Hollywood, often cited as the heart of not just the entertainment industry but the city of Los Angeles itself, represents possibility to all who visit each year. And the first welcome they receive is from nine letters staggered atop Mount Lee that have come to represent our community.
In fact, Hollywood would not be “Hollywood” without the iconic sign. The city of Hollywood was officially christened in response to the building of the “Hollywoodland” sign in 1923. Originally built by Los Angeles Times publisher, Harry Chandler as a massive billboard for new real estate development, the “Hollywoodland” sign quickly came to represent much more than a new development.
Putting up the original sign was a massive feat. Each of the original thirteen letters, brought to the top of Mt. Lee by hand, were 30 feet wide and approximately 43 feet tall, constructed of 3×9′ metal squares fastened together by an intricate frame of scaffolding, pipes, wires and telephone poles. Not to mention the 4,000 20-watt bulbs that originally lit the sign.
Though the sign was only meant to stay up for a year and a half, the community and the burgeoning film industry quickly adopted the Hollywoodland sign. Its bright lights becoming a beacon signaling one had entered Tinseltown – a place where dreams come true.
But not even Hollywood could escape the Great Depression unscathed. In the early 1940s the original Hollywoodland development went bankrupt but the sign, now iconic in the community remained with ownership being taken by the City of Los Angeles. By this time, however, the Sign’s shine dimmed with the wear of the age. And, as Hollywood moved into the post-war years, the area underwent another significant shift. In the 1960s the expansion of suburban developments enticed many Los Angeles residents to settle down in less congested areas. Soon, the film industry followed suit, with many of the large studios leaving Hollywood for the San Fernando Valley.
With the sudden flight of significant industries from Hollywood, adult-entertainment venues popped up to fill the void, bolstered by the looser regulations on such entertainment at the time. As a result, crime levels increased and Hollywood went through a period of urban decay common in many U.S. cities at the time.
As the turbulent 1960s came to a close, the Hollywood Sign reflected the era. The Sign, now significantly rusted, was crumbling under its own weight.
To save the, now historic sign, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board gave the Sign official landmark status in 1973 (Monument #111). Despite this, the Sign continued to decay throughout the 1970s. The top of the “D” and an entire “O” toppled down Mt. Lee. At another point, an arsonist set fire to the bottom of the second “L” and pranksters altered the Sign’s letters to read “Hollyweed” in 1973 and, later, “Holywood”, commemorating a visit from Pope John Paul II.
In the late 1970’s, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce stepped in and advocated for a complete rebuilding of the Hollywood Sign. Unfortunately, the rebuilding of the sign carried a massive price tag of a quarter million dollars. Thankfully, some of Hollywood’s stars stepped in to help save the Sign. Hugh Hefner hosted a gala fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion, auctioning off individual Sign letters at $27,700 per letter. The effort brought together an odd mix of celebrity sponsors: Glam-rocker Alice Cooper ‘bought’ an “O” (in honor of Groucho Marx), while singing cowboy Gene Autry sponsored an “L” and Andy Williams sponsored the “W.”
With the help of these and many other donors, the original Sign was torn down in August of 1978. And for three lonely months the top of Mt. Lee stood empty.
But when November rolled along the new Hollywood Sign stood proudly on the mountain side as it ushered in an era of revitalization that continues today. Federal grants received in the 1980s allowed for a number of redevelopment projects to get off the ground in Hollywood, while famous theaters like the El Capitan, the Pantages, and the Egyptian were restored to stand once more as monuments to Hollywood’s storied history intertwined with the film and entertainment industry.
To this day, the Hollywood Sign continues to serve as a barometer for the community; and as Hollywood continues to blossom, new efforts and partnerships have been made to preserve the historic icon with little disruption to the community. The sign, now owned in part by the City of Los Angeles (which owns the land the Sign stands on), the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce (which owns the licensing rights for the Sign’s image), and the Hollywood Sign Trust (formed to maintain, repair and provide capital improvements to the Sign for the benefit of the public). With over XXXX visitors annually, the Hollywood Sign continues to represent the fulfillment of dreams to every generation.
Looking for the best views of the Hollywood Sign?
The Hollywood and Highland Mall (6801 Hollywood Blvd #170, Hollywood, CA 90028) offers multiple viewing decks of the Hollywood Sign and is a popular destination for photos.
Griffith Observatory features close-up views of the Hollywood Sign as well as the City of Los Angeles. Don’t forget to take a tour of the newly renovated observatory while you’re there.
Hiking to the Sign
There are three hiking trails to the Hollywood Sign of varying difficulties. All trails are open from Sunrise to Sunset, 365 days a year. While enjoying hiking, please stay on authorized trails.
- Easy - Mt Hollywood Trail
- Moderate - the Brush Canyon Trail
- Difficult - the Cahuenga Peak Trail
LA Metro to the Sign
The DASH Observatory bus service, operated by LADOT Transit, runs every 20 minutes, seven days a week, from 12:00 noon to 10:00 p.m. weekdays and 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. weekend days. You can board the bus at The Metro Red Line Vermont/Sunset Station or at stops along Hillhurst Avenue in Los Feliz Village. Fare is 50 cents a ride, 25 cents for seniors and the disabled. Access cardholders travel free.
Phone: (323) 379-2110