Issue: Summer 2017

The Hollywood Sign

The Hollywood Sign, one of the world’s iconic symbols, identifies the Entertainment Capital of the World and serves as a metaphor of hope and dreams of success. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to every vantage point possible to get the best photos causing traffic jams and creating havoc on narrow hillside streets.

For years, this area enjoyed its hillside location and proximity to Hollywood. Today, however, with the advent of GPS, smart phones and a 100 percent increase in tourism to Los Angeles, the area has become besieged by visitors seeking a close view of the world-famous sign.

Through the years, the Hollywood sign has always been met with opposition stemming from cost and maintenance to vandalism. With the advances in technology giving everyone the opportunity to hike and plot their own trip to see the sign, every effort to rectify the situation seems to create more problems--the most recent a rift in the Beachwood Canyon neighborhood. Beachwood Canyon is located directly under the Hollywood sign. A decision to close access to a popular hiking trail used by many hikers, tourists and residents who enjoyed having their own access and angering many who consider the decision hasty. The Hollywood Sign is a staple to California’s tourism industry, but with access to one of the most popular trails blocked and hillside residents in an uproar, is peaceful co-existence possible for hikers, tourists, and dreamers alike?

The actual history of the sign is shrouded with mystery. Much like the embellished stories that the movie industry tells, the stories shared about the history of the Hollywood sign were often untrue, inaccurate or exaggerated. The sign was erected in 1923 by the Hollywoodland Real Estate Development

Company to advertise the venture. Construction began in October of 1923. Beginning on December 8, 1923, the sign was illuminated by 3,700 10-watt bulbs. First “Holly” would light up, then “Wood,” then “Land” successively, then all the lights went out and the process would be repeated. Albert Kothe, a German immigrant, was hired by the real estate development company to replace burned-out light bulbs and make minor repairs to the sign. No one knows exactly when the maintenance on the lights ceased, but records indicate that there was no maintenance any later than 1933 when the unsold land and sign became property of the M.H. Sherman Company. Maintenance for the mammoth hillside sign that wasn’t built to last decades was expensive. The “H” blew down in 1944 and remained down for nearly six years. With the maintenance expense and 425 acres of the land still not yet developed, the M.H. Sherman Company donated the land to the City of Los Angeles for $1. On January 30, 1945, the land was officially added to the 3,801 Griffith Park Acreage of which the Park Commission would maintain control. By 1947, the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Commission was ready to rid themselves of the sign but the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and residents in the area protested. This protest went on for two years and in 1949, the Commission granted the Chamber of Commerce permission to rebuild the sign. The “H” was resurrected while the “LAND” was removed. However, the weather continued to contribute to the deterioration of the sign and by the early 1970’s, the Hollywood sign was again in severe disrepair and many were hoping it would finally be torn down. However, in 1973, it was designated as Historic-Cultural Monument #111 by the Cultural Heritage Board of the City of Los Angeles and again the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce came to the sign’s rescue. The Chamber created two individual committees to bring awareness to the deteriorating condition and raise funds for its restoration.

It didn’t last long and, by 1978, the sign had sustained more damage and the Chamber of Commerce determined it needed to be completely replaced. This time, the Chamber created the “Save The Sign” committee to raise $250,000 needed to build a more permanent Hollywood sign. Many popular names in the entertainment industry like Hugh Hefner, Alice Cooper, Warner Bros. Records, Gene Autry, and KTLA among others came together and dedicated money for the new Hollywood sign. On November 11, 1978, with an estimated cost of $153, 030.86, the new Hollywood sign was unveiled with a party hosted at the Griffith Observatory. The same year, a Hollywood Sign Trust was established to oversee and raise any necessary funds to repair, maintain and refurbish the Hollywood sign. The weather has played a constant role in damaging the sign and as tourism continued to grow and the number of hikers to the sign increased, vandalism, unauthorized alterations, and neighborhood issues require constant vigilance. The Hollywood Sign Trust continues to maintain the sign and the security system to alert authorities of possible trespassers.

Visitors and locals alike hike the surrounding Griffith Park trails on a regular basis and this year their access became an issue. The Sunset Ranch Hollywood Stables, a privately-owned horseback-riding facility in Griffith Park and the city’s Recreation and Parks Department entered a dispute regarding an easement to allow the stable’s customers access. On March 14, 2017, the decision was made to close pedestrian access to the Beachwood Canyon trailhead. With the most popular access closing, locals and tourists began a public outcry, unhappy with the decision claiming it is a basic right of Angelenos to have access to its public parks and with the gate at Beachwood Canyon closing, the rights of public access are now threatened.

Since the closure of the gate, residents of Bronson Canyon have seen traffic increase and complain that it’s because misleading information has been published stated that this is a way to get to the sign. However, most visitors leave once they realize they cannot see the sign without taking a long strenuous hike up the hill.

Far from resolved, the councilmember for the area, David Ryu, has allocated $100,000 in funding to complete a comprehensive study for improving park access, safety and mobility in and around Griffith Park and the Hollywood Sign. The goal is to find smarter solutions for visitors, residents and park users alike. No matter what, the Hollywood Sign still beckons and is easily viewed from many locations throughout the Hollywood area. It’s hoped that soon the city of Los Angeles will help provide better public access to the parks and trails without interfering with the homeowners and businesses and find a way for hikers, residents and dreamers get their special photo of the world-famous sign. DH