The surprising origin of Hollywood’s iconic sign, which turns 100 years old and has nothing to do with the film industry

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Image source, Getty Images

This is the story of an accidental icon.

Unlike the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, or other American landmarks, the Hollywood sign, a one-of-a-kind emblem of Los Angeles, the most sought-after image by tourists, a ubiquitous stamp on hats, mugs, and shirts, did not come into existence with the intention of becoming a symbol of anything.

Moreover, on December 8, 1923, when the 40,000 bulbs that adorned it began to illuminate it in segments, alternatingly, what the residents of Los Angeles could actually read on the slope of Mount Lee was:

HOLLYWOODLAND – a captivating fusion of Holly and Wood, a place where dreams come alive, where the magic of cinema intertwines with the allure of nature.

Image source: Getty Images.

This is how the sign looked on the day of its inauguration, illuminated by 40,000 light bulbs.

Located just a stone’s throw away from the area that hosted the monumental production of “Julius Caesar” five years ago – starring Tyrone Power as Brutus, with 500 dancers, 5,000 extras, elephants and camels – it had no connection to the industry it now shares a name with, the one that shapes dreams.

It was a mere sign—albeit massive—with a far more down-to-earth purpose: selling houses.

The concept was for it to be immense, incredibly enormous. So much so that anyone approaching through Wilshire Boulevard, which leads straight to the sea, even from kilometers away, could read it with utmost clarity.

Image source: Getty Images

The intention was for it to be legible from a distance.

That was the request Tracy Shoults and Sydney Woodruff, real estate developers, entrusted to Thomas Fisk Goff, owner of Crescent Sign Company.

They had a new real estate project to promote, namely an eclectic semi-luxury development in the hills of the district famously referred to as Hollywood. This endeavor was funded by a trio of influential businessmen from that era: Eli Clark and Moses Sherman, who were railroad magnates, and Harry Chandler, the owner of the mighty Los Angeles Times newspaper.

They dubbed that group of houses, with its four distinct styles – Tudor or English Medieval, French-Norman, Mediterranean, and English Colonial – as Hollywoodland, reminiscent of a fairy tale set in the “old world,” and marketed it as the realm of happiness and wellness.

Image source: Getty Images

Hollywoodland was advertised as a paradise amidst the hustle and pollution of Los Angeles and Hollywood. Its allure lay in providing an escape from the chaos and environmental degradation that plagued the city.

A “remote haven from the hustle and bustle of human existence,” “the ultimate achievement in community building,” the perfect setting to “shield your family and ensure their happiness” with a home built “high above the smoke, fog, and impure atmospheric conditions.”

Leo Braudy, a university professor and cultural historian, highlights in his book “The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon” (2012), the continuous emphasis made week after week in the advertisements published in the LA Times.

And it happened that by then, Los Angeles was a metropolis with over half a million inhabitants and 106,000 registered vehicles, a number that, according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), would exceed 800,000 by the end of the decade. With a population this large, the city faced challenges in terms of transportation and congestion. The rapid growth and increasing number of vehicles on the road called for innovative solutions to improve the efficiency and sustainability of the transportation system.

Image source: Getty Images.

Between 1910 and 1920, Los Angeles nearly doubled its population.

Hollywood, the epicenter of the film industry, was a well-oiled machinery with 40 million weekly spectators. It housed a network of major studios scattered throughout the city, which, along with those located in other parts of the country, accounted for 80% of global film production.

If one were seeking an escape from it all, they would find an oasis in Hollywoodland. “That was the cornerstone of the marketing strategy for the development, and the illuminated sign atop the Beachwood Canyon was the final piece,” Professor Braudy tells BBC Mundo.

Image source: Getty Images

On June 26, 1953, Marilyn Monroe (left) and Jane Russell were on the verge of imprinting their legacies outside the Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard as part of the promotional campaign for their film “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” They stood side by side, ready to leave an indelible mark in the history of cinema, captivating audiences with their undeniable charm and talent. The iconic duo, known for their magnetic on-screen presence and glamorous personas, were about to make their mark on the world, symbolizing the golden era of Hollywood and the allure of the silver screen.

The initial design of the poster was created by the young advertising guru, John D. Roche. Alternatively, it emerged from a rather misleading interpretation of one of his sketches that was included in an initial promotional brochure.

