She’s one of the United State’s most famous landmarks and the oldest dame in Hollywood – a century-old symbol of glamour and big dreams. Around 10 million visitors crowd into Griffith Parth every year to catch a glimpse or snap a story next to the famous four-storey block capital letters. But how much do you really know about this must-see tourist attraction? Looking to find out more? Here are seven interesting facts about the Hollywood Sign that will blow your mind.
Interesting Facts About The Hollywood Sign
1. It was originally built to advertise real estate
The sign is actually only a little older than the district itself. Harvey and Daeida Wilcox founded it in 1887, but it wasn’t until 1911 that it welcomed the first movie studio. In the early 1920s, Harry Chandler decided to invest in the real estate development, which was reputedly going to become a mecca for movie-making. To promote it, the partners paid $21,000 to put up the white block letters that are so instantly recognisable today. They wired it to telephone poles to illuminate it with 4,000 light bulbs too. Apparently, it was only supposed to stay up for 12-18 months, but as the status of Hollywood grew it stuck. Now it’s one of the US’s most famous landmarks.
2. And it used to feature four more letters
The Hollywood sign was once a little longer than it is today. The original sign said ‘Hollywoodland’, the name of the brand-new segregated housing development. But the sign needed regular maintenance and required a lot of upkeep. During the Great Depression, the H toppled over. In the 1940s, the L.A. Recreation and Parks Commission apparently wanted to tear it down and it looked like this was going to happen for a short while, when the sign passed into the city hands. Thankfully the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce stepped. The compromise? To restore the sign, they’d have to lose the final four letters.
The sign has changed names a few times over the years. When the pope visited in 1987, it changed to ‘Holywood’.
3. It’s not the original
It’s a symbol of old-age glamour but the version you’re looking at today is a lot younger. Even after the 1949 restoration, it couldn’t stay shiny for long given its unprotected wood-and-sheet metal structure. The first ‘O’ splintered in half, the second ‘O’ tumbled down Mount Lee and arsonists set fire to the second ‘L’. For a while, it read “HuL LYwO D”, which didn’t have quite the same impact. Eventually, Playboy founder Hugh Hefner threw a gala to fund the replacement. He pledged $28,000 in 1978 for the replacement.
For around three months, there was no Hollywood sign. The new letters were unveiled in November 1978 live on CBS, on a special episode to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Hollywood’s incorporation as a city. It’s been in good condition ever since and gets a fresh lick of paint every now and then too.
4. It’s taller than you think it is
On the original sign, each of the 13 letters was 30 ft (9.1 m) wide and 43 ft tall (13.1 m). They were constructed out of 3×9″ metal square-rigged together by scaffolding, pipes and wires. There was also a giant white dot, measuring 35 ft (10.6m) just below it, featuring 20-watt lights around the perimeter.
Today’s Hollywood sign is 45 ft (13.7 metres) tall, and 350 ft (106.7 m) long, which is around four storeys high. Workers also needed to pour 194 tons of concrete into the hill to anchor the sign.
5. They almost surrounded it with luxury homes
Howard Hughes, the American business tycoon and film director, bought 138 acres of land surrounding the sign in the 1940s. He planned to build a compound for himself and his then-girlfriend Ginger Rogers. Those plans went up in flames when Rogers broke up with him, and for decades the land was left alone. Then, in 2002 the Hughes estate sold it all to a Chicago-based investment firm for a reported $1.7 million.
Developers announced a plan to divide up the state to create five sparkling new luxury homes. Hollywood was up in arms and movie studios, actors and foundations – under the Trust for Public Land – raised the funds to buy it back from developers. They raised $12.5 million, with Hugh Hefner chipping in an immodest $900,000 to seal the deal.
6. It’s a famous pranking hotspot
It may now have its own security guard, but it was once ripe territory pranksters. In 1976, a group of students used $50 worth of black and white fabric to spell out ‘Hollyweed’, to celebrate the change in Marijuana laws. Then, in protest of Oliver North’s Iran-Contra testimony, it changed to read OLLYWOOD On New Year’s Day 1985, it mysteriously changed to read RAFFEYSOD. This one really puzzled the police. A week later, New Orleans rock band The Raffeys took credit for the prank. Finegood then returned to the scene and changed the sign to OIL WAR, in protest of the Gulf War.
Finegood’s obituary also cited two unrealized pranks: Changing it to HOLLYWEEN on Halloween and camouflaging the sign to make it look like it had disappeared on April Fools Day.
Public access is now prohibited with barbed wire, motion sensors and security guards.
7. But it’s not always a happy place
Our interesting facts about the Hollywood sign finale isn’t the cheeriest, but it is interesting. An aspiring actress once famously took her life here. In 1931, at the height of the Depression, Peg Entwistle moved from New York City to Los Angeles for a big break. She secured a part in the thriller Thirteen Women but much of her performance was cut from the final movie. Without a contract renewal and dreams in pieces, she took a ladder to the letter “H” and jumped off. She was later found in the ravine downhill.
At the time it caused a huge sensation in the press, a symbol of broken dreams and a cautionary tale for those dreaming big. She’s since become a Hollywood legend and some even say her ghost has haunted the famous landmark ever since, leaving behind the scent of gardenias – her favourite perfume. Her story features in the 2020 Netflix series, Hollywood.