The History of the Hollywood Sign

Looming over the Los Angeles neighborhood of Hollywood from its perch atop Mount Lee is one of the most instantly-recognizable landmarks in the U.S., the iconic Hollywood sign.

Built in 1923 (at a reported cost of $21,000), and intended to serve as an advertisement for a then new housing development, the sign originally spelled out 'HOLLYWOODLAND, ' Although the sign was tentatively planned to remain for only a year-and-a-half, the sign's presence and visibility coincided with the meteoric rise of the Hollywood film industry and due to this association, became a permanent fixture. By the mid-to-late 1940s, the sign had deteriorated significantly, leading the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to partner with the LA Parks Department to refurbish the structure. These repairs included removing 'LAND' from the letters. Another major restoration occurred in 1978, replacing the wooden letters with steel and installing sturdy steel supporting columns on a concrete base.

The current 'Hollywood' sign consists of nine 45-foot high capital letters (ranging from 31-39 feet wide) and stretches for 352 feet along Mount Lee's southern slope. As with nearly all things Hollywood-related, the sign has a history of incidents, odd coincidences and facts that could only happen in La-La Land. Some examples include:

In September 1932, Los Angeles police were summoned by an anonymous caller to the sign where they discovered the body of Peg Entwhistle, a 23-year old actress who, apparently driven to despair by her failed efforts to become a movie star, had ascended a workman's ladder behind the sign's letter 'H' and leapt to her death. This sad tale didn't end there however. In the 1940s, reports of ghostly apparitions (usually involving a young, blonde female) began occurring frequently in the vicinity. These sightings have continued sporadically for more than half a century.

In 1940, eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes purchased the land surrounding the sign, with plans to build a mansion on the site for then-fiancé, actress Ginger Rogers. The plan was shelved after the legendary film star broke off the engagement.

In the early 1940s, the sign's caretaker, apparently inebriated, lost control of his 1928 Model A Ford, driving it off the cliff, destroying both his car and the letter 'H' in the process, although he escaped without injury. That pesky letter ‘H’ was also the same letter involved in the Entwhistle incident.

Notable celebrities such as cowboy film star/singer Gene Autry, rocker Alice Cooper, Playboy founder/publisher Hugh Hefner and singer Andy Williams were among significant donors who contributed to the 1978 restoration.

In 1987, to commemorate the Los Angeles visit of Pope John Paul II, the sign was altered to spell 'HOLYWOOD.'

In 2016, soon after California voters passed a law legalizing the recreational use of marijuana; the sign was altered/vandalized to spell 'HOLLYWeeD.' A local artist was eventually arrested on charges of misdemeanor criminal trespass in the incident.

As a cultural and regional landmark, the Hollywood sign has made and continues to make appearances in countless films, TV programs, promotional brochures and music videos. In its decades-long existence, the sign has become unmistakably linked to the city of Hollywood/Los Angeles, the film industry and to the Tinseltown mystique.