1925 Hollywoodland sign behind a large home in Hollywoodland.
1930: Peg Entwistle committed suicide on September 16, 1932 by jumping of the letter "H" of the Hollywoodland sign.
1923 Constuction of the Hollywood sign
1972 The Hollywood Sign History of the Hollywood Sign.
1973 Hollywood sign in disrepair.
1923 Dedication of the Hollywoodland sign
1923 Construction of the Hollywoodland sign. Hollywood Sign History
1925 Hollywoodland residence in from of the Hollywoodland Sign.
1923 Construction of the Hollywoodland sign
1973 Gloria Swanson during the unveiling of the restored Hollywood sign.
1947 The hollywoodland sign with the damaged letter 'H". The letter was blown in 1944 by a violent wind storm.
HISTORY OF THE HOLLYWOODLAND SIGN AND THE TWO HOLLYWOOD SIGNS
By Bruce T. Torrence
February 12, 2017
The following is my attempt to chronicle the true history of the Hollywoodland and two Hollywood signs. In order to do this, it required dispelling the many inaccuracies, apocryphal claims and hyperbolic stories, which have been circulated for decades. I’ve researched the sign’s history for many years, but it was only recently that I uncovered new information regarding the sign. It was this new information that re-piqued my interest in the sign’s history and compelled me to write the following.
My research took me to many sources for information on the Hollywoodland development and the Hollywoodland/Hollywood signs. The Los Angeles Public Library’s microfilm collection of newspapers was an invaluable resource. One of the most incredible finds was the Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona Del Mar. This wonderful and unique library, named after Moses H. Sherman, houses many of the original documents, letters and papers on Hollywoodland, the Hollywoodland sign and the M.H. Sherman Co. Mary Mallory and her book, “Hollywoodland”, and James Zeruk Jr. and his book, “Peg Entwistle And The Hollywood Sign Suicide” were a valuable source of historical information.
Over the course of the past forty years, I’ve collected hundreds of articles, documents and papers about the sign. One of the most valuable sources for information about the sign is my collection of over two hundred photographs of the Hollywoodland/Hollywood signs. The collection, which can be viewed on my website, www.hollywoodphotographs.com, has photos beginning with the sign’s construction and ending with photos, taken in 2011.
The Hollywood sign is, unquestionably, one of Hollywood’s most iconic symbols. For years, people have associated the sign with Hollywood as being the entertainment capital of the world. As popular as the sign has become, some of the sign’s early history has been shrouded in mystery for many years. For example, Hollywood historians have attempted to learn the date the sign was completed, how long it took to build and when it was first lighted. Also, it was uncertain when and how the letter “H” was knocked to the ground. After years of research and some fortuitous events, many of these questions have, finally, been answered. Also, there have been so many untrue, inaccurate and hyperbolic stories written about the sign, that it was difficult to separate the truth from fiction. One of the most common problems that faces historians is that misinformation gets perpetuated because people tend to recount or rephrase what has been written before. If the original story is erroneous or inaccurate, then the retelling of that story will also be inaccurate or untrue. As a Hollywood historian, I will attempt to dispel the many apocryphal stories about the Hollywoodland/Hollywood sign and convey an accurate history of this famous icon. Note: The numbers in parenthesis refer to the endnotes.
Base Fact: The Hollywoodland sign was erected in 1923 by the owners of the real estate development called Hollywoodland. It was intended to be an “advertising sign” to promote the sale of property within the new subdivision. For reasons explained below, the sign was altered, in late 1949, to read HOLLYWOOD. Ever since then, this sign and the 1978 replacement sign has read HOLLYWOOD.
The following is an excerpt from Mary Mallory’s book, “Hollywoodland.”
“In the early days, the area of Beachwood Canyon was either empty land or used for farming, as seen in photographs, and did not exist on maps. The eastern half of what became Hollywoodland first appeared in records when the federal government issued a patent to the Southern Pacific Railroad on February 9, 1884. On September 26, 1890, the Railroad sold the land to Julia E. Lord for an undetermined amount, and four days later she leased it to Quong Yuen Chung “for the right to cut wood.” Deeds for mining interest first appeared on December 12, 1893, but were terminated by court action 1896. On February 8, 1900, Lord bought the western half of the Hollywoodland site from the federal government. As noted in a Los Angeles Times article dated December 22, 1968, she sold the entire 640 acres on July 8, 1905, for $10,000, to Eli P. Clark and his brother-in-law, Moses H. Sherman.” This property became known as the Sherman & Clark Ranch. (1)
On April 1, 1923, the Los Angeles Times reported that a syndicate had been formed to subdivide the 500-acre Sherman & Clark ranch. The real estate syndicate included, Eli P. Clark, Gen. Moses H. Sherman, Harry Chandler (Los Angeles Times publisher), Tracy E. Shoults and Sydney H. Woodruff. Clark and Sherman turned development over to Shoults and Woodruff who would be responsible for sales and development/construction, respectively. Title to the land was vested in Title Insurance & Trust Company (Trust No. S-5975, dated and signed on March 8, 1923), which will issue all certificates of title. (1-1) The Western Construction Company, which built homes in the Windsor and Marlborough Squares in 1920, was reorganized in 1923 with W.H. Woodruff as president and M.H. Sherman as vice-president. (2) While the engineering was performed by the Engineering Service Company, Western Construction was responsible for all elements of construction for the new Hollywoodland real estate subdivision. (3) Initial work was concentrated on grading the streets, requiring the demolition of some of the hills. Men with pick-axes, steam shovels and mule drawn graders were used to develop gentle grades for the cement roads. They used rocks and aggregate from the nearby Clark and Sherman quarry for walls, cement roads and terraces. As the roads were being completed, buildable lots were graded and utility meters installed. Construction, also, began on the sales office at 2690 N. Beachwood Dr. Work crews and stone-masons lived in tents on upper Beachwood Canyon while they worked on the tract and the Hollywoodland sign. The first tract of the subdivision was recorded on May15, 1923. In April, 1923, Shoults hired architect John L. DeLario to head the Hollywoodland design team. According to Mary Mallory’s “Hollywoodland” book, DeLario favored the feel and look of Spanish and Mediterranean homes but added a more modern feel to these styles. Architectural styles were limited to English Tudor, French Normandy, Mediterranean and Spanish. (4)
When Tracy E. Shoults dropped dead in his office on July 6, 1923, S.H. Woodruff was named the lead for all phases of Hollywoodland’s development. In early September 1923, Woodruff hired L.J. Burrud to be Hollywoodland’s advertising director and publicity manager. (5)
Burrud used the mass media to his advantage and planned numerous events and stunts to place the name Hollywoodland before the public. On October 7, 1923, the Los Angeles Times reported that Burrud arranged for the California Oakland Motor Company to send a new Oakland 6-54 model to Hollywoodland to test the new four-wheel brakes. Prior to this, all cars were built with two wheel brakes. With Harry Neville at the wheel, and Burrud observing, the car was driven to one of the steepest portion of the canyon walls. Neville nosed the car over the edge into what like a certain nose-dive and the finish of the driver and car. As the L.A. Times article reported, “Instantly the car gained momentum and Neville applied the brakes. The effect was a revelation. The Oakland came to a smooth stop within a few feet without so much as a sliding wheel.” To prove that a car with only two wheel brakes would fail the same test, they took a last year’s car out and did just that. The brakes failed and the car slid crab-fashion down the side of the canyon.
