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Hollywood Sign Photos & History

Hollywood Sign Photos & History

After the motion picture industry settled in Hollywood in 1910, Hollywood began to experience explosive growth.  As Hollywood’s population grew, so did the demand for housing. 

Hollywoodland photo

Hollywoodland

On March 31, 1923, to help satisfy this need, Harry Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times newspaper, Moses H. Sherman, Director of the Pacific Electric Railway Company, and his brother-in-law, E. P. Clark, announced the formation of a syndicate to develop a real estate tract known as Hollywoodland.  Located at the north end of Beachwood Canyon, the 640 acre parcel had been acquired by Clark and Sherman in July, 1905.

The syndicate hired Tracy E. Shoults and S.H. Woodruff to subdivide the property and sell the lots.  Unfortunately, Shoults died suddenly of a heart attack in July 1923.

The developers understood the importance of advertising. On September 7, 1923, Woodruff hired L.J. Burrad as the development’s chief of publicity.  At Harry Chandler’s request, Burrad hired advertising man, John Roche to design a Hollywoodland sign. Roche mimicked other real estate signs by spelling out the name of other developments. Eventually, he came up with a sign that would have fifty foot high and thirty foot wide white letters. The sign would be erected on the hillside, just above real estate development.

Based on the two rare photographs in the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph collection, it appears that a “test” letter (H) was erected, in mid 1923, just east of where the Hollywoodland sign was eventually built.

The development company contracted with the Crescent Sign Company to erect the thirteen letters on the hillside, each facing south. The sign company’s owner, Thomas Fisk Goff, designed the sign.

Hollywood Sign photo

Hollywoodland Sign Construction

It’s uncertain as to exactly when construction was begun. However, based on all the research that Mary Mallory and I (separately) have done, it appears that construction was started sometime in October 1923 and completed in late November or early December 1923.  The sign supporting structure consisted of telephone poles “60 to 70 feet in height. The rest of the sign consisted of 3X4’ pieces of sheet metal, rigged together by a framework and skeleton of scaffolding, wood beams, pipes, wires and cables.  When finished, the sheet metal faced letters were about 45 feet high and 32 feet wide.  Because the letters were elevated about ten feet off the ground, the top of the letters were about fifty-five feet off the ground. The perimeter of each letter and the middle of the letters “O”, “D”, and “A” were lined with elongated light boxes, which had light bulb sockets, spaced eight inches apart.

From a distance, the letters of the sign seem to be in a straight line.  However, this is not the case. The letters are all off center – some being as much as five feet in front or behind the adjacent letter.  

For years, there’s been a great deal of speculation and/or apocryphal information about the original Hollywoodland sign.  Hollywood historian, Mary Mallory, was sent a copy of a September 1924 article from the Practical Electrics magazine, which explains in great detail about the specifications of the new sign. Here is the text from this informative article, titled “The Mammoth Hollywoodland Electric Sign.”

“Hollywood, California, is a familiar name to most of us, and the city hardly needs advertising.  Yet they have seen fit to erect a gigantic sign high up, 1,000 feet above the city, bearing the name “Hollywoodland.”

The great sign can be seen for a distance of twelve miles. When the sign was being built there were no roads for a mile beyond the location selected, but a caterpillar tractor overcame all difficulties.

The surface of the mountain is very irregular; the ground beneath  the sign is rocky.  The sign is supported by telephone poles 60 to 80 feet in height, several tones of dynamite being expended in making the holes for them. 

Hollywoodland sign photo

Hollywood Sign's Height

The letters at one end are 15 feet higher than the other, and it was even necessary, on account if the irregular surface, to put some of letters 40 feet in advance of the proper line, and others as much back. At a distance in looking at the sign from the front, these discrepancies are not noticeable.

Two by six inch timbers, placed 16 to 24 inches between center, are the horizontal elements of the frame.  To this the letters, made of galvanized iron, are nailed.  Each stroke of a letter is 13 feet wide.  To illuminate the thirteen great letters, 3700 10-watt lamps are used, placed along the edge of each stroke. The effect of this is that there is a shadow or dark space between the sides of each stroke. Which is found to give an advantage in legibility at night. There are 55 outlets to each circuit and the wiring is all open on the back of the structure. Everything centers in a junction box near the center of sign. Here here is a pilot flasher and time switch.

The flasher switches on “HOLLY,” then “WOOD,” and then “Land,” successively: then the whole sign is extinguished and the flasher repeats its work.

Taken on a straight line, the sigh is 975 feet long and the letters are 45 feet high. Naturally, there is a good deal of wind pressure exerted on the sign, but it is guyed by cable fastenings, and has already withstood one of the most violent windstorms that has visited Southern California in many years. It is claimed to be the largest sign in the United States and the only attention it has required during eight months of display has been a weekly winding of the time switch and oiling of the flasher twice a month.”

New Hollywood sign photo

Hollywood Sign Completed

Based on the research and photographs in the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Photograph Collection and all the in-depth research performed by Mary Mallory, I believe the Hollywoodland sign was completed and dedicated in late November or early December 1923.

The largest collection of Hollywoodland and Hollywood sign photos is on the hollywoodphotographs.com website. There are more than 300 rare photographs of the Hollywood sign.

 

 

 

 

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