The Hollywood sign: Keeping an icon picture-perfect

Tinseltown’s biggest star — literally — is the Hollywood sign, one of the world’s most evocative symbols, and a universal metaphor for ambition and success, wealth and glamour.

The sign, built in 1923, was initially an outdoor ad campaign for a housing development called “Hollywoodland,” and was only supposed to be on the hillside for a year and a half.

hollywood-sign-california

The Hollywoodland sign in the 1920s

In March 1924, the nearby Bakersfield Morning Echo newspaper wrote of “the great ‘Hollywoodland’ skysign on the Hollywood Hills to the north of that suburb.”

Hollywoodland-sign-hollywood-1923Noting its prominence — particularly when illuminated — the paper called it “a familiar landmark to all Los Angeles, and in fact to a very much greater area than the city itself.”

But it wasn’t just Southern Californians who were impressed. The huge sign made news headlines across the country, such as this mention from the Tyrone Daily Herald (Tyrone, Pennsylvania) in October 1924:

“Mountains in the neighborhood of Hollywood, Cal., have been ‘adorned’ with the largest electrical sign ever constructed. This consists of the word HOLLYWOODLAND in letters 45 feet high, the whole being about a quarter of a mile in length. Four thousand lamps [lightbulbs] are used.”

The late 1940s onward

Despite the early excitement, the Great Depression and World War II took their toll, and the sign fell into disrepair.

In 1949, after years of neglect, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce embarked on a major makeover project for the sign, removing the letters that spelled “LAND” and repairing the rest.

The sign’s stats:
  • H: 45 feet high by 33 feet and 6 inches wide
  • O: 45 feet high by 33 feet wide
  • L: 45 feet high by 31 feet wide
  • L: 45 feet high by 31 feet wide
  • Y: 45 feet high by 35 feet wide
  • W: 45 feet high by 39 feet and 9 inches wide
  • O: 45 feet high by 33 feet wide
  • O: 45 feet high by 33 feet wide
  • D: 45 feet high by 33 feet wide
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By the late 1970s, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce determined that the sign required a complete rebuilding, an effort that cost a quarter million dollars.

In 1978, Hugh Hefner sponsored a gala at the Playboy Mansion, where each of the sign’s nine letters was ceremonially “auctioned” off for $27,700 to cover the costs of the refurbishment.

Approximately 194 tons of concrete, enamel and steel later, the sign was reborn — polished and poised for a new generation.

The sign has been painted twice since 1978, and was in need of a complete overhaul in time to celebrate its 90th birthday. Sherwin-Williams Emerald Exterior Paint was selected for the job.

And that’s how for nearly a century now, those four-story tall letters have been able to look out from their hillside post, watching as a handful of companies churning out silent movies transformed into one of the most creative, influential and profitable industries in the world.


The Hollywood Sign Trust is a 501(c)3 non-profit trust responsible for repairing, maintaining, refurbishing and providing capital improvements to the Hollywood Sign for the benefit of the public at large. More information about the Sign’s history and the Trust can be found hollywoodsign.org.



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