Said HOLLYWOODLAND ( […]

  • 5. Dan the Man  |  February 27, 2012 at 11:24 am

    I just watched Hollywoodland. One of the best films I have ever had the pleasure to watch. I learded about the movie from Alan. This is one great explanation right here:

  • 6. Steven  |  May 7, 2012 at 9:06 pm

    In the movie the Rocketeer, the Hollywoodland is referenced. Here’s a spoiler to the ending, so don’t watch it if you haven’t seen it. It’s a really entertaining movie.


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