Posts Tagged ‘griffith park’

History of the Hollywood Sign

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

  

The Hollywood Sign, which was officially completed on December 8, 1923, celebrates its 95th anniversary today. It has had a remarkable and turbulent history and has endured its share of problems, including a suicide leap from the H, squabbles over who should maintain it, markings from mountain-climbing spray painters, hassles among community groups about its worth, battles with local residents to keep hikers from it, and threats over the years to tear it down.

The sign has been a part of the local scenery for 95 years, longer than many city landmarks such as Grauman’s Chinese, City Hall, the Shrine Auditorium and UCLA. It even predates Mulholland Drive and is decades older than any freeway.

As many know, the Hollywood sign is the remnant of an advertisement for a 640-acre real-estate development. When it was erected in 1923, the sign spelled HOLLYWOODLAND, the name of the housing development on the slope below it. The sign, however, was an afterthought.

As with many Hollywood origins, the sign’s beginnings have more than one version. The one chosen for this article goes as follows:

In the spring of 1923, John Roche, a 26-year-old advertising and promotional man, was working on a brochure for the Hollywoodland subdivision. He had drawn in proposed home sites, streets and equestrian trails. Behind them, on the side of Mt. Lee, he had penciled in HOLLYWOODLAND.

Harry Chandler, then publisher of the Los Angeles Times, was one of the project’s developers. When Roche arrived at his office with the drawing, Chandler liked the idea and wanted to know if a sign could be erected that could be seen all over Los Angeles.

For a good perspective, Roche drove to Wilshire Boulevard, then a little, partially asphalted road, to see if he could see the mountain from there. Roche took photographs and made drawings of the Hollywood hills. Roche calculated that each letter would have to be 50 feet high to be visible from that distance. When he reported to Chandler that such a sign would be seen, the project began.

“I made a sketch almost that big,” Roche explained in 1977. “I took it to Mr. Chandler’s office about 11 one night – he sat in his office until midnight every night and would talk to anybody – and he said, ‘Go ahead and do it.’ We didn’t have engineers or anything. We just put it up.”

As Roche had determined, each individual letter was built 50-feet high and 30-feet wide. They were assembled on metal panels, each three-by-nine-feet, and painted white. The next step was attaching the panels to a framework that consisted of wires, scaffolding and telephone poles, which were brought up the steep hillside by mules.

Fifty to one-hundred laborers dug the holes with pick axes and shovels. An access road was completed so the enormous sheet metal letters could be brought in. The sign was completed in about 60 days at a cost of $21,000. Years later, Roche said: “I think we built it faster than you could today (1984).” Roche recalled the sign being lighted, but insisted there were no lights on the original HOLLYWOODLAND. “That came sometime later,” he said.

At some point, the sign was illuminated at night by 4,000, 20-watt bulbs, evenly spaced around the outside edge of each letter. This required a caretaker (Albert Kothe, who lived in a cabin behind the first “L”), who maintained the sign and its lighting system. To replace burned out bulbs, Kothe would climb onto the framework behind each letter, the new light bulbs tucked in his shirt.

Since it was planned to promote real-estate, it was not designed to survive the sale of the last lot. Public sentiment, however, led to keeping the sign long after its commercial function was over.

During the sign’s heyday, many stars bought homes in Hollywoodland. The highest lot above the sign was sold to comedy producer Mack Sennett, but he never built there. Sennett did use the sign, though, to pose bathing beauties between the O’s for publicity stills.

There have been rumors of several suicides from the sign, especially during the Depression years, but the only acknowledged death occurred in 1932, when Peg Entwistle, a young actress who came to Hollywood from the Broadway stage, jumped to her death from the letter “H.”

In 1939, the lights were extinguished when the maintenance fund was discontinued by the realtors. It’s rumored that soon after, all 4,000 bulbs were stolen.

In 1945, the development company that owned it donated the sign and the land surrounding it to the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission as an adjunct parcel to Griffith Park. The sign, by this point, had been neglected and vandalized for several years.

In January 1949, the “H” blew down in a windstorm, and nearby residents complained that the sign was a hazard and an eyesore. On January 6, the Recreation and Parks Commission announced that the sign would be torn down. They denied a request of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to alter and repair the sign to read HOLLYWOOD.

