It is located on Mount Lee in the Hollywood Hills area of the Santa Monica Mountains, overlooking Hollywood.
The sign was erected in 1923 and originally read “HOLLYWOODLAND.”
Built by Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler as an epic $21,000 billboard for his upscale real estate development in the hills above the Hollywood district of Los Angeles.
Each letter was 9.1 meters (30 feet) wide and 15.2 meters (50 feet) high, and the whole sign was studded with some 4,000 light bulbs.
At night the sign would flash in segments: “HOLLY,” “WOOD”, and “LAND” would first light up individually, then the whole sign would light up. Below the Hollywoodland sign was a searchlight to attract more attention. The effect was truly spectacular, particularly for pre-Vegas sensibilities.
It was intended only to last a year and a half, but after the rise of American cinema in Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood, the sign became an internationally recognized symbol and was left there.
Over the course of more than half a century, the sign, designed to stand for only 18 months, sustained extensive damage and deterioration.
During the early 1940s, Albert Kothe (the sign’s official caretaker) caused an accident that destroyed the letter “H”. Kothe, driving while inebriated, was nearing the top of Mount Lee when he lost control of his vehicle and drove off the cliff directly behind the H. While Kothe was not injured, his 1928 Ford Model A was destroyed, as was the original 15.2 meters (50 foot) tall illuminated letter H.
In 1949, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce finally came to the rescue of the ailing Sign, removing the letters that spelled “LAND” and repairing the rest, including the recently toppled “H.” The effort gave it new life, but the sign’s unprotected wood and sheet metal structure continued to deteriorate.
In 1973, the City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board gave the Sign official landmark status (Monument #111), but the ensuing ceremony, hosted by silent film star Gloria Swanson, was blanketed in a thick fog, ruining the event.
During the 70s, as Hollywood continued to decline, the top of the second “O” and the “D” and the entire third “O” toppled down Mt. Lee, and an arsonist set fire to the bottom of the second “L.”
Adding insult to injury, pranksters altered the Sign’s letters to read “Hollyweed” in 1973 (advocating looser marijuana laws) then later, to “Holywood”, commemorating a visit from Pope John Paul II in 1987.
In 1978, in large part because of the public campaign to restore the landmark by Hugh Hefner, founder of Playboy magazine, the Chamber set out to replace the severely deteriorated sign with a more permanent structure.
Nine donors gave $27,777.77 each (which totaled $250,000) to sponsor replacement letters:
• H: Terrence Donnelly (publisher of the Hollywood Independent Newspaper)
• O: Giovanni Mazza (Italian movie producer)
• L: Les Kelley (founder of the Kelley Blue Book)
• L: Gene Autry (actor)
• Y: Hugh Hefner (founder of Playboy)
• W: Andy Williams (singer)
• O: Warner Bros. Records
• O: Alice Cooper (singer), who donated in memory of close friend and comedian Groucho Marx
• D: Dennis Lidtke (businessman) donated in the name of Matthew Williams
The old sign was scrapped in August of 1978 and for three months, Mt. Lee was signless.
The new version of the sign was unveiled on the 11th of November 1978 on a live CBS television special celebrating the 75th anniversary of Hollywood.
The new letters were 13.7 meters (45 feet) tall and ranged from 9.4 to 11.9 meters (31 to 39 feet) wide. They were made of steel supported by steel columns on a concrete foundation.
The sign was lit in 1984 to celebrate the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
On December 31, 1999, the sign was the site of the West Coast’s highest-profile for year 2000 celebration, ringing in the new millennium with a dazzling display of lights and special effects. The Sign was featured alongside the Eiffel Tower, the Great Pyramids of Egypt, and New York’s Times Square during global millennium countdown TV coverage.
Refurbishment, donated by Bay Cal Commercial Painting, began again in November 2005, as workers stripped the letters back to their metal base and repainted them white.
Environmentalists and preservationists were concerned about the possibility of real estate development in the area. On February 11, 2010, as part of a campaign to help raise money and with the full support of both the city and the Hollywood Sign Trust, the organization covered each letter of the sign with large banners reading “SAVE THE PEAK”.
The Sign’s #1 fan, Hugh Hefner, presented the Hollywood Sign Trust with the closing gift to “Save the Peak,” capping efforts to raise funds to purchase and protect the 138 endangered acres behind the Hollywood Sign. Thanks to Mr. Hefner’s contribution, grants from The Tiffany & Co. Foundation and Aileen Getty, along with contributions from Hollywood leaders and fans around the world, the view that is inseparable from this cultural landmark will be protected.
The original sign was thought to have been lost, until it appeared on eBay in 2005. It was sold for $450,000 by producer/entrepreneur Dan Bliss, who apparently bought it from nightclub entrepreneur Hank Berger, who had bought it from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. It is currently owned by Minnesotan artist Billy Mack, who has refurbished the “H,” and painted pictures of iconic Hollywood stars on it. He claims you can still see dings left long ago by Albert Koeth, after he drove his car into the bottom of the letter.
Land in the vicinity of the sign was purchased in 1940 by billionaire Howard Hughes, who intended to build a home for his girlfriend, actress Ginger Rogers. Before long Rogers broke off their engagement and the lot remained empty.
The sign makes frequent appearances in popular culture, particularly in establishing shots for films and television programs set in or around Hollywood.
The sign has been depicted getting destroyed in many movies including Earthquake (1974), Superman (1978), The Rocketeer (1991), Independence Day (1996), Mighty Joe Young (1998), The Day After Tomorrow (2004), “10.5” (2004), Sharknado (2013), and San Andreas (2015).
The best way to see the Hollywood Sign is to hike to it! There are three trails, the Mt Hollywood Trail, the Canyon Drive Trail, and the Cahuenga Peak Trail. Hiking trails are open from sunrise to sunset, 365 days a year.