Less than three months after Harry Neville drove the 1924 Oakland car down the steep hillside, L.J. Burrud boasted to his friends that “no motor car would ever reach the big sign his company built until they put a road up around the mountains.” The Oakland Motor Company accepted the challenge and Harry Neville volunteered to make the try. A December 30, 1923 Los Angeles Times article states: Under the guidance of Burrud, the car was driven up the trail made by the tractor on the very razor edge of the hogsback that leads upwards, the loose dirt offering little traction. It took quite few minutes to get the car up over the worst of the grade and then the task of turning it around presented itself.” This dare-devil attempt was witnessed by a throng of people including workmen, thrill-seekers and salesmen. As Neville allowed the car to roll forward, the spectators stood with fear and trembling as the loose dirt began to give way under the weight of the car. But Neville stuck by the ship and permitted it to roll forward with the road at an angle of 45 degrees under the car. The L.A. Times article went on to say; “The four-wheel brakes were all that could have held the car on the tortuous descent. It is so steep that a man has to sit down and slide. It was this way all the way down the incline until the Oakland rolled out onto the wide smooth roads of Hollywoodland,”
Mary Mallory’s book, “Hollywoodland”, describes the sales efforts as follows; “To entice buyers, they promoted how fine the amenities were, even such basic ones as electricity, gas, water, sewers, telephone service, paved streets, ornamental street lights, trees, mail service, garbage collection, views and parking. The developers particularly noted how Hollywoodland offered health-enhancing benefits like calmness, clean air, exercise and natural environment. Developers promised scores of special features, such as tennis courts, swimming pool, community center, clubhouse with auditorium, locker rooms, children’s wading pool, tea courts, putting green and horse stable. Out of these, however, only the tennis courts, putting green and stables were constructed.”
After several months of building roads and developing the first phases of buildable lots, Hollywoodland “opened for business” in mid-1923. According to numerous newspaper accounts, the development was well received by the public and sales were brisk.
HOLLYWOODLAND SIGN’S CONCEPTION
As mentioned earlier, the Hollywoodland sign was completed in 1923 and was to help promote the sale of lots in the Hollywoodland subdivision. It’s uncertain who came up with the idea to erect the large advertising sign for the Hollywoodland tract. After years of exhaustive research, which included reading hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, spending hours of viewing microfilm at the Los Angeles Public Library, reading scores of books that recount the history of the sign and performing countless hours of “Google” searches, I’m convinced we may never know who, unequivocally, first proposed the idea of building the Hollywoodland sign. Over the years, there have been several version advanced about who conceived the idea of the sign. One version is that real estate developer Hobart J. Whitley called Harry Chandler and told him about the electrically lighted sign he had erected for his real estate subdivision called “Whitley Heights.” Supposedly, Whitley suggested to Chandler that he do the same for his Hollywoodland development. (6) To begin with, the Whitley Heights’ sign was not lighted and, secondly, it’s doubtful that Whitley would call one of his real estate competitors and make suggestion that would enhance their competitiveness. Also, Chandler was not involved in the day-to-day operation of Hollywoodland – that was left to S. H. Woodruff. Therefore, this version can be clearly discounted.
The second, and most recent, version was advanced by John D. Roche at his 80th birthday party in January, 1977. His version borders on being ludicrous, as it’s filled with hyperbole, inaccuracies, and misinformation. On January 18, 1977, the Los Angeles Times newspaper published an article written by Lynn Simross, who interviewed Roche. The title of the article was “Man Behind the HOLLYWOOD Sign”. The first two sentences of the article read, “John D. Roche Sr. kept quiet about the Hollywood Sign for 54 years. Then, at a party Saturday evening in honor of his 80th birthday, he spoke up.” Roche claims he was working on a brochure for Hollywoodland in the spring of 1923. He said he had drawn in proposed homesites, streets and equestrian trails. Behind them, on the side of the hill, he penciled in HOLLYWOODLAND. He claims he showed the drawing to Harry Chandler who liked the idea and wanted to know if Roche could actually put up a sign that could be seen from all over Los Angeles. He further claims that he made large, ten-foot high sketches, and took them to Chandler, who supposedly said, “Go ahead and do it”. (7)
It begs the question, why would someone keep quiet, for 54 years, about something as important as the Hollywoodland/Hollywood sign, unless he knew that someone would be able to disprove his claims. Secondly, Roche was 26 years old in 1923. If he was working on a Hollywoodland brochure, he would have showed it to S. H. Woodruff, not Harry Chandler. As mentioned above, Chandler was not involved in Hollywoodland’s day to day activities – he left that up to Woodruff. Chandler was far too busy running the Los Angeles Times, much less having a 26 year-old brochure designer coming to him for approval. Also, Harry Chandler would have never said to 26 year-old Roche, “Go ahead and do it.” That conversation would have been between Chandler and Woodruff.
In the same newspaper article, Roche said, “We didn’t have engineers or anything.” “We just got it up.” Nothing could be further from the truth! Hollywoodland hired the Crescent Sign Company to design and engineer the sign. It was the company’s owner, Thomas Fisk Goff, who designed the sign. (8) There are numerous articles and historical writing attesting to the fact that the Crescent Sign Company was responsible for designing and engineering the thirteen letter sign below the, then, unnamed peak. The Electrical Products Corporation was responsible manufacturing the light boxes and installing the electrical/lighting system for the sign. (9)
However, it’s uncertain as to which company, actually, erected the sign. Neither the Crescent Sign Co., nor the Electrical Products Corp., had ever tackled a job this size. In fact, no one else had either. Therefore, they probably didn’t have the number of workmen needed to erect the sign. More than likely, they turned to the Western Construction Co., because they had a large crew, which was developing the Hollywoodland subdivision. Once the sign’s structure was completed, including the installation of the long light boxes (manufactured by Electrical Products Corp.), the Electrical Products Corp. installed the electrical/lighting system. In appreciation for being chosen to provide the light boxes and electrical system for the sign. Paul Howse, President of Electrical Products Corporation, bought an advertisement in the Los Angeles Times, in which he expressed his gratitude for bring given opportunity to engineer and install the lighting system and congratulated Mr. Woodruff for building the largest electrical sign ever built. (9-1)
One of Roche’s most glaring inaccuracies was his statement that he recalls the sign being lighted but insists there were no lights on the original HOLLYWOODLAND sign. He claimed, “They came sometime later.” Again nothing could be further from the truth! There are photos in my photo collection that clearly show workmen carrying six inch wide light boxes up the hill to be installed on the sign, while it was still under construction. The photos clearly show the light sockets (about six inches apart) on the light boxes. Construction was finished in the first week of December. A recently found Los Angeles Evening Express Newspaper article, dated December 8, 1923, stated “--- immense Hollywoodland sign, believed to be the largest in the world, will be illuminated tonight.” The same article, also, stated that Hollywoodland’s fourth unit was opened and they were experiencing heavy sales. It’s very clear that Roche was not involved in the designing of the sign nor was he even knowledgeable about its construction and lighting. Apparently, the fabricated story he told at his 80th birthday party was so convincing that he was appointed chairman of the 1978 Save The Sign Committee. He was described as “builder of the original sign.” (10) He simply made up the story on his 80th birthday and passed it on to the Los Angeles Times article writer, Lynn Simross.
It’s clear that the two above-mentioned versions are not historically accurate. Unfortunately, at the time the sign was built, it didn’t seem to be important enough for someone to chronicle its genesis. As mentioned above, we may never know, unequivocally, who originated the idea or concept of the Hollywoodland Sign.
CONSTRUCTION OF THE HOLLYWOODLAND SIGN
According to most newspaper articles and personal interviews, the sign was never intended to be a permanent structure. However, before construction was approved, the Hollywoodland developers erected a “test” letter “H” about one hundred feet to the east of where the sign was eventually erected. Based on a photograph in my collection, the letter appears to be about thirty feet tall. Apparently, the “test” met with a positive response because construction of a large sign was approved.
For whatever reason, the building of the Hollywoodland sign didn’t generate enough attention to cause someone to write an article or an accounting as to how the sign was built. One would think that the immensity of the project would have garnered a great deal of attention and curiosity. The construction was, by no means, an easy task. The steep slope of the hillside, alone, made the task extremely challenging. The lack of information written at the time the sign was being built, has caused historians to rely on previously written articles and papers. One of my best sources about the sign’s construction is the several photographs, in my collection, taken during the building of the sign. These photographs show, in detail, the materials used, the framework of the sign, the workmen and mules used to build the sign.