Several days later, Councilman Lloyd G. Davies (who represented Hollywood) introduced a resolution before the City Council that the Chamber of Commerce would repair the sign, at an estimated cost of $5,000, furnish bond to guarantee its maintenance and provide the city with proper liability coverage, if the parks commission would consent. Davies said his district was sensitive about becoming known as “’OLLYWOOD.”

The parks commission later reversed its decision and allowed the first nine letters to be repaired, and removed the last four letters to read “HOLLYWOOD,” therefore transforming it from a commercial display into a community one.


By the early 1960s, weather again had taken a strong toll on the sign’s condition. At a cost of $4,500, it was restored by the Kiwanis. At irregular intervals, several civic groups had the metal facing repainted, but little structural maintenance was done.

In 1973, the city once again threatened to tear down the sign. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and local radio station KABC, began a “Save the Sign” campaign hoping to solicit $15,000 from the public to finance structural repairs, replace fallen facing panels, and give it a fresh coat of paint. That same year, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board designated it a monument, thus giving it dignity but no money.

One woman sent the repair fund a large check with a note: “My little girl in 1925 learned to spell from the sign.” Another recalled a proposal of marriage made to her in 1944 near the sign; she “foolishly” rejected it, but wondered how many accepted proposals were made there. A third woman calculated that if “All the couples who parked up there sent in $1, there would be more than enough.” Fortunately, the campaign was successful and the sign received a facelift and a reprieve–but it wouldn’t last for long.

On January 1, 1976, several young men, to mark the change in the marijuana law in California, masked the OOs with EEs made from white sheets. It read HOLLYWEED for a day.

A year later, the “D” became wobbly because of recent rainstorms and there was concern about how long it would stay in place. Up close, the sign creaked and rattled, even in a light wind. Its timbers were rotting. Sheet metal, rusted and corroded, fell from its face and loose securing cables dangled from some of the 50-foot high letters.

It was estimated that a replacement sign would go as high as $120,000. To generate interest in preserving the sign, a press conference was held at the base of the sign with invitations sent out accompanied by a snake bite kit.

CLICK HERE to watch the opening credits (3 minutes) of Savage Intruder (1970), the last film of actress Miriam Hopkins. It has creepy, close-up, footage of the deteriorating Hollywood Sign before it’s restoration. 

The chamber hoped to use money that was raised in 1975 by KIIS radio station to do cosmetic work on the landmark. “But the sign is in such bad shape, it will do us no good to raise small amounts of money,” said Michael Sims, executive director of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. “We’re either going to lose it or take care of it. That’s going to be up to Hollywood. What we really need now is a guardian angel.”

A few months later, in April 1977, the sign was altered to read HOLYWOOD for Easter Sunrise service, viewable from the Hollywood Bowl.

The following winter, the final blow came as wind and heavy rainstorms once again took a toll on the sign. The top of the first O fell off, the Y buckled inward toward the hillside, and the last O collapsed completely.

A campaign was established once again to “Save the Sign.” Eventually, after several efforts to raise money was not sufficient, nine donors came forward; each chose a letter and contributed $27,777.

The donors who paid for each letter included: (H) newspaper publisher, Terrance Donnelly; (O) Italian movie producer, Giovanni Mazza; (L) Les Kelly (Kelly Blue Book); (L) Gene Autry; (Y) Hugh Heffner; (W) Andy Williams; (O) Warner Bros. Records; (O) Alice Cooper, in memory of Groucho Marx; (D) Dennis Lidtke.

The new letters, made of steel, were unveiled on Hollywood’s (so-called) 75th anniversary, November 14, 1978.

Over the following years, unauthorized alterations have been made to the sign. In July 1987, it was changed to OLLYWOOD, (Ollie North) during the Iran-Contra hearings. During the Gulf War it read OIL WAR and in 1993, 20 members of UCLA’s Theta-Chi fraternity changed it to GO UCLA. The students were charged with trespassing, prompting the installation of a security system featuring video surveillance and motion detection. However, it didn’t prevent another institution of learning to alter it to CALTECH ten years later.

In any event, here’s hoping the Hollywood Sign will continue to look out over the Hollywood community for 95 more years and more.


