Even though it’s just a neighbourhood in Los Angeles, besides movie star residences, Hollywood is also famous for the big, white letters that look out over the Hollywood Hills. The letters that can be seen in countless movies, on countless Instagram pictures and on numerous television reports. The letters that this year celebrated their 100th anniversary.
Even though the famous Hollywood sign is now part of pop culture, this hasn’t always been the case and never really was the goal. Anno 1923, when the sign was first put up, it was meant as a temporary advertisement for a new housing development project in the Hollywood Hills. It was first mentioned at the end of the year by a few Los Angeles news articles and, according to the Hollywood Sign Trust, it cost the developers 21,000 dollars. However, back in the days, the sign actually read ‘Hollywoodland’.
“Each of the original 13 letters was 30 feet (9 metres) wide and approximately 43 feet (13 metres) tall, constructed of 3 feet (1 metre) by 9 feet (2.7 metres) metal squares rigged together by an intricate frame of scaffolding, pipes, wires and telephone poles. At night the Sign blinked into the Hollywood night: first ‘Holly’, then ‘wood’, and finally ‘land’, punctuated by a giant period. The effect was truly spectacular, particularly for pre-Vegas sensibilities”, the Trust’s website explains.
However, after its original glamour, the sign also endured some difficult times. First, in 1932, the British actress Peg Entwistle died by suicide at the sign. Her death on the famous landmark immediately sparked debate about the danger of Hollywood dreams. Then, after the initial housing development failed due to the Great Depression, the sign was handed over to the city in 1944. The landmark then quickly deteriorated and, for some time, ‘Hollywoodland’ became ‘Ollywoodland’ because the H fell down. At the end of the 1940’s, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce repaired the H and took down the ‘land’, leaving only ‘Hollywood’.
Fast forward to the 1970’s when the sign came, again, in dire need of restoration. None other than Hugh Hefner decided to organise a fundraiser for the repair and auctioned off the letters at 27,700 dollars each to celebrities, thereby raising the needed funds to recreate them anew.
Over the past years, the sign has been the centre of attention mainly due to the mountain lion spotted on surveillance cameras in the area. P-22, aka “the Brad Pitt of mountain lions”, prompted a big fundraising for the building of a huge wildlife crossing, meant to help wild animals safely cross the Southern California freeways.
Now, as the sign celebrates its 100th anniversary, all letters got there once-in-a-decennium paint job and are more sparkling white than ever. The Hollywood Sign Trust also announced a fundraising campaign in order to be able to build an official visitors’ center, which would make it much easier for people to visit the famous landmark.