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Hollywood sign History Part 2

CONSTRUCTION OF THE HOLLYWOODLAND SIGN

The hollywoodsignhistory.com website is the most accurate history of the Hollywoodland and Hollywood Signs

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.

Photo of Hollywoodland sign

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)

Hollywoodland Sign First Illuminated

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)

Hollywood land sign photo

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;

Hollywoodland Sign Specifications

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.

Hollywood sign photo

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.Illuminating the Sign

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 largest collection of Hollywoodland sign photos and history is on the hollywoodphotographs.com website.

hollywoodsignhistory.com has the best history of the Hollywood Sign.

 

 

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