It should be noted that a wide, but crude, road was established by scraping away the brush on the hillside, below of the sign. This dirt road stopped about seventy-five yards below the sign because the hillside, from there, was too steep for a tractor to climb. The tractor hauled most of the material to within seventy-five yards of the sign’s site. From here the mules took over by dragging the poles and other heavy and long pieces up to the sign’s location. The workmen carried the smaller items up to the site. (11)
As mentioned above, it is now clear is that the sign was completed no later than the first week of December 1923 and first illuminated on December 8, 1923. (12) What is uncertain is when was construction begun and exactly how long it took to build the sign. Here’s where deductive analysis and a certain amount of speculation begins. Because there were no articles written during the signs construction, one must examine, using photographs, what materials were used to build the sign, how long did it take for the tractor, workmen and mules to haul all the material up the hillside to the sign’s location, how the support poles were placed into the ground, and how all the rest of the components were assembled.
The Hollywoodland sign, when finished, was 543 feet in length. The face of each letter was about forty-five feet high and thirty feet wide. (13) Because the face of each letter was elevated off the ground, the top of the letters averaged about fifty-five to sixty feet off the ground. The average space between each letter was approximately twelve feet. Because of the uneven hillside terrain, the letters were not in a straight line, but offset from each other. However, from a distance, the letters look like they are in a straight line. (14) Attached to the perimeter of all the letters and to the inside perimeter of letters “O” and “D”, were a series of light boxes that had light bulb sockets, space about eight inches apart. These light boxes were about four feet long, six inches wide and four inches thick. The total perimeter of all the letters including the inside perimeter of letters “O” and “D” was 2,150 feet in length. Therefore, there was a total of approximately 540 light boxes, each four feet in length. (15)
Except for the three “L” letters and the “W”, each of the other nine letters were supported by two sixty-foot long telephone type poles, which were sunk approximately eight feet into the ground. Each of the three “Ls” were supported by one sixty-foot long telephone type poles, while the letter “W” was supported by three, sixty-foot poles. Additional vertical supports consisted of ninety-six beams, which were fifty-feet long and four inches square and placed approximately three feet from each other. It was to these vertical supports and the telephone type poles that the sheet metal face of the sign was nailed. All the pieces of sheet metal were punched with hundreds of one-inch holes to reduce wind resistance. Attached horizontally to the telephone poles and vertical 4X4 beams were metal pipes, each thirty feet long and four inches in diameter. Hundreds of feet of heavy gauge wire was used as additional bracing and support. Each letter was braced by long, 4X4 inch diameter beams which were attached to the back of the sign and buried in the hillside behind the sign. The face of the sign consisted of varying size pieces of perforated sheet metal, which were nailed to the 4X4 inch vertical support beams. The average size of each piece of sheet metal was three feet by three feet. However, many were smaller and some larger. (16)
Upon careful and tedious examination of the many close-up photographs in my collection, I was able to determine the following;
There were twenty-two, sixty foot long telephone type poles, ninety-six 4X4 inch diameter by sixty foot long vertical supports, one hundred and four horizontal pipes (4 inch diameter by 30 feet long), 540 light boxes, 3,700 light bulbs and more than 1,320 pieces of sheet metal. In addition, there were scores of miscellaneous bracing beams, electrical wire and hundreds of feet of metal guide wire behind the sign. (17) Based on a 1936 report on the condition of the Hollywoodland sign, and the 1978 report on the condition of the Hollywood sign, it’s clear that cement was not poured into the holes, in which the telephone type poles were placed. Dirt was simply used to fill in around the poles. The same was applied to the ninety-six vertical supports. As a result, these poles and wood supports were subjected to wood-rot and termites.
Hauling all the material up to the construction site and then erecting the sign was a monumental undertaking. One of the most challenging aspects of building the sign had to have been dragging the sixty-foot long telephone type poles up the steep hillside and then managing to carefully lower them into the eight foot deep, pre-dug holes. Modern day thirty-foot telephone or utility poles weigh 720 pounds. So each of the sign’s sixty foot long poles weighted about 1,440 pounds. (18)
Another apocryphal claim is that dynamite was used to make the holes for the twenty-two telephone type poles. To begin with, dynamite blast things in all directions. It doesn’t make a nice round hole, in which the telephone type poles would be placed. One blast alone would cause serious damage to the hillside. Even though it was an extremely difficult task, it was workmen who dug the holes.
The most important unanswered question, regarding the Hollywoodland sign is “how long did it take to build it? ” It probably took several days to have the eighteen telephone poles hauled up to the drop-off area and then dragged by mules up to the construction site. Digging the eighteen, eight foot deep holes must have taken a few days, especially when encountering rocks during the excavation. Once the eighteen poles were in place, the one hundred and four horizontal support pipes were installed and anchored to the telephone poles. Then the ninety-six, sixty-foot long vertical supports were installed and anchored to the one hundred and four horizontal supports. Once the sign’s frame was installed, all of the bracing and guide wiring was connected.
The next task was to nail the more than 1,320 pieces of sheet metal to the sign’s frame. Ladders and scaffolds were used to install some of the lower pieces of sheet metal, but the vast majority were nailed to the frame by workmen sitting in bosun’s chairs which were lowered and raised from the top of each letter. Photographs in my collection show workmen in in bosun’s chairs nailing pieces of sheet metal to the letters “H” and “L.” Once all the sheet metal was attached, the 540 light boxes were installed around the inside and outside perimeter of every letter. Then the electrical wiring had to be installed and connected to the power source. Ladders, bosun’s chairs and horizontal supports were used by the workmen to install the 3,700 light bulbs. It’s important to understand that everything had to hauled or carried up the steep slope, seventy-five yards, to the construction site. That, in itself, took a great deal of time.
It’s impossible to know how many workmen were hired to work on building the sign. However, one of the photographs in my collection shows as many as twenty-one men working on various aspects of the construction. Four were installing sheet metal on the lower portion of letters “L” and “A”, while fifteen were carrying light boxes up to the sign. The other two were probably supervisors because they were standing in the material storage area.
Based on all the above detailed information, including various newspaper articles and photographs, I believe it’s safe to say it took a minimum of forty-five days to erect the sign. Therefore construction probably began in mid- October and was completed during the first week of December.
As mentioned above, the sign was first illuminated on December 8, 1923. After S.H. Woodruff “flipped the switch” to illuminated the sign, he was quoted to saying, ““The tremendous achievement in building what we believe to be the world’s largest illuminated sign was accomplished through tedious toil and effort by countless men and engineers who labored up the long zig-zag trails to the top of old Greenback, carrying the material piece by piece needed for the erection of the huge sign and it was only fitting that the first blaze of electric lights to shine forth from this tremendous sign should be in commemoration of some important event in the development of Hollywoodland.” (19)
For decades, it has been written that the cost to build the sign was $21,000. The actual cost was $23,501.32 and the white dot cost $936.16. (20)
The only detailed description of the sign’s lighting system appeared in the September, 1924 issue of the Practical Electrics magazine. According to the issue, the thirteen letters were illuminated by 3,700 10-watt bulbs. There were 55 outlets to each circuit and the wiring was open on the back of the sign. Everything centered in a junction box near the center of the sign. Here there was a pilot flasher and a time switch. The flasher switched on “HOLLY,” then “WOOD,” then “LAND” successively; then all the lights went out and the flasher repeated the process. The article went on to state, “It is claimed to be the largest sign in the United States and the only attention it has required during eight months of display was a weekly winding of the time switch and the oiling of the flasher twice a month.”
THE WHITE DOT
Contrary to what has been written before, the white dot, located below the Hollywoodland sign was not installed as an “eye catcher.” How that story got started is anyone’s guess. But it’s absurd! Why would an eye catcher be installed when there is a 543 foot long, 45 foot high white sign just above the dot? The real story is a bit more complicated.
