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History of the Hollywood Sign in Photos

History of the Hollywood Sign

Hollywood, which by now represented not just a city, but also an industry, a lifestyle and, increasingly, and inspiration, was officially crowned when the Hollywoodland sign was erected in 1923.

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Hollywoodland Sign

Built by Los Angeles times publisher, Harry Chandler, as an epic $21,000 billboard for his upscale Hollywoodland real estate development, the sign took on the role of a giant marquee for a city that was consistently announcing its own gala premiere.

Dates and debates swirl about when the Hollywood land real estate development – and the massive electric sign thatadvertised it – actually came into being. But a review of local newspapers from the era (the Los Angeles times, Holly leaves, Los Angeles Record, Los Angeles Examiner, and the Hollywood Daily Citizen) clears up any confusion. For instance, a Hollywoodland ad in the Los Angeles times (June 10, 1923) states that the real estate development launched in late March of that year and that by June, 200 men were employed, 7 miles of road had been cut and 300,000 yards of dirt had been moved. Photos of the sign's dedication are on the hollywoodphotographs.com website.

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Sign Unveiled

And while some sources still site that the sign was born in 1924, the correct date is indisputably 1923. The earliest found mention of the sign appeared on June 14, 1923 in a Holly Leaves article about the Mulholland Highway soon to be built, which would extend from “the Western and of Griffith Park Road, under the electric sign of Hollywood land, around Lake Hollywood and across the dam.”

Just two weeks later another Los Angeles Times article with the headline Hollywood electric sign reached by car, reported on actor Harry Neville's epic experimental trip to test whether a motorcar could reach the sign on the unpaved grade, and whether the car's brakes would work on the precipitous path down. According to the article, a motley crowd of hill climbers, workmen, salesman curiosity thrill seekers stood by with fear and from bowl as the loose dirt began to give way but Neville's dock by the ship to make it safely back to wide smooth roads of Hollywood land.

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Lighted Hollywoodland Sign

There has also been debate about whether the sign was originally erected without lights (with the thousands of bulbs added later). However, historic photos from the Bruce Torrence Hollywood photograph collection, taken just as the sign was being erected, show workers carrying parts of the signed that include the original lights in frames or troughs. Bruce Torrence, curator of the photo collection, notes that the shape of the light boxes indicate that these sections were probably part of the letter A and probably the letter L.

Confusion solved: by the end of 1923, the Hollywood sign was fully erected, a high profile beacon – lights ablaze – for the fast-growing Los Angeles metropolis.

The billboard was massive. Each of the original 13 letters was 30 feet wide and approximately 43 feet tall, constructed of 3 x 9' metal squares rigged to gather by an intricate frame of scaffolding, pipes, wires and telephone poles.  All of this material had to be dragged up precipitous Mount Lee by laborers on simple dirt paths.

Few know that the giant white. (35 feet in diameter, with 20 – watt lights on the perimeter) was constructed below the sign to catch the eye. The sign itself featured 4000 20-watt bulbs, spaced 8 inches apart. The person responsible for changing the burned out bulbs was Albert Kothe.

At night the sign blinked into the Hollywood night: first Holly” then “wood” and finally “land” and punctuated by a giant period. The effect was truly spectacular, particularly for pre-Vegas sensibilities.

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Hollywood Sign

By 1949, the sign was in disrepair.  The letter H had fallen down in a windstorm and the rest of the sign heavily damaged.  Hollywood Chamber of Commerce undertook the project of refurbishing the sign. The letter H was replaced and the last four letters were removed. When finished the sign read Hollywood.

In 1978, the old sign was in such disrepair that it had to be demolished and a new sign, made with modern materials, was erected and unveiled in November, 1978.

Hollywood Sign Photos

The largest collection of Hollywood sign photographs is on the hollywoodphotographs.com website and all photos are available for purchase.

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