He recounted it himself on the occasion of his 80th birthday, 54 years later. And the obituary published by The New York Times on November 22, 1978, portrays him as the “architect of the masterpiece,” although some question that account.

Regardless of the course of action, the decision was made to modernize it by employing a sans serif typography, completely diverging from the curvaceous forms of the art nouveau style.

And even though there are no newspaper reports detailing the installation process of those 13 letters, measuring 15 meters in height and 9 meters in width, on the slope of Beachwood Canyon, the photos suggest that it was quite an achievement.

They began by clearing the undergrowth and forging a dirt path for a tractor to transport the necessary materials, including the 18-meter poles that would serve as supports.

Image source: Getty Images

Mules were employed to transport the required materials to construct the sign, as it was necessary to navigate difficult terrain. The arduous task of ascending with the necessary supplies was accomplished with the aid of these sturdy animals. In order to erect the signage, the use of pack animals was indispensable due to the challenging nature of the landscape. The materials needed for the construction of the sign were successfully transported to the site with the assistance of mules, as they proved to be vital in overcoming the obstacles posed by the rugged terrain. The utilization of mules was essential in overcoming the challenges presented by the topography, enabling the delivery of the necessary materials for the erection of the sign.

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Because the final stretch, measuring roughly 70 meters, proved excessively steep, the transportation had to be completed utilizing pack animals.

In his book, Braudy, a professor at the University of Southern California (USC), writes about how Mexican workers anchored each letter to the telephone poles, which were transported to the site by mules. They managed to complete these tasks in just 60 days, which cost $21,000 (equivalent to $250,000 today).

Even though the illuminated sign was unveiled in December, the billboard had been overlooking the city for months, and perhaps partly due to that, by September, houses in Hollywoodland had already sold for a total value of $1.5 million (equivalent to $16 million today).

Sales would continue to increase until all the plots are sold.

While the Hollywood sign initially served as nothing more than a colossal advertising billboard, it didn’t take long for it to capture the collective imagination.

Tragic events played a significant role in this, such as the unfortunate suicide of young Peg Entwistle in 1932, which the media portrayed as that of a tormented actress. If you adored this article and you would like to acquire more info pertaining to nicely visit our web-page. These incidents contributed to the overall perception and understanding of the challenges faced by individuals pursuing a career in the entertainment industry.

He took his own life by jumping off the H. He was only 24 years old.

Regardless of what their motivations may have been, she might have been the first to interpret the sign as a symbol and make it a dramatically explicit part of her biography,” notes Braudy in his work.

Source of the image, Getty Images.

Karen Black on the Hollywood billboard in a scene from the movie “The Day of the Locust” in 1974. The enigmatic allure of Karen Black captivated audiences as she graced the iconic Hollywood billboard. It was in the year 1974 that she mesmerized moviegoers with her unforgettable performance in the film “The Day of the Locust”. The sight of her name displayed high above the bustling streets was a testament to her talent and rising stardom. With a magnetic presence and undeniable charisma, Karen Black left an indelible mark on the silver screen, forever etching her place in cinematic history.

While its appearance in films like Earthquake (1974), “The Day of the Locust” (1975), or Superman: The Movie (1978) certainly played a significant role in turning it into an emblem.

Not forgetting how pop art revitalized its image, particularly through the works of Ed Ruscha, who incorporated it into his paintings, drawings, and prints since 1967. Ed Ruscha’s artistic expressions, including his utilization of pop art elements, have played a significant role in refreshing the museum’s visual identity.

The cartels’ actuality was that, after years of minimal or virtually no upkeep, it was crumbling into pieces. The deteriorated condition of the cartel was evident, as it sagged and the paint peeled off, revealing its age. Neglected and forgotten, the once vibrant and eye-catching sign now stood as a testament to the passage of time. With each passing day, it further disintegrated, losing its former glory and becoming a mere structure of decay.

Decline and resurgence

In the 1940s, the ownership of the sign had been transferred to the city, which took responsibility for restoring the dilapidated H and removing the final four letters, LAND.

However, in 1973, when the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board declared it official monument #111, there was a missing O that had rolled down the hillside, part of the D was gone, and someone had set fire to the base of the second L.