In 1920-21, the US Chamber of Commerce produced maps illustrating business conditions in areas of the country. Those shaded black were poor, white with black stripes (grey) were fair and white was good. Los Angeles was a “white spot” in a sea of black and grey on the map in the early 1920s. (20-1) Los Angeles Times publisher, Harry Chandler adopted the catchprase, “White Spot Of America” as being a city free of crime, corruption and communism. (20-2) Chandler, who was vehemently anti-union, was an influential proponent of developing a strong economic base in Los Angeles. It wasn’t long before the phrase “keep the white spot white” was being commonly used. The term “white spot” typically referred to LA”s relative prosperity and low unemployment. So, for Los Angeles, the term, “keep the white spot white” meant keep L.A. prosperous. (20-3)
In early 1924, many prominent businessmen and civic leaders undertook a campaign to encourage, promote and assist in financing industrial and manufacturing growth in Los Angeles. They formed the Greater Los Angeles Association, with annual memberships at $25 each. By March, they had raised $25,000. One of the founding members was Eli P. Clark, a Hollywoodland syndicate investor. (20-4)_ It wasn’t long before the campaign/movement was gaining speed and membership. Hollywoodland’s manager, Sydney H. Woodruff, was, also an active member of the newly formed Association. (20-5)
In April 1924, to promote the Association’s goal to increase Los Angeles’ manufacturing and industrial expansion, three thousand Boy Scouts agreed place “Keep The White Spot White” stickers on every automobile and motor truck in the city. Without debate, the L.A. City Council adopted a resolution supporting the Association’s goals. (20-6)
As momentum and membership grew for the campaign, more and more money filled the Association’s coffers. To properly manage these funds, the Association elected to incorporate, with the new name Greater Los Angeles Corporation. On November 29, 1924, a Los Angeles Times article stated the new corporation would issue 200,000 shares at a par value of $25 each. With these funds, the corporation would be able to “keep the white spot white” by assisting in financing new and existing manufacturing and industrial businesses. Among the members of the Board of Directors were, Harry Chandler, Eli P. Clark, M. H. Sherman and S. H. Woodruff, all members of Hollywoodland’s syndicate. (20-7)
In late 1924, in order to demonstrate support for the “keep the white spot white”, campaign, Hollywoodland erected a 35 foot diameter “white dot” on the hillside, several feet below the Hollywoodland sign. The cost to erect the dot was $936.16. (20-8) Contrary to popular belief, the white dot was not illuminated.
The person responsible for replacing the burned-out light bulbs on the Hollywoodland sign was German immigrant, Albert Hendrick Kothe. Hired by the Hollywoodland real estate development company, he was also responsible for making minor repairs to the sign. It’s uncertain if he helped build the sign, but he certainly spent several years changing its bulbs. As mentioned above, there were 3,700 ten-watt incandescent bulbs around the exterior and inside perimeters of the letters. Ladders were installed at the back of each letter so Kothe could, perilously, change the bulbs. After climbing the ladder, he would stand on the horizontal pipe closest to the burned out bulb. He would, then, make his way over to the defective bulb and make the change.
Two of the most erroneous stories about Albert Kothe’s connection to the Hollywood sign have been written in numerous articles over the past fifty years. It’s uncertain how these two falsehoods got started but they are patently untrue. The first involves a story that Kothe lived in a shack, on the summit behind the sign. To begin with, the shack was a small wood structure, used to store light bulbs, tools and small equipment. When I interviewed Albert Kothe in 1971, he said there was was no plumbing in the shack and it was only used for storage. The most respected Hollywoodland historians claim that Kothe resided at the north end of N. Beachwood Dr. for many years, beginning in the early 1920s. The earliest Los Angeles City (telephone) Directory I could find, in which Albert Kothe’s name appears, was 1938. The address listed was 3200 N. Beachwood Dr. It listed his occupation as “chauffeur”. The following year, he is listed as living at 2690 N. Beachwood Dr. and as being a “driver”. He lived there for a couple of years and then, for some reason, moved back to 3200 N. Beachwood Dr. Aside for being a “driver”, he was the caretaker/handyman at the Hollywoodland residence known as Wolf’s Lair.” In 1960, Albert moved to 2677 N. Beachwood Dr. and lived there until he passed away in 1974. (21)
The second fabricated story about Albert Kothe tells of him losing control of his 1928 Ford while driving drunk on the dirt road at the summit above the sign. The story has him careening down the steep hillside and crashing into, and destroying, the letter “H”. This spurious tale claims he was unhurt but the car was destroyed. The truth is that the letter “H” was blown down by a severe windstorm in March 1944. This is supported by articles that appeared in the Los Angeles Evening Herald, and Los Angeles Times newspapers. (22)
It’s uncertain as to when the sign ceased being lighted. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any news articles written about the sign’s maintenance and lighting being discontinued. However, the Hollywoodland syndicate was dissolved in 1933 and the unsold land, including the Hollywoodland sign, became property of the M.H. Sherman Company. (23) According to documents at the Sherman Library, the sign became a problem for the Sherman Company – it was expensive to maintain and was not generating any revenue. Based on this information, it’s safe to say the sign’s maintenance was discontinued, no later than, 1933.
In about 1925, comedy filmmaker, Mack Sennett, approached the Hollywoodland development with the desire to build a palatial home on the summit, just above the Hollywoodland sign. In order to do so, the narrow dirt road needed to be enlarged and the summit graded to develop a flat pad for Sennett’s home. Once completed, the pad on the top of the mountain equaled about 20 acres. Sennett employed the services of architect, John L. DeLario to draw plans and a beautiful scale model of the proposed home. According to Mary Mallory’s book, “Hollywoodland”, the estimated cost of the enormous multi-level home was over $1 million and cover eighteen acres of land. However, Sennett suffered serious financial problems in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s and had to abandon his plans for the hilltop house.
On March 29, 1925, the letter "H" was damaged by a wind and rain storm. As a result the two telephone type poles were replaced and the rest of the letter repaired. Christine O'Brien, owner of the hollywoodlandgiftedpark website sent me a copy of the Lloyd's of London insurance claim, which she received from the Sherman Library.
MILLICENT LILIAN “PEG” ENTWISTLE
One of the most sensational and tragic events, involving the Hollywoodland sign was the suicide of a young actress named Lilian Millicent “Peg” Entwistle, born Millicent Lilian Entwistle. For decades, the truth about Peg Entwistle was shrouded in mystery and distorted myth and misinformation. Through diligence and painstaking research, James Zeruk’s Jr.’s book, ”Peg Entwistle And The Hollywood Sign Suicide” finally sets the record straight, unveiling the remarkable story of a talented, intelligent actress whose life was all too brief.”
Peg was born in Wales in February 1908 to Robert and Emily Entwistle. Unfortunately, her parents divorced in 1910, leaving Robert with sole custody of his daughter. The two of them migrated to America in 1913 where they lived in New York. Robert had a very close relationship with his brother, Charles, who was entrenched in the theatrical business. Charles and his wife, Jane, would later play a very important role in Peg’s life. In 1914, Robert married Jane’s sister, Lauretta, who later borne two sons, Milton and Bobbie. . Unfortunately, seven years after marrying Robert, Lauretta succumbed to bacterial meningitis. Eighteen months later, Robert died after being hit by a car while walking on Park Ave. in New York City. In his will, Robert gave complete and permanent charge of Peg, Milton and Bobby to Charles and Jane Entwistle.
A few months after Robert’s death, Charles and Jane packed up the kids and moved to Hollywood, where they, eventually purchased a home at 2428 N. Beachwood Dr.
Having been in the theatrical business for many years, Charles and Jane had amassed a collection of scripts, many of which were smash hits. Peg began reading and interpreting script scenes with her aunt Jane. It wasn’t long before Charles and Jane realized Peg had the same interest and love of all things theater.
Not far from her home was the Hollywood Theater Community School. By enrolling, she signed up for her first exposure to formal theatrical guidance. Peg continued her acting lessons until June 1925, when she and her uncle took the train to New York to enroll in the revered Guild School. Five months later, on October 10, 1925, the seventeen year-old Peg Entwistle had her first acting role in “Hamlet” at the Hampden’s Theater on Broadway. For the next year and a half, she performed in numerous plays in New York.
On April 19, 1927, after a whirlwind romance, Peg married fellow actor, Robert Keith. However, after months of being in an abusive marriage, Peg was granted a divorce on May 6, 1930.
For the next two years, Peg performed in numerous plays in New York and for the Lakewood Players in Maine. After her second summer of performing at the Lakewood Players, she committed herself to join them for the summer 1932 season, beginning in June.
