Hollywood Sign



The www.hollywoodsignhistory.com website is the most accurate history of the Hollywoodland sign and the two Hollywood signs


Hollywoodland hired the Crescent Sign Company to design and engineer the sign.  It was the company’s owner, Thomas Fisk Goff, who designed the sign. (8) There are numerous articles and historical writing attesting to the fact that the Crescent Sign Company was responsible for designing and engineering the thirteen letter sign below the, then, unnamed peak.  The Electrical Products Corporation was responsible manufacturing the light boxes and installing the electrical/lighting system for 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.


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. 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. 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.


Except for the three “L” letters and the “W”, the nine other 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.  


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.   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.


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.


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.


As mentioned above, the sign was first illuminated on December 8, 1923. The cost of the sign was $23,501.32


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 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.


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. Los Angeles Times publisher, Harry Chandler adopted the catchprase, “White Spot Of America” as being a city free of crime, corruption and communism. 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.


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.  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.


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. 


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. 


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. 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.


MILLICENT LILIAN “PEG”  ENTWISTLE


One of the most sensational and tragic events, involving the Hollywoodland sign was the suicide of a young actress named Lillian Millicent “Peg” Entwistle, born Millicent Lilian Entwistle.  After years of a successful career as an actress in New York, Peg went to Hollywood to perform in a movie.  Because of the production censors, three quarters of her film was left on the cutting room floor.  In addition, she was fired from the RKO’s payroll in order to reduce studio expenses. Due to her not fulfilling her agreement with two New York producers, she was “blackballed” within the theatrical business.  By September 1932, she was out of money and depressed and discouraged with the way her life was going.  On September 16th, she walked to the Hollywoodland sign, climbed the letter “H” and jumped to her death.


In the early 1930s, the maintenance of the sign was discontinued. In 1945, the land on which the Hollywoodland sign is situated was deeded to the City of Los Angeles.


By the early 1940s the sign was in serious disrepair. In 1944, the  letter “H” was knocked by a windstorm.  Five years later the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce paid to have the letter “H” rebuilt, the last four letters removed and restored the rest of the sign. Ever since then, the sign has read HOLLYWOOD.


In 1973, the sign underwent a facelift by replacing the missing pieces of sheet metal and painting the face of the sign.


In February 1978, the sign was seriously damaged by one of the worst storms in Southern California’s history.  After an extensive fund raising campaign, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce led the charge to replace the old sign with one made of state-of-the-art materials.

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Hollywoodland sign from the Hollywood Lake area
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Hollywoodland sign from the Hollywood Dam
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Hollywoodland sign from the Hollywood Lake
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Hollywoodland sign from the Hollywood Dam
Hollywood SignHollywoodland sign from the Hollywood Lake area
HLD-002
1924
Hollywood SignHollywoodland sign from the Hollywood Dam
HLD-005
1924
Hollywood SignHollywoodland sign from the Hollywood Lake
HLD-007
1924
Hollywood SignHollywoodland sign from the Hollywood Dam
HLD-015
1924
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Hollywoodland sign from the Hollywood Dam
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The test letter
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The test letter
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Men seeding the hillside during the construction on the Hollywoodland sign
Hollywood SignHollywoodland sign from the Hollywood Dam
HLD-023
3/17/25
Hollywood SignThe test letter "H" (right) for the Hollywood sign. The actual sign was erected several yards to the west of the test letter
HS-001
Early 1923
Hollywood SignThe test letter "H" for the Hollywoodland sign. The actual sign was built several yards to the west of the test letter.
HS-001-1
Early 1923
Hollywood SignMen seeding the hillside during the construction on the Hollywoodland sign
HS-002-2
November 1923
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Hollywoodland sign under construction
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Construction of the Hollywoodland sign
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Construction of the Hollywoodland sign
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Man standing in the letter
Hollywood SignHollywoodland sign under construction
HS-003
November 1923
Hollywood SignConstruction of the Hollywoodland sign
HS-003-1
November 1923
Hollywood SignConstruction of the Hollywoodland sign
HS-004-1
November 1923
Hollywood SignMan standing in the letter "D" during the construction of the Hollywoodland sign
HS-005
November 1923