The Hollywood Sign Turns 93: A Brief History of the Iconic Landmark

7:30 AM 7/13/2016

by Allison Crist

In honor of the landmark's birthday, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look back at some of its significant moments throughout history.

The Hollywood Sign - H 2015
Courtesy of RexUSA

Ninety-three years ago on this date, the Hollywood Sign was officially erected in the hills above Los Angeles. The sign originally read "Hollywoodland," in conjunction with the real estate development owned by the man who built it, Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler. 

What's interesting about the $21,000 billboard is that it was initially intended to stay standing atop Mt. Lee for a mere year and a half. Instead, the sign continues to be an integral part of Hollywood and a cultural icon today. 

In honor of the landmark's birthday, The Hollywood Reporter takes a look back at some of its significant moments throughout history. 

  • 1949: The Removal of 'Land'

    As the Cold War carried on, Hollywood suffered. Not only were countless entertainers and industry leaders being blacklisted, but box offices across the country were taking hits due to the rise of popularity in TV. The sign wasn't doing to well, either, as the "H" fell down without being replaced for awhile. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce eventually stepped in, repairing the "H," and removing the "LAND" portion of the sign. 

  • 1973: Sign Gains Official Landmark Status

    In the years building up to 1973, the sign wasn't in particularly good shape due to growing urban decay and damage from various weather. However, the letters becoming worn didn't stop the City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board from granting the sign official landmark status as Monument #111. A ceremony with Gloria Swanson was supposed to mark the event, but fog prevented it.

  • 1973 & 1987: Name Changes

    Even after being granted official landmark status, the Hollywood Sign didn't exactly retain its given name permanently. First, the sign read "Hollyweed" after pranksters aimed to advocate for the decriminalization of marijuana. It was also changed in 1987 to "Holywood," in honor of a visit from Pope John Paul II. 

  • 1978: Hugh Hefner Saves the Sign

    As the sign continued to deteriorate, it was clear -- especially according to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce -- that the sign needed to be rebuilt; however, doing so required nearly a quarter of a million dollars. To fund the project, Hugh Hefner hosted a fundraiser and auctioned off individual letters of the already existing sign at $27,000 per piece. Buyers included Alice Cooper, Gene Autry and Andy Williams. Though the Hollywood Hills were bare for nearly three months, there was indeed a new sign.

  • 1999: Y2K Celebration

    To celebrate the turn of the century, the Hollywood Sign joined other famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and Great Pyramids of Egypt in a special light ceremony. It was a unique scene for as those who saw it as the sign is not normally lit up.

  • 2010: Hugh Hefner Saves the Sign Again

    The Playboy founder stepped in again to help after a Chicago-based investment group said it would sell the property unless it raised $12.5 million. Hefner donated $900,000 of his own money, effectively stopping the sale. As thanks for his generous donation, Hefner was honored by the Trust for Public Land the following year. (Pictured above: Hefner and his now-wife Crystal Harris attended an event celebrating the expansion of Griffith Park at Lake Hollywood Park on Dec. 9, 2010.) Meanwhile, protesters had covered the sign in an effort to "Save the Peak" — to protect the 138 endangered acres behind the Hollywood Sign — which Hefner assisted by presenting the closing gift.

  • 2013: The Sign Gets a New Paint Job

    For its 90th anniversary, the Hollywood Sign Trust teamed up with Sherwin Williams to give the icon a "face-lift" that involved painters applying 105 gallons of primer and 255 gallons of paint. It took nine weeks to complete the project. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Hollywood Sign Trust threw a "White Party" celebrating the sign's 90th anniversary at Drai's Hollywood on Sept. 19, 2013, that was attended by stars including Bob Barker (pictured), Eric McCormack, the late Hollywood Mayor Johnny Grant and more.

  • 2015: War Heats Up Between Residents and Tourists

    Residents of L.A.'s Beachwood Canyon are fighting off hordes of GPS-enabled tourists — thousands a day — who block their driveways, sometimes piss in public and, they say, pose a major fire risk as they make their pilgrimage to the city's most popular and unregulated landmark. Everyone involved agrees that the situation has become a powder keg. "Neighbors have been yelling," said Tamer Riad of Rockin' Hollywood Tours. Homeowner Heather Hamza, whose husband, Karim, runs a diving company servicing film productions, claims she's experienced "aggressive" tourists "cursing and spitting at me." She added: "There is rising, palpable tension between the residents and visitors. Everybody is infuriated. I shudder to think if any of these people coming up here have weapons in their cars. One of these days someone will get shot — it is that bad."

  • 2016: The Sign Turns 93

    Today, the Los Angeles icon stands at 450 feet wide (each letter is 45 feet high, with a width ranging from 31 feet to 39 feet). Most tourists are surprised to find they actually can't get to the sign — it's illegal and sits behind gates protected by security cameras and Park Rangers — and even if you make the hike up there, a Los Angeles Police Department officer stationed at the sign 24/7 will be there to greet you. If you want to get a good look at the view from the sign, its official website offers views from the webcams perched there.