In early 1932, went to the west coast to perform in a play titled, “The Mad Hopes”, produced by Bela Blau. After a short and successful run, Blau asked Peg if she would commit to the New York production, which would begin in the fall. She quickly agreed. However, there was a big problem. She had previously agreed to the 1932 summer season for the Lakewood Players. Needless to say, Peg’s pulling out so near to the Lakewood’s opening, was a very bad choice. As James Zeruk Jr. states in his book, “Such reneging rarely – if ever – went over well with theatrical producers and managers.”
In June 1932, while Peg was still in Hollywood, film director, George Cukor contacted her and offered to test her for a role in “Bill of Divorcement”. Flattered that one of Hollywood’s most influential directors would offer a role, she quickly agreed. Whether she forgot or ignored her commitment to Bella Blau to perform in “The Mad Hopes”, she was about to breach a second verbal contract.
On June 13, 1932, a little more than three months before her suicide, Peg signed a one picture contract in which she would appear in RKO’s film, “Thirteen Women” -- not “Bill of Divorcement.” Little did Peg know when she signed her RKO contract that the Production Code would have a devastating effect on the outcome of her role in Thirteen Women. Peg plays Hazel Cousins, a young lesbian, who gets caught-up in a relationship with a woman named Martha.
In 1930, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, under the direction of Will Hays, adopted the Motion Picture Production Code, which set moral guidelines and censorship for motion pictures in the United States. Things such as profanity, nudity, and white slavery were some of the code’s “Don’ts.” Even though the word homosexuality was not specifically enumerated in the code, “Any inference of sex perversion” certainly was.
When Thirteen Women’s first cut was presented to the Studio Relations Committee, which was responsible for enforcing the Production Code, it was rejected with the statement. – the lesbian relation between Hazel and Martha, or even the hint of this sort of thing is impossible under the Code.” After a continuing, “back and forth”, the studio relented and edited out the objectionable scenes.
By the time filming and editing was completed, Peg’s role was reduced to no more than a cameo appearance. According to Zeruk’s book, editors reduced Peg’s original scenes of 16 minutes and 15 seconds to approximately 4 minutes. The rest was left on the studio’s cutting room floor. Because the original film had been so severely butchered, in order to comply with the Code, the film was not well received by the public and most movie reviewers panned the film.
As with any business, including movie studios, executives attempt to cut expenses by reducing the payroll. This was the case with Peg, who was released from her contract in August 1932. Had she been a “top star”, things may have been different. But she wasn’t – she was on the bottom rung of the film industry’s ladder.
By this time, Peg was out of money. She had to give up her Hollywood and New York apartments and move into her uncle and aunt’s home on Beachwood Dr. It should, also, be noted that her former husband, Robert and his wife seemed to very happy and enjoying successful careers. This, too, tore at Peg’s heart-strings because it was what she hoped her marriage to Robert would have been.
All of these recent events -- the loss of her job at RKO, having to move back with Aunt & Uncle Entwistle, no love life, and the lack of money all took a heavy toll on Peg’s spirit. The crowning blow was that she had been ostracized from the theatrical community due to her backing out on the commitments she made to the Lakewood Players and Bella Blau. As Zeruk stated, --“ Broadway still held the center stage of her heart.” But that would no longer be possible. She had been blacklisted!
On Friday, September 16, 1932, Peg told her aunt and uncle that she was going to get a book at the drugstore in the Hollywoodland village and, then visit some friends. Little did they know of her intentions!
What occurred two days later is best described in James Zeruk’s book. “ At 9 P.M. on Sunday evening, September 18, 1932, Officer Crum was manning the complaint desk at LAPD’s Central Station in downtown Los Angeles when his telephone rang. The woman on the line was concise, but cryptic: She told Crum she had been hiking near the Hollywoodland Sign, and near the bottom found a woman’s shoe and jacket. A little further on she noticed a purse. In it was a suicide note. She looked down the mountain and saw a body. Although she told Crum that she didn’t want any publicity, she had nonetheless wrapped up the jacket, shoes and purse in a bundle and laid them on the steps outside the Hollywood Police Station.” When Crum asked her name, the caller hung up the phone.
Officer Crum contacted the Hollywood Station and relayed the story to Officer Fred Trosper who went outside and retrieved the bundle. Among the bundle’s contents was an empty purse, except for the note: “I am afraid I’m a coward. I am sorry for everything. If I had done this a long time ago it would have saved a lot of pain. P.E”
Homicide detective Lieutenant Paul Stevens and two patrolmen went to investigate. At the bottom of the sign’s letter “H”, was Peg crumpled body. They surmised, and rightly so, that Peg climbed up the ladder at the back of the letter. The further assumed she either made it to the top and jumped or stood on one of the horizontal support between the two vertical sections of the “H” – and leaped.
There’s been a bit of confusion or misinterpretation as to the date of Peg’s death. Again, here is where Zeruk uncovers the truth. Zeruk said, “Peg medically died on September 16, 1932, the night she jumped but was officially declared dead on September 18th, the night her body was found.”
Millicent Lilian Entwistle was cremated and interred with her father, Robert, at Oak Hill Cemetery in Glendale, Ohio.
HOLLYWOODLAND SIGN’S DETERIORATION
As mentioned above, the sign was a problem for the M.H. Sherman Co. The cost to maintain it was expensive and it didn’t seem to help in stimulating potential buyers to purchase lots in the Hollywoodland subdivision. On September 19, 1936, the second letter “O”, from the left, collapsed, due to wind. The two telephone type poles remained standing because they had been repaired with iron “spuds” and cement in January 1935. Two days after the letter “O” collapsed, a detailed inspection and report was written about the condition of the sign. This report accompanied a letter, dated September 22, 1936, from Hollywoodland manager, Gilbert A. Miller to J.H. Risheberger, with the M.H. Sherman Co. The report indicated the sign’s wood frame “—was too badly dried, split and warped –.” According to the report, previous repairs had been made, as early as 1927-28. Gilbert Miller’s recommendation was “ -- that we spend no money “fiddling around” with the sign.” During the next two and one half years, two other sign letters were blown down.
In early 1939, the company bowed to public pressure and entered into a contract with Harman & Company to repair the sign at a cost of $2,177.43. According to a letter written by Gilbert Miller, dated February 8, 1939, “--- another letter fell down during the course of construction and a little landside knocked the bases of two letters out of line at the same time. This was caused by the wind and rain of the two storms that occurred while the work was in progress.”
