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Hollywood Sign History Part 3

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.

Photo of Hollywoodland sign

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, and was not intended to have racial overtones.  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 itself, 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.

ALBERT KOTHE

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.

Hollywood sign photo

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.

The largest collection of Hollywood photographs is on the hollywoodphotos.com website

 

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