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Land around Hollywood Sign saved!

Monday, April 26th, 2010

HOLLYWOOD SIGN

Hugh Hefner is final donor, land around Hollywood Sign saved!

 

 

April 26, 2010

 

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) today announced it has raised enough money to buy and protect the 138 acres behind the world-famous Hollywood Sign, as Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner stepped forward to close the gap with a $900,000 donation toward the $12.5 million needed.

 

“Today, we have the Hollywood ending we hoped for and now Cahuenga Peak will be forever protected by adding it to Griffith Park,” said Will Rogers, TPL President. “We want to thank the thousands of donors worldwide who so generously helped us, and we owe a particular thanks to Hugh Hefner, who stepped forward at the end to close the final gap.”

 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, an early supporter of the effort, said, “Of all the iconic landmarks in the world, the Hollywood Sign is truly one of the most recognizable symbols of the California dream and land of opportunity. It called to me when I left Austria and made my way to the U.S., with a few dollars in my pocket and the dream of becoming an actor. I am proud we were able to come together and create a public-private partnership to protect this historic symbol that will continue to welcome dreamers, artists and Austrian bodybuilders for generations to come.”

 

“This is a great day for all of us,” said Los Angeles Council Member Tom LaBonge. “I have climbed Mt. Hollywood every morning for over 30 years and look forward to hiking Cahuenga Peak with anyone who wants to join me. This would not have happened without The Trust for Public Land, the Hollywood Sign Trust and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. And a very special thanks to a man who, like me, loves nature, loves people and provided great strength to bring us to this point, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

 

Hefner’s gift capped a year-long effort, which began with $1 million gifts each from The Tiffany & Co. Foundation and Aileen Getty. At the original April 14 deadline, TPL still had $1.5 million to raise. TPL received a fundraising extension to April 30, and The Tiffany Foundation and Ms. Getty stepped forward again with a $500,000 matching grant, which TPL would receive if the remaining $1 million was raised. Hefner’s gift closed that final gap and enabled TPL to realize the Tiffany and Getty challenge funds.

 

“My childhood dreams and fantasies came from the movies, and the images created in Hollywood had a major influence on my life and Playboy,” said Playboy founder Hugh M. Hefner. “As I’ve said before, the Hollywood sign is Hollywood’s Eiffel Tower and I am pleased to help preserve such an important cultural landmark.”

 

Chris Baumgart, Chair of the Hollywood Sign Trust, said, “The Sign you see today exists because Hugh Hefner raised the money in 1978 to re-build it. Now, 32 years later, the Sign’s number 1 fan has come forward again with the closing gift to ‘Save the Peak’ and thus the view of Mt. Lee and the Hollywood Sign. It is a view that is recognized around the world as the icon of the entertainment industry and the postcard of the Southern California lifestyle. The Hollywood Sign Trust and admirers from around the world thank Tom LaBonge for believing and not giving up, and Hugh Hefner for carrying our efforts across the finish line.”

 

“I thank Hugh Hefner and Aileen Getty for their critical contributions, along with everyone whose generous spirit moved them to join the campaign to save one of America’s most famous urban spaces,” said Michael J. Kowalski, chairman and CEO of Tiffany & Co. “The threat to its existence underscores the need for partnerships like ours with TPL who can work together to protect our cultural assets for future generations.”

 

Ms. Getty, a long-time Hollywood resident, said, “I’m proud to support TPL’s efforts in conserving this magical place. With all of the needs facing our urban communities today, this successful effort reminds us that we also need beauty, green spaces, trails and parkland to prepare our communities for a healthy, more livable future.”

 

Joseph T. Edmiston, Executive Director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said, “The protection of this land is something which will provide an enormous benefit to people in Los Angeles, both now and for generations to come. And it wouldn’t have happened without Gov. Schwarzenegger’s leadership, and with help from TPL. This project has shown a welcome spotlight on the need to protect open lands in Los Angeles.”

 

John Donnelly, Executive Director of the Wildlife Conservation Board, said, “The permanent protection of Cahuenga Peak is a significant addition to Griffith park that will greatly enhance recreation opportunities for visitors and residents of Los Angeles and enhance wildlife corridors throughout the region.”