TELEVISION AND MT. LEE
In late 1939, the Don Lee Broadcasting System purchased twenty+ acres on the summit of the un-named mountain on which the Hollywoodland sign was located. This was the same property that Mack Sennett was going to build his palatial residence. The Don Lee Company was founded by broadcasting pioneer, Don Lee, who, in 1931, began experimenting with television using call letter W6XAO. Upon Don’s death in 1934, his son, Tommy took the reins of the company and expanded on what his father started. (24) He, also, pioneered and built television station KTSL. He formed Thomas S. Lee Enterprises, Inc., which acquired all the assets of the Don Lee Holding Co. (24-1)
Because television transmissions were limited to line-of-site, large population areas were unable to receive broadcasts. The purpose of purchasing the hilltop property was to build a studio that would allow better transmission. When completed, the facility included a state-of-the-art broadcasting studio, 300-foot transmission tower, indoor and outdoor filming facilities, swimming pool, and suspended control room. (25) Tommy Lee named the un-named mountain, Mt. Lee, in honor of his father, Don. After WWII ended, it was recognized that Mount Wilson was identified as a better location for broadcasting transmission. As a result, the three large television networks moved their transmission towers to Mt. Wilson. The last television transmission from Mt. Lee took place in October 1951. (26)
On January 13, 1950, Tommy Lee committed suicide by jumping from the 12th floor of the Pellissier building in Los Angeles. Lee had been declared mentally incompetent on August 27, 1948, following a hearing at General Hospital. Physicians said his condition resulted from a vertebra injury received in an automobile accident. (26-1)
Ten months after Tommy Lee’s death, a retirement plan of employees of the General Tire Co. was the successful bidder to acquire all 5750 shares of the Thomas S. Lee Enterprise Inc., which owned, among other assets, the summit above the Hollywood sign. The bid of $12,320,000, also, resulted in the acquisition of KTSL by CBS. (26-2) A year and a half later, the summit of Mt Lee was leased to the State Office of Civil Defense as its regional control center for Los Angeles and Orange Counties. However, the State relinquished its lease on October 1, 1955. (26-3)
On September 13, 1955, the Los Angeles Times announced that the L.A. City Council authorized the $200,000 purchase of the 22 acres on top of Mt. Lee., from the Employee Retirement Association of the General Tire Co. Ever since then, the summit has been owned by City of Los Angeles. (26-4)
HOLLYWOODLAND AND GRIFFITH PARK
On December 18, 1944, the Hollywoodland tract developers, then known as the M. H. Sherman Company (General Moses H. Sherman) decided to donate the remaining undeveloped land, consisting of 440 acres, to the City of Los Angeles for a token price of $10. On January 30, 1945, the City of Los Angeles formally accepted the offer and added it to the 3,801 Griffith Park Acreage, of which the Park Commission will maintain control. The deed from the S. H. Sherman Co. to the City Of Los Angeles is dated June 14, 1945. Griffith Park is the largest park in the country. (27)
HOLLYWOODLAND TO HOLLYWOOD
For years, the date of 1949 has been accepted and written as the date the letter “H” was knocked to the ground. The most accepted story was that it was blown down in a windstorm in 1949. Of course, the tale about Albert Kothe driving, while drunk, over the summit and knocking down the letter “H”, is totally apocryphal. While viewing microfilm at the Los Angeles Public Library, I found a April 12, 1947 Los Angeles Evening Herald article which showed a photo of the letter “H” lying on the ground. The caption read, “ --- where the H used to be before a wind blew it down five years ago.” I then located a Los Angeles Times article, dated March 27, 1944 in which actor, Pat O’Brien stated, “ --- that a recent windstorm made a cockney out of Hollywoodland. The big sign now reads OLLYWOODLAND.” Therefore, it’s clear that the letter “H” was not blown down in 1949, but knocked down in March 1944, by a windstorm.
For nearly six years, the letter “H” laid on the ground and the weather continued to deteriorate the rest of the sign. In 1947, the City’s Recreation and Parks Commission advocated tearing the whole sign down. However, residents in the Hollywoodland tract protested removal of the enormous sign. Hollywood Chamber of Commerce president, John B. Kingsley entered the argument by offering, on behalf of the Chamber, to finance the re-erection of the “H”, provided the last four letters were removed. (28) The estimated cost was $5,000. For nearly two years, the battle continued with Hollywood residents and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce on one side and the Recreation and Park Commission on the other. Finally, in April 1949, the Commission granted permission to the Chamber of Commerce to rebuild the letter “H”, remove the last for letters (LAND) and refurbish the rest of the sign. (29) On September 26, 1949, Mayor Fletcher Bowman and John B. Kingsley puffed their way up the mountain trail and had wind enough to swing a pick-ax for the groundbreaking ceremony. Kingsley predicted the rebuilding of the letter “H” would be completed within three weeks. (30) And it was.
HOLLYWOOD SIGN’S FACELIFT
During the twenty years following the 1949 sign restoration, the sign continued to be subjected to ravages of the weather. Wind, rain and the sun took its toll on the sheet metal face of the sign. In addition, wood-rot and termites caused further deterioration.
By the early 1970’s, the Hollywood sign was, again, in severe disrepair. The weather had damaged the fifty-year old structure and it was falling apart. There were those who felt the sign was at the end of its life and should be torn down. In 1973, even in its dilapidated condition, the sign was designated as Historic-Cultural Monument #111, by the Cultural Heritage Board of the City of Los Angeles. (31) Again, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce came to the sign’s rescue. To assist the Chamber in bringing awareness to the sign’s deteriorating condition and to raise funds for its restoration, two committees were formed; Save the Sign Committee and Friends of the Hollywood Sign Committee. There were concerts, and other events to raise the desperately needed money. The estimated cost to restore the sign was $15,000. The Association of Motion Picture and Telephone Producers donated $1,500, which was followed by a $10,000 donation from Les Kelley, automobile dealer and founder/publisher of the Kelley Blue Book. In addition to his generous donation, Kelley pledged $1,000 for the Save The Sign Committee to establish a perpetual maintenance fund. Contributions were solicited from the general public who received a tee shirt, given free with every donation of $5 or more. By mid-April 1973, the committees received contributions from more than 4,000 individuals and companies. (32)
At the end of September 1973, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced that the contract for the “facelift” of the Hollywood sign was awarded to the Neon Products Signs. The facelift was to commence immediately and should take approximately five to six weeks to complete. For the next several weeks, the workmen braved the wind and the sharp edges of the sign, which is made of sheet metal pocked with holes to cut down that very wind resistance. Missing or badly damaged pieces of sheet metal were replaced. For a few days in August, the sign was obliterated as a green rust resistant primer, which blended into the hills, was applied by the painters swaying in a bosun’s chair, strung from the top of each letter. Three more coats of white paint were added to that. (33) It should be noted that because the structural integrity of the sign seemed to be relatively intact, little, if any, structural repairs were made to the sign. The focus of the repairs was on the face of the sign.
On the night of August 31, 1973, during the restoration of the sign, someone altered the sign by draping a large canvas over the entire letter “D”. On the canvas was a color image of singer, Leon Russell. Below the image were the words, “Save The Sign.” (34) This was the first known vandalized alteration of the sign. Since then, there have been numerous unauthorized sign alterations.
On the night of the unveiling of the restored sign, on Friday, September 14, 1973, actress, Gloria Swanson was to turn on the floodlights to illuminate the sign. The floodlights were only for the unveiling and not for permanent lighting of the sign. After the pre-illumination cocktail party at the Holiday Inn, the guests boarded two buses and were taken up the narrow and winding streets of the Hollywood hills to a location opposite the sign. From here they would witness the sign’s unveiling. The whole event might be termed a complete success except for one thing – the fog that sneaked up the top of the hills and complete obliterated the sign’s premiere. Apparently, it was tried again, Saturday night – this time the sign was visible. (35)
As mentioned above, the Hollywood sign was first altered on August 31, 1973 when someone draped a large canvas, with a color image of Leon Russell, over the letter “D”. Since then, there have been several unauthorized alterations made to the sign.
Over the past forty years, at least a dozen alterations have taken place. On January 1, 1976, the same day California’s relaxed marijuana law took effect, Cal State Northridge student, Danny Finegood and three other students altered the sign to read HOLLYWEED. Two days before the alteration, they went to the sign and threw ropes over the top of the two letters “O”s. At 1 AM on January 1st the boys returned to the sign, attached the white and black cloth material to the ropes on the front side of the sign. Then, they pulled the ropes from the back of the sign, thus hoisting the cloth material over the center and right side of the two letter “O”s. (36) Ironically, the sign was, again, altered on January 1, 2017 to read HOLLYWEED, to reflect California’s recent vote to legalize recreational marijuana. (37)
On April 18, 1976, the sign was altered to read HOLYWOOD to commemorate the Easter Sunrise Service, at the Hollywood Bowl. Eleven years later, in September 1987, the sign, again, was altered to HOLYWOOD to honor Pope John Paul II’s visit to Los Angeles. (38)
Two months before the 1987 alteration, which honored the Pope’s visit, the sign was altered to read OLLYWOOD when national attention was turned to former White House aide, Oliver North’s testimony during the Iran-Contra hearings. (39)
Some of the other unauthorized alterations included: GO NAVY (1983), CALTECH (1987), PEROTWOOD (1992), and GO UCLA (1993)(40)
NEW HOLLYWOOD SIGN
As mentioned above, the 1973 repair was simply a facelift. The missing or damaged pieces of sheet metal were replaced. Then, the coats of green primer were applied, followed by white paint. For the next three and a half years, the only damage to the sign was to the several pieces of sheet metal that were damaged by wind. The photos I took in November 1977 show the sign to be in intact. Less than three months later, the sign sustained very serious damage. This occurred on February 10, 1978 when, according to the WeatherSpark website, the highest sustained wind speed was 33 mph. The highest wind gust speed was 44 miles. Typically, the average wind speed for February is 6 mph. From February 5, 1978 through February 11, 1978, Los Angeles was ravaged by lighting, rain and hailstorms. A February 6, 1978 Los Angeles Times article stated that lighting struck a substation on top of Mt. Lee, causing a transformer to catch on fire. A February 11, 1978, Los Angeles Times articled stated the monstrous storm was one of the worst in Southern California’s history. The windstorm caused damage, of varying degrees, to almost every letter. The last letter “O” sustained the greatest damage – broken beams, twisted metal, snapped telephone poles, ripped guide wires, and missing sheet metal. The letter “Y” partially collapsed because one of the compression braces snapped. All the other letters had missing pieces of sheet metal. (41)
On February 27, 1978, the structural engineer company, Edmond Babayan & Associates was asked to perform a field inspection of the damaged sign. Among it many findings was the statement, “Main Support Poles – These poles being of unpreserved wood, have rotted over the years and since they were embedded directly in the ground, they are heavily infested with termites.” The rest of the report clearly showed that the sign needed to be replaced.
