I watched Argo last night and noticed some brief footage of the Hollywood sign looking pretty rough. I’d no idea about the sign’s history so did some reading.
The sign was built in 1923 as HOLLYWOODLAND as a promotion to sell real estate. It was flimsily made with wooden panels anchored by telephone poles, so it regularly blew over.
The letters were 45ft tall and the characters were outlined by 4,000 light bulbs to make it flash in segments — HOLLY, then WOOD, then LAND, before lighting up entirely.
The total cost of the sign was $21,000 (about $265,000 today), and it was only expected to exist for 18 months.
In 1949, after the sign and land beneath it had been given to the city of Los Angeles, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the L.A. Parks Department began efforts to repair the seriously deteriorated sign which had been abandoned by the Hollywoodland real estate group in the 1930s due to the Great Depression. It was decided that the LAND segment be removed, keeping HOLLYWOOD in order to promote the movie industry.
By the 1970s the remaining HOLLYWOOD section was a crumbling wreck (an “O” had fallen down and termites had infested the remaining letters).
Hugh Hefner held a fundraiser at the Playboy mansion in June 1978 where prominent people helped raise money toward the restoration.
After Hugh’s party, the Chamber Of Commerce decided to allocate one letter to each of the benefactors.
H: publisher Terrence Donnelly
O: producer Giovanni Mazza
L: Kelley Blue Book founder Les Kelley
L: actor/singer Gene Autry
Y: Hugh Hefner
W: singer Andy Williams
O: Alice Cooper, donating in the name of Groucho Marx
O: Warner Bros. Records
D: Thomas Pooley
The old sign was taken down on August 8th 1978, and the new sign was complete on October 30th that year, built to the same specifications.
Hugh Hefner’s helicopter was used to lift the steel sections into place.
Names of the workers who rebuilt the sign in 1978 are preserved under the paint.
Today the sign is protected and promoted by the nonprofit Hollywood Sign Trust. The most extensive refurbishment in nearly 35 years began in October 2012, and is due for completion in December 2012.
A history of the Hollywood sign, on YouTube
Hollywood sign, on Wikipedia
The famous Hollywood sign, on Today I Found Out
The story of the Hollywood sign, on HOLLYWOODLAND
Hollywood sign to get a facelift, on KTLA