And by the end of that decade, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce concluded that the sign was in need of a complete overhaul, estimating that it could cost a quarter of a million dollars.

Fortunately, some of the city’s prominent figures came to the rescue.

Source of the image, Getty Images.

In 1978, Hugh Hefner arranged a fundraising gala at the Playboy Mansion to collect funds for the restoration of the iconic Hollywood sign. Perhaps due to this event, his wax figure at the museum showcases a portrayal that reflects this historical background.

In 1978, Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy magazine, orchestrated a mansion soirée to raise funds for the iconic Hollywood sign. With flamboyant extravagance, Hefner curated an extravagant event within the opulent confines of his estate. The purpose was twofold: to support the preservation of an emblematic symbol and to celebrate the allure of the silver screen. This illustrious gathering served as a testament to Hefner’s commitment to the preservation of cultural heritage and his unwavering love for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood.

It turned out to be a resounding success: he personally covered the Y, along with other expenses, and rock musician Alice Cooper contributed $27,777 towards a fresh O.

All the letters obtained sponsorship and were replaced with alternative ones constructed from beams of steel and enamel-coated corrugated iron plates, which were firmly affixed to the ground using reinforced cement.

Image source: Getty Images.

In August 1974, beneath the famous Hollywood sign, a portrait was captured featuring the esteemed members of the rock band “Fleetwood Mac” – Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, Christine McVie, and Bob Welch, arranged from left to right.

The project was finished in under three months, with a total cost of approximately $250,000, which is the present-day equivalent of the initial expenditure.

However, the sign also underwent other types of alterations throughout its history, more of the DIY (Do It Yourself) kind. But that’s not all. The sign has witnessed a myriad of self-made modifications over the years, reflecting the spirit of “hazlo tú mismo.” These spontaneous changes have left an indelible mark on its evolving story.

Image source, Getty Images.

“Blessed herb,” reads the altered sign.

In January 1976, a remarkable morning dawned with a surprising transformation of the iconic Hollywood sign. It underwent a playful wordplay alteration to become HOLLYWeeD, in a festive nod to the decriminalization of marijuana. This clever twist capitalized on the English word “weed,” which is synonymous with the plant. Another noteworthy incident occurred during the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1987 when an individual temporarily covered one of the Ls, momentarily turning the sign into HOLYWOOD. These captivating episodes showcased the creative spirit and sense of humor that have become synonymous with the world-renowned Hollywood sign.

To deter such acts of sabotage and various other forms of malicious intent, the area is now fortified with barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, and motion sensors. These security measures have been put in place to ensure the safety and protection of the surroundings, minimizing any potential risks or threats that may arise. With the installation of advanced technology and constant monitoring, any unauthorized entry or suspicious activity can be promptly detected and addressed, providing a secure environment for all concerned parties.

All the previous signs point to their status as an icon…

Unlike other American icons, the Hollywood sign focuses on our aspirations and inner life. While other monuments are tied to a specific era and the national events they celebrate, this sign hovers above its surroundings and circumstances, open to individual interpretation, notes Professor Braudy. Our dreams and innermost desires are encapsulated within this iconic symbol that transcends time and invites personal reflection. Unlike its counterparts, the Hollywood sign remains untethered to any fixed historical context, allowing each person to derive meaning and inspiration unique to their own journey. It serves as a beacon of hope and possibility, resonating with people from all walks of life, regardless of the era or events they may be experiencing. The Hollywood sign has become a powerful emblem of our collective imagination, transcending its physical presence to become a metaphorical representation of our dreams and aspirations.

Image source: Getty Images.

Today, the Hollywood sign has become a popular pilgrimage site for tourists.

In that regard, he enjoys drawing a parallel with the Eiffel Tower, originally intended to be temporary but ultimately becoming the most iconic symbol of Paris.

“In any case, according to Braudy, the sign is a peculiar icon by any definition.”

It’s not about an image that resembles or refers to something called Hollywood, but it’s the name itself. And yet, individuals from all over recognize it as the embodiment of whatever ‘Hollywood’ signifies… with all the ambiguity that entails.

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Google, here is the edited English version of the article excerpt you provided: Image source, BBC World.

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