It was this report that convinced everyone, particularly the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, that the sign was un-repairable and needed to be replaced. Again, as it had in years past, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce came to the sign’s rescue.
On May 25, 1978, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce announced the formation of the “Save The Sign” committee, whose goal was to raise $250,000 to build a new more permanent Hollywood sign, of the same design and size as the present one. (42)
Simultaneously, Hugh Hefner announced Playboy Enterprises would host a fund-raising party for the Hollywood Sign on June 29, 1978, at the Playboy Mansion West. (43)
On June 14th, rock star, Alice Cooper contributed the cost of rebuilding the letter “O” for $27,700, in memory of Groucho Marx. Following Cooper’s announcement, Warner Bros. Records announced they would also contribute $27,700 for the replacement of the second “O” in the sign. (44)
On June 29th, Hugh Hefner hosted a $150 per person, star studded party at the Playboy mansion. The highlight of the party came when Andy Williams announced he was contributing $27,700 to replace the “W”.
In expressing the Chamber’s appreciation to Hugh Hefner, Chamber President, Jack Foreman revealed that $27,700 of the $45,000 that was raised at the party, would be used to replace the “Y” and the new letter to be dedicated to Hefner. (45)
The week following the Playboy party saw increased enthusiasm and interest in the “Save The Sign” campaign. Gene Autry and KTLA announced their contribution of $27,700 for one of the letters “L”. Terrance Donnelly, publisher of the Hollywood Independent newspaper, announced a donation of $27,700 for the letter “H”, and Dennis Lidtke, of Gribbitt Graphics, donated $27,000 for the “D”. (46)
By July 15th, only two letters remained to be sponsored when Italian movie producer, Giovanni Mazza, who is moving his production company to the United States, made his donation of $27,700 to build the first “O” on the new sign. Les Kelley, founder of the Kelley Blue Book, donated $27,700 for the first “L”. He had previously donated $10,000 to help save the sign in 1973 and contributed $1,000 annually to maintain the rapidly deteriorating landmark. (47)
With $250,000 donated, the contract, to build the sign was awarded to the Pacific Outdoor Advertising Company, assisted by Hughes Helicopter and Heath Company. (48)
The day before the old, dilapidated sign was to be demolished, on August 8, 1978, a farewell “Bon Voyage” gathering was held on a dirt lot, across from the sign. In attendance were several of the donors, Chamber officers, Councilwoman Peggy Stevenson and four Playboy Bunnies, who accompanied Hugh Hefner to the event. (49)
On August 8th, the crew from Pacific Outdoor Advertising arrived to demolish the old sign. I was privileged to be allowed to take photographs of the demolition and the new sign’s construction, as long as I “stayed out of the way.” By the end of August 10th, all the letters had been knocked down and were lying on their backs, against the hillside. (50)
Once the old sign was removed from the site, the real work began. After digging the holes for the twenty large vertical support beams, steel girder foundation beams were lowered into the holes by a Hughes 500D helicopter. These holes, with foundation beams inside, were filled with 194 tons of concrete. Then, the helicopter would bring in 15 foot long steel beams, which got bolted to the top of the foundation beams. Then two more 15 foot long beams were bolted to the previously bolted beam – thus making each vertical beam forty-five high. This task called for great finesse and strength, because the huge beams were stacked end on end, three high to form the frames for the huge letters. (51)
Once all the vertical beams were in place, the task of attaching the horizontal supports was next. With that finished, the corrugated baked enamel sheet metal panels were attached to the skeletal frame.
When finished, the Hollywood sign was the largest in the world. Some facts and figures prove this is true.
Height of letters – 45 feet.
Length of sign – 450 feet.
Square footage of the sign – 11,850 square feet.
Girders and steel columns – 66,683 pounds
194 tons of cement
Corrugated baked metal sheet metal – 20,000 pounds
Sign’s total weight – 240 tons equaling 480,000 pounds. (52)
After nearly three months of construction, the sign was finally completed. According to Raiden Peterson, construction supervisor for building the new sign, Pacific Outdoor Advertising Company’s bid was $165,000. He further stated that final cost came in at $153,030.86. (53)
To celebrate the sign’s unveiling, CBS televised Pierre Cossette’s “Hollywood Diamond Jubilee” on November 11, 1978. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce hosted a party at the Griffith Observatory, which will allow the guest to observe the sign’s unveiling. At about 8 PM, the sign was unveiled with two Argon laser beams and twenty-three searchlights, totaling 2.3 million foot-candles of light on the sign. (54)
HOLLYWOOD SIGN TRUST
In 1978, the Hollywood Sign Trust was established to oversee, and raise the funds necessary, to repair, maintain and refurbish and provide capital improvements for the Hollywood Sign. During the past forty years, the nine men and women appointed to the non-profit Sign Trust have spearheaded numerous campaigns, from physical maintenance, to security systems, to public awareness campaigns for the sign. The Trust also supports Hollywood cultural and community events, as well. To accomplish its central mission, protecting this landmark and educating the world about Hollywood and its most-famous symbol, the Trust relies on the volunteer efforts of its Board, and contributions from generous donors who recognize the importance of Hollywood’s monuments and history.
As with the previous signs, the new sign was subjected to the ravages of the weather. In 1993, the sign received a new paint job, courtesy of Dutch Boy Paints. (55)
Because of the many people hiking to and trespassing on the sign’s property and to protect it from vandalism, the Hollywood Sign Trust hired Panasonic, in 2000, to install a state-of- the–art security system, comprised of a vast closed circuit surveillance network. (56) It’s worth mentioning that, for many years, people would hike to the old Hollywood sign and deface it with graffiti, using paint spray cans.
