The Hollywood Sign

Harry Chandler, facing camera, participates in the 1923 dedication ceremony for the Hollywoodland sign. Photo: HollywoodPhotographs.com

Harry Chandler, facing camera, participates in the 1923 dedication ceremony for the Hollywoodland sign.
Photo: HollywoodPhotographs.com

The Hollywood Sign is the iconic symbol of the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. Erected in 1923, the sign represents movies, fame, stardom and glamor. Each letter of the sign covers almost 30 feet at the base. The sign is almost four stories high. It has managed to survive so many instances of vandalism and still stands tall on the rocky and uneven terrain of Hollywood Hills. However, as many people know, the sign is not complete. When the original sign was erected, it had four more letters- L-A-N-D.

The sign was put up by Hollywoodland Real Estate Group. Back then, it was merely a real estate advertisement. Slowly, it took a life of its own and became a cultural symbol of Los Angeles. But it would be wrong to presume that the Hollywood Sign we see today is exactly the same that was erected in 1923. Just like most things in LA, the sign has undergone many ‘facelifts’ and ‘surgeries’. The most important being the removal of the last four letters.

 Los Angeles was witnessing a rapid expansion in 1920s. Hollywood Hills was one of the most attractive real estate destinations for investors. Harry Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, was one of the first investors to recognize the real estate potential of the Hills. According to David Wallace, the author of the books Lost Hollywood and Hollywoodland, Chandler and his investors owned most of the desert land of San Fernando Valley. He, along with the movie director Mack Sennett, decided to invest in the Hills.

Hollywoodland Realty sold lots in the housing development that was advertised by the famous sign. Photo: Renée Montagne, NPR News

Hollywoodland Realty sold lots in the housing development that was advertised by the famous sign.
Photo: Renée Montagne, NPR News

Chandler was the one who had the HOLLYWOODLAND sign erected on the hill. Each letter was around 50 feet tall. A total of 4,000 light bulbs were used to illuminate the sign so as to make it look visually-appealing. A maintenance man was hired whose only job was to replace the non-working light bulbs. The main purpose of putting up the sign was to speed up the pace of development on the Hills.

The Hollywood Sign became a prime symbol of movies in the late 1920s. It represented a town where people could chase fame and realize their fantasies. People who dreamed of achieving stardom flocked to Los Angeles. However, in 1932, an incident occurred that shattered the rosy picture of LA being a town of fame and stardom.

The Hollywood Sign is known the world over. Photo courtesy Hollywood Chamber of Commerce

The Hollywood Sign is known the world over.
Photo courtesy Hollywood Chamber of Commerce

On a September night in 1932, Peg Entwistle, a young actress in her 20s, used a maintenance ladder to climb the 50-foot high letter ‘H’. She stood on top of the letter ‘H’ for a few moments and then jumped to her death.

In her short life, Peg Entwistle achieved moderate success. After acting on the New York stage, she later moved to California and worked in a couple of movies. Just like so many other small time actors, she failed to achieve any great success. She was dejected with the way her career was shaping and decided to end her life.

After Entwistle’s suicide, the iconic sign became associated with broken dreams. The beautiful image of Hollywood being the land of money and glamor took a hit.

Actress Peg Entwistle jumped to her death from the sign in 1932. Photo courtesy Findadeath.com

Actress Peg Entwistle jumped to her death from the sign in 1932.
Photo courtesy Findadeath.com

In addition to Entwistle’s suicide, the the 1929 stock market crash also affected the situation. The ensuing Great Depression in 1930’s affected every industry and real estate was no exception. The housing market fell and the investors suffered heavy losses. Hollywoodland’s real estate development came to a standstill. As the 1940s approached, the situation worsened so much that the developers didn’t even have the resources to pay someone to maintain the sign. As a result, they decided to abandon the sign.

The Hollywood Sign remained neglected until 1949. This is the year when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce decided to take matters in its own hands. They offered to remove the last four letters of the sign (L-A-N-D) and repair the rest.

 However, the sign once again fell into neglect in the 1960s. The maintenance and repair work of the sign was proving to be too costly. Money was raised by the Hollywood Kiwanis Club to repair the sign. However, the damage could not be contained. Eventually, one of the O’s of the sign came crashing down the hill.

The help came from Hugh Hefner, the publisher of the adult magazine Playboy. He organized a party at the Playboy Mansion. At the party the letters for a new sign were sold. With the help of Gene Autry and Alice Cooper, Hefner managed to raise enough money required to put up the letters back on the hill.

The sign as seen in a satellite photo. Photo: NASA

The sign as seen in a satellite photo.
Photo: NASA

Today, the Hollywood Sign stands tall on the Hill and is well-maintained. The sign represents the forever changing Hollywood industry and continues to be a symbol of fame and stardom.

Article by: Sign A Rama Davie

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