A Brief History Of The Hollywood Sign - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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A Brief History Of The Hollywood Sign

Or whatever happened to 'LAND'?
It's arguably the most iconic sign in the world. Nine massive letters both spelling out and overlooking Hollywood, Los Angeles, California. But, its original purpose was not to promote the base of the American film industry, rather the sign was first erected to sell some posh houses!

Originally spelling out "HOLLYWOODLAND", the sign's purpose was to advertise the name of a new segregated housing development in the hills above the Hollywood district of Los Angeles. Real estate developers Woodruff and Shoults called their development "Hollywoodland" and advertised it as a "superb environment without excessive cost on the Hollywood side of the hills."

They contracted the Crescent Sign Company to erect thirteen south-facing letters on the Mount Lee hillside. The sign company owner, Thomas Fisk Goff, designed the sign with each letter standing 30 ft (9.1 m) wide and 50 ft (15.2 m) high, and the whole sign studded with around 4,000 light bulbs. The sign flashed in segments: "HOLLY," "WOOD," and "LAND" lit up individually, and then as a whole.
Below the Hollywoodland sign was a searchlight, which would operate at dusk to attract more attention. The project cost $21,000 (equivalent to $320,000 in 2021) and was only intended to last a year and a half, but after the rise of American cinema in Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the sign became an internationally recognised symbol and was left there.

Of course, given that the sign was only supposed to be temporary, it wasn't built to sustain the long-term elements thrown at it across the years. By the mid-1940s, the sign had sustained extensive damage and deterioration, and the letter H had been destroyed completely. According to one account, the sign's caretaker Albert 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 car and the letter H were both destroyed. The Hollywood Sign Trust disputes this story, and instead says that the H was felled by heavy winds in early 1944.
Of course, there is no "LAND" on the sign today, and that came about in 1949 when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce began a contract with the City of Los Angeles Parks Department to repair and rebuild the sign. The contract stipulated that "LAND" be removed to spell "Hollywood" and reflect the district, not the "Hollywoodland" housing development. The Parks Department dictated that all subsequent illumination would be at the Chamber's expense, so the Chamber opted not to replace the light bulbs but kept the searchlights.
Perfectly encapsulating the glamour of 1950s cinema and the movie stars of the era, the newly-repaired Hollywood sign began to make frequent appearances in popular culture, particularly in establishing shots for films and television programs set in or around Hollywood.

Although the 1949 restoration had given the sign new life, its unprotected wood-and-sheet-metal structure continued to deteriorate, and by the 1970s the first O had splintered and broken, resembling a lowercase u, and the third O had fallen down completely, leaving the severely dilapidated sign reading "HuLLYWO D." By 1978, the once glorious and proud sign was in a rather sorry state...
Of all the people who could've possibly stepped forward to save the sign and return it to its former glory, you'd likely not guess that it was Hugh Hefner. The founder of Playboy Magazine spearheaded a public campaign to restore the landmark, which resulted in the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce replacing the severely deteriorated sign with a more permanent structure. Nine donors gave $27,778 each (totaling $250,000) to sponsor replacement letters, made of steel supported by steel columns on a concrete foundation. The new letters were 45ft (13.7m) tall and ranged from 31 to 39ft (9.4 to 11.9m) wide.

The new version of the sign was unveiled on November 11th 1978, as the culmination of a live CBS television special commemorating the 75th anniversary of Hollywood's incorporation as a city.
The nine donors who funded the new Hollywood sign, which still stands today (although underwent further restoration work in November 2005 when workers began stripping the letters back to their metal base and repainting them white), all 'sponsored' one letter each. A rather eclectic collection, they were...
  1. H: Terrence Donnelly (publisher of the Hollywood Independent Newspaper)
  2. O: Alice Cooper (singer), who donated in memory of comedian Groucho Marx
  3. L: Les Kelley (founder of the Kelley Blue Book)
  4. L: Gene Autry (actor)
  5. Y: Hugh Hefner (founder of Playboy)
  6. W: Andy Williams (singer)
  7. O: Giovanni Mazza (Italian movie producer, co-founder of Panaria Film)
  8. O: Warner Bros. Records
  9. D: Dennis Lidtke (businessman), donated in the name of Matthew Williams
Despite numerous temporary alterations, both official and guerilla-style publicity stunts, a never ending backlash of controversy surrounding access rights, and a long-standing history of suicide attempts, the sign still stands there proud in the Hollywood Hills, nearly 100 years after the original supposedly 18-month promotional campaign structure was erected. And who would bet against the Hollywood sign still being there on Mount Lee in another 100 years?

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