Hollywood Sign History: 8 Surprising Facts

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The world is full of signs, but we dare say that there’s one that’s more recognizable than most. Of course, we’re referring to the iconic Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, California. When you see it, you know without a doubt you’re in Tinseltown, home of the entertainment industry and A-list celebrities, big-time movie directors, clever writers and talented producers.

For nearly the last century, the sign has been standing strong in an ever changing world. From WWII to the end of the disco era, little has changed since its first debut nearly 100 years ago! The older it becomes, the richer its history grows. Keep reading below. These eight facts will make you appreciate the sign’s vibrant history even more.

 

  1. The sign was originally a symbol for the real estate industry.

This might come as a shock to many people, but the iconic Hollywood sign wasn’t always a symbol of the entertainment industry. Believe it or not, it was originally built in 1923 as an advertisement for a local real estate development called Hollywoodland, but because the sign grew in popularity and attracted a lot of attention, it was permanently left up.

 

Publicity photo for the Hollywoodland groundbreaking, complete with plow, mules, and surveyors.

 

  1. The sign was never meant to be permanent.

The original sign was intended only to last a year and a half, but after the rise the Golden Age of Hollywood, the sign became an internationally recognized symbol and was left there. Thank God it was! Can you imagine Hollywood without the sign? We can’t either, and the thought is actually kind of scary.

 

  1. An aspiring, young actress took her life at the sign.

Nearly ten years after the sign’s historic debut, Peg Entwistle, an aspiring film actress, became the symbol of the dark side of the Hollywood dream. Like many before her, she dreamed of making it big in Hollywood—only her big break never came. In 1932, she made the grueling hike up the canyon hill to the Hollywood sign which for her had now become a symbol of failure and rejection. According to old news reports, she climbed 50 feet up a workman’s ladder to the top of the “H” and plunged to her death. Sadly, she was only 24 years old.

 

hollywood sign history peg entwistle

 

  1. A drunk driver destroyed the letter ‘H’ in 1940’s

During the early 1940s, Albert Kothe (the sign’s official caretaker) caused an accident that destroyed the letter H. Kothe, driving while intoxicated, was nearing the top of Mount Lee when he lost control of his vehicle and drove off the cliff directly behind the H. While Kothe was not injured, his 1928 Ford Model A was destroyed, as was the original 50-foot-tall illuminated letter H.

 

hollywood-sign-history-albert-kothe

 

  1. The sign eventually went pitch black dark.

There was a time when the Hollywood soon was as bright as the moon until 1949. That’s the year when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce began a contract with the City of Los Angeles Parks Department to repair and rebuild the sign. The Parks Department ordered that all subsequent illumination would be at the chamber’s expense. Of course, the chamber didn’t want to foot the hefty bill, so it opted not to replace the more than 4,000+ lightbulbs.

 

  1. The original sign was later shortened.

During the very same year that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce decided to rescue of the ailing sign, it also demanded that the letters that spelled “LAND” be removed to reflect the district, not the “Hollywoodland” housing development. As the century hit the halfway mark, a leaner, cleaner sign was reintroduced in its now-iconic form.

 

hollywood sign history aerial view
Until the late 1940’s the sign read “Hollywoodland”

 

  1. The sign was on the verge of obliteration at one point.

Fifty years after it was first erected, the sign was in pretty bad shape. In 1973, the City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board gave the sign official landmark status; however, its appearance continued to decline. The top of the “D” and the entire third “O” toppled down Mt. Lee, and an arsonist set fire to the bottom of the second “L.”

 

hollywood sign history in ruins
The Hollywood Sign fell into ruins until it’s restoration in 1978.

 

  1. A new sign replaced the old one in the 1970s.

By the late 1970’s, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce determined that the sign needed to rebuilt completely– which carried a price tag of a quarter million dollars! Thankfully, some of showbiz’s biggest names came to the rescue. Hugh Hefner hosted a gala fundraiser at the Playboy Mansion, where individual sign letters were ceremonially ‘auctioned’ off at $27,700 per letter. The effort to preserve the sign 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.” A new sign was then built in 1978 using 194 tons of concrete, enamel, and steel.

 

hollywood sign history 2016

hollywood sign history close up

 

The Sign Today

The Hollywood sign continues to inspire aspiring actors and movie fans from all over the globe while playing a vital role in keeping the town a hotspot for tourism and moviemaking. When you see it, you know you’ve arrived at the place where dreams come true…expect for New Year’s Day 2017 when it was altered to read “Hollyweed.” That wasn’t so original, though – four college students first did it on New Year’s Day 1976.

 

Hollywood Sign History Hollyweed prank
“Hollyweed” – Pranksters strike on New Year’s Day 2017

 

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