Three years later, in 2003, the sign once again received a new sparkling paint job, this time courtesy of Bay Cal Painting and Construction. (57)
Ten years later, in preparation for the original Hollywoodland sign’s 90th anniversary, Sherman Williams donated special eco-friendly, long lasting Emerald Exterior Acrylic Latex paint and the labor for a 10-week facelift of the Hollywood sign. (5)
SAVE THE PEAK
As mentioned above, the Hollywood sign was the subject of many unauthorized alterations. However, in February 2010, the Los Angeles City Council authorized the sign to be altered to read, “SAVE THE PEAK”., referencing Cahuenga Peak, located just west of Mt. Lee and the Hollywood Sign. (59)
In January 1941, Howard Hughes’ Hughes Tool Company purchased the Cahuenga Peak. (60) In 2002, twenty-five years after Howard’s death, his estate sold the Cahuenga Peak to Fox River Financial Resources for $1,675,000. (61) Their plan was to subdivide the property for residential use. Los Angeles city officials said City Hall received hundreds of letters pleading for the peak’s protection from development. (62)
In 2008, the Fox River Financial Resources put the property on the market for $22 million. Environmentalists, conservationists and concerned citizens jumped into action. In April 2009, The Trust For Public Land signed an option to purchase the property at a discounted price of $12.5 million. (63) On February 11, 2010, as part of a campaign to help raise money and with the full support of the city and The Hollywood Sign Trust, the organization covered each letter of the Hollywood sign with large banners reading “SAVE THE PEAK”. Two months later, The Trust For Public Land announced the campaign was successful. Though funds came from many sources, including $1.7 million in public funds, it was the large donations from The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, Aileen Getty and Hugh Hefner that enabled the purchase. In July 2010, more than 100 acres around Cahuenga Peak was officially added to Griffith Park. (64)
Over the past seventy-five years, there has been a plethora of apocryphal stories, misinformation, made-up tales and downright lies about the Hollywoodland and Hollywood signs. As a Hollywood historian, I’m obsessed with making sure my historical writings are accurate and not simply, a rephrasing of previously written articles. What I’ve written above is the result of questioning everything I’d read about the signs. Consequently, it didn’t take long to realize that a great deal of previously written information was incorrect.
I’m keenly aware that there’s a lot more information in this historical paper, than most people care to read. However, in order to make it complete and accurate, verbosity is sometimes necessary.
Endnotes for History of the Hollywoodland Sign And The Two Hollywood Signs
(1)Mallory, Mary: Hollywoodland: South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing
(1-1) Declaration of Trust, Dated 3/8/1923. Sherman Library.
(2) Mallory, Mary: Hollywoodland: South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing
(3) William, Greg: The Story of Hollywoodland: Papavasilopoulos Press
(4) Mallory, Mary: Hollywoodland: South Carolina: Arcadia Publsihing
(6)Zeruk, James Jr.: Peg Entwistle and the Hollywoodland Sign Suicide: North Carolina; Mc Farland & Company, Inc.
(7) Los Angeles Times: January 18, 1978: Lynn Simross,Times Staff Writer
(8) The Daily Mirror: Mary Mallory/Hollywood Heights: Hollywood Sign Built & Illuminated: November-December 1923. Wikipedia
(9-1) Los Angeles Times: December 12, 1923
(10) Hollywood Chamber of Commerce: News Release: August 7,1978
(11) Zeruk, James Jr.:PegEntwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide: North Carolina: McFarland & Company
(12)Los Angeles Evening Herald: December 8, 1923
(13) Hollywoodland Letter, dated September 22, 1936 from Gilbert A. Miller to J. H. Rishelberger: M.H. Sherman Papers: Sherman Library
(14) Practical Electrics: September 1924: Pg. 626
(15) Photographs on the hollywoodphotographs.com website
(18)http:/www.quora.com/how-much-does- an- electric-pole-weigh
(19) Los Angeles Herald Examiner: December 9, 1923, Section IV, Pg. 6
(20) Report on “Hollywoodland” Trust No. 5975, Title Insurance and Trust Co, Los Angeles, California. From Inception to June 30, 1931. Sherman Papers: Sherman Library.
(20-2) Privilege Son: Otis Chandler and the Rise and Fall of the Los Angeles Times Dynesty: Excerpt
(20-4) Los Angeles Times: March29, 1924. Page A1
(20-5) Los Angeles Times: April 9, 1924. Page A10
(20-6) Los Angeles Times: April 26, 1924. Page A9
(20-7) Los Angeles Times: November 29, 1924. Page A1
(20-8) Report on “Hollywoodland” Trust No. 5975, Title Insurance and Trust Co., Los Angeles, California. From Inception to
June 30, 1931. Sherman Papers. Sherman Library.
(22) Los Angeles Times: March 27, 1944. Page A5
(23) M.H. Sherman, Arnold Haskell, and the Hollywoodland Sign. Sherman Library.
(24)Mt. Lee. Wikipedia
(24-1) Los Angeles Times: October 21, 1950. Page A-1
(25) The Hollywood Sign Trust website: Beacon of New Wave – Mt.Lee and the Birth of Television.
(26)Mt. Lee. Wikipedia
(26-1) Los Angeles Times: June 14, 1950. Page 1
(26-2) Los Angeles Times: October 21, 1950. Page A1
(26-3) Los Angeles Times: January 21, 1952
(26-4) Los Angeles Times: September 13, 1955. Page A1
(27) Los Angeles Times: January 31, 1945
(28) Los Angeles Evening Hearld Express: April 12, 1947
(29) Los Angeles Times: April 20, 1949. Page 2
(30) Los Angeles Times: September 27, 1949. Page A1
(31) Hollywood Independent Newspaper: February 15, 1973
(32) Hollywood Independent Newspaper: April 19, 1973
(33) Hollywood Independent Newspaper: September 20, 1973
(34) Photographs on the hollywoodphotographs.com website.
(35) Los Angeles Times: September 16, 1973. Page 10
(36) My personal interview with Danny Finegood, 1973
(37) Los Angeles Times: January 2, 1977
(38) UPI Archives. September 15, 1987
(40) Wikipedia: Hollywood Sign Alterations
(41) Edmond Babayan & Associates: Hollywood Sign Field Inspection Report. February 27 – March 7, 1978
(42) Hollywood Independent Newspaper: May 25, 1978
(43) Hollywood Chamber of Commerce: News Release August 7, 1978
(48) Hollywood Independent Newspaper: August 10, 1978
(49) Photographs on the hollywoodphotographs.com website
(51) Hughes Helicopters Press Release: 1978
(52) Hollywood Chamber of Commerce: News Release. November 11, 1978
(53) Hollywood Sign Trust’s website: Video
(54) Hollywood Chamber of Commerce: Press Release. September 1978
(55) Hollywood Sign Trust’s website
(59) Wikipedia: Hollywood Sign
(60) Los Angeles Times: January 26, 1941
(61) Wikipedia: Cahuenga Peak
(63 Wikipedia: Hollywood Sign
(64 Wikipedia: Cahuenga Peak
History of the Hollywoodland Sign and the Two Hollywood Signs
Holly Leaves, 1923: Francis Howard Goldwyn - Hollywood Regional Library - Los Angeles Public Library
Los Angeles Public Library: Microfilm collection of the Hollywood Citizen News; Los Angeles Times; Los Angeles Evening Herald; Los Angeles Herald Express.
Mallory, Mary. “Hollywoodland”. Charleston, South Carolina. Arcadia Publishing
Palmer, Edwin O.: “History of Hollywood”. Hollywood. Self Published
Sherman Library and Gardens: Numerous documents/papers/letters of Hollywoodland, the Hollywoodland Sign and Moses H. Sherman.
Torrence, Bruce t., “Hollywood: The First 100 Years”. Hollywood. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and Fiske Enterprises.
Williams, Greg. “The Story of Hollywoodland”. Papavasilopoulos Press
Zeruk, James Jr. “Peg Entwistle and the Hollywood Sign Suicide. North Carolina, McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers
The largest collection of Hollywoodland Sign and the Hollywood sign is on the hollywoodphotographs.com website. There are over three hundred vintage and rare photos of the Hollywoodland sign's construction, deterioration, damage and demolition. There are, also, hundreds of historical photographs the Hollywood sign when it was altered and rebuilt. All the photos are available for purchase.
Type your paragraph here.
1972 Banner of Leon Russell draped over the letter "D" of the Hollywood Sign.
Two ladies sit in a steam shovel bucket behind the Hollywoodland sign. History of the Hollywood Sign
1928 The Hollywoodland sign at night.
Model, Jean Webb, poses on the the fallen letter "H" in 1947. The letter was blown down in a windstorm in March 1944.
1971 Albert Kothe, the man who changed the lightbulbs in the Hollywoodland sign.
1923 Seeding the hillside during the construction of the Hollywoodland sign.
1930 Aerial photo of the Hollywppdland sign.Type your paragraph
1923 Man standing in the letter "d" during construction of the Hollywoodland sign
1976 The Hollywood sign in disrepair. Two years later, it was torn down and a new sign erected with modern, state of the art materials.