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Hollywood Sign History #7

NEW HOLLYWOOD SIGN

As mentioned above, the 1973 Hollywood Sign 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)

Hollywoodland sign photo

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”.

Photo of Hollywoodland sign

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. 

Hollywood sign at night

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 Compamy’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 photograph

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)

New hollywood Sign

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 1910, more than 100 acres around Cahuenga Peak was officially added to Griffith Park. (64)

Unveiling of the new Hollywood Sign

Conclusion

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.

Hollywood Photos Website

The hollywoodphotographs.com website is the largest collection of Hollywoodland Sign & Hollywood Sign photos. It is also the best website for Hollywoodland Sign and Hollywood Sign history.

 

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