Guest Author - Amber Grey
In 1923, Hollywood, California was officially placed on the map as the place where movies were made and the promise land where dreams came true. In the same year, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times, Harry Charles, erected the "Hollywoodland" sign overlooking the city as a prime outlet to advertise his real estate development called "Hollywoodland". It cost $21,000 to build with each letter being 30 feet wide and 50 feet tall built out of metal squares assembled to a metal frame of pipes. Originally, the sign lit up the Los Angeles sky with 4,000 light bulbs synchronized to blink each set of words one at a time - first "Holly", then "Wood" and lastly "land."
When it was originally constructed, it was supposed to stay for a year but the "Hollywoodland" sign took on a life of its own. It became a breathing symbol and a state of mind for everyone who came to the city dreaming of seeing their name in lights.
But it was in 1932 when the Hollywood sign would be forever marked as a place of ironic tragedy. Like so many people, Broadway actress Peg Entwistle moved to Hollywood to turn her talent and dreams into movie-making gold but Peg was met with a constant stream of rejection. One night, the depressed actress went out for the evening, lying to her uncle about her whereabouts. Instead, she climbed Mt. Lee to the Hollywood sign, to the top of the "H" and jumped. She was 24 years old. The newspapers called her "The Hollywood Sign Girl" and became immortal as a showbiz cautionary tale. Ironically, a letter from the Beverly Hills Playhouse arrived the day after her death. She was accepted to play the lead role in a play where the character was driven to suicide.
When World War II began, Harry Charles' real estate was no more but the "Hollywoodland" sign had become a landmark for the motion picture industry, so it remained in its place. Since its shelf life was to be a year, the sign fell into disrepair from its poor structure. It wasn't until 1949, after the "H" collapsed on itself and left the sign reading "Ollywoodland", the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce rescued the sign. Since Chambers' real estate was long gone, the Commerce removed "Land" from the sign while repairing the rest of the letters and restored the much-needed "H."
By the 1960s, the sign had become a physical parallel to the once-glamorous "Golden Age of Hollywood" where Tinsletown was ruled by movie moguls and their studios. Now, most of the studios were non-existent and the moguls either retired or passed away. The studio system was gone and the "Hollywood" sign needed to be repaired because of the patchwork job that was done nearly twenty years before with unprotected wood and metal.
In 1978, when it came time to restore the sign again, there was a public campaign in which nine public figures donated almost $30, 000 for the letter they donated to have restored. The donors included Gene Autry, Hugh Hefner, Andy Williams and Alice Cooper who donated in the memory of Groucho Marx. To mark Hollywood's 75th anniversary, there was a live television broadcast that unveiled the version of the sign on November 14, 1978. Along with a more stable structure, the letters that spelled out "land" was taken down permanently.
In 2009, there was concern for the land around the sign to be open for real estate development and rumors spread that there were plans to build condominiums around the sign. In 2010, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner as well as the nonprofit organization The Trust for Public Land bought portions of the land to save it from becoming real estate property.
As of 2011, the "Hollywood" sign has become the icon of the promise land of showbiz dreams for 88 years. It is hard to imagine the state of California or the motion picture industry for that matter, not having a sign displayed across Mt. Lee.