 

Hollywood leaders donated $3.2 million, including major donations from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, CBS Corporation, The Entertainment Industry Foundation, Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, the Lucasfilm Foundation, NBC Universal, Sony Pictures Entertainment, Steven Spielberg, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Time Warner Inc., and The Walt Disney Company Foundation. Other Hollywood contributors include Creative Artists Agency, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, and Norman Lear.

 

There was a groundswell of support for the project in Los Angeles, with local residents holding rallies, bake sales, and fund-raising concerts on the Sunset Strip. On Facebook, more than 27,000 supporters have signed up. Viral videos have chronicled the partnership’s efforts.

 

In April, 2009, TPL signed an option to buy the 138 acres behind, and to the left, of the sign’s “H”, stretching west to Cahuenga Peak. The land was originally bought in 1940 by industrialist Howard Hughes who intended to build a home for his girlfriend, actress Ginger Rogers. But the relationship ended and after Hughes died, his estate sold the property in 2002 to a group of Chicago investors. They put the property on the market two years ago for $22 million. It is zoned to build four luxury homes.

 

TPL is a national, nonprofit land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural places. Since 1972, TPL has completed 4,500 projects in 47 states, protecting 2.8 million acres. Visit www.tpl.org

 

Save Cahuenga Peak

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Griffith Park’s Designation…

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

Griffith Park finally gets its due

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Los Angeles Times
October 30, 2008

Observatory It was a big day for Griffith Park boosters today. The Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission decided today that the park should receive historic-cultural monument status.

 

The commission voted 3 to 1 to forward the park’s application to the City Council, which must give final approval for the designation.

 

At 4,218 acres, Griffith Park would be the nation’s largest historic monument. It was donated to the city 112 years ago by Col. Griffith Jenkins Griffith, who stipulated that the land be public open space for recreation and relaxation.

 

The colonel’s great-grandson Griffith Van Griffith applied for the designation earlier this year, citing the need to prevent commercial development and to preserve the park as his great-grandfather intended.

 

“I’m very happy,” Griffith said in a phone interview after the commission’s decision. “[My great-grandfather] would be ecstatic…. He didn’t want to turn it into an amusement park. I just want it to be like any other normal neighborhood park…. Where else can you go and get away in the middle of the city?”

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Griffith Park Fire…

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Crews knock down Griffith Park fire

 

The hillside blaze east of the L.A. Zoo burned 15 acres and prompted some evacuations. About 200 firefighters put the blaze out in three hours. No injuries were reported.

 

By Stuart Pfeifer
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
July 27, 2008

 

A hillside wildfire broke out in Griffith Park this afternoon, prompting a massive response by firefighters trying to contain the blaze before it hit landmarks or a bird sanctuary.

 

The Los Angeles Fire Department declared the fire knocked down about 3:40 p.m., saying it burned 15 acres of heavy brush but caused no damage or injuries.

 

The fire was burning an area east of the zoo and Travel Town area, said Ron Myers, a Fire Department spokesman. Officials have shut down some entrances to the park and said evacuations are possible if the fire grows.

 

There was particular concern about a California condor breeding ground that is located near the area where the fire was burning.

 

About 200 firefighters were involved in controlling the blaze, which was first reported at 12:42 p.m., Myers said. The Fire Department was also using water-dropping helicopters.

 

The fire could be seen from parts of the San Fernando Valley and the 134 Freeway, which runs along the northern edge of the park.

 

Today’s fire comes 14 months after a wind-whipped wildfire consumed 1,200 acres in the park and forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents in Los Feliz.

 

stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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Wolf’s Lair…

Saturday, July 5th, 2008

CELEBRITY REAL ESTATE

Wolf’s Lair comes with a lot of lore

 

(Michael McCreary / Los Angeles Times

 

Los Angeles Times HOT PROPERTY
July 5, 2008

 

One of Los Angeles’ true trophy properties is for sale: The so-called Wolf’s Lair is a castle that sits atop a hill overlooking downtown, Griffith Park and the Hollywood sign; on a clear day, it even has views of Santa Catalina Island. Asking price: $7.5 million, but that includes the 1920s speakeasy and all the history that comes with it.

 

The owners are former View co-host Debbie Matenopoulos and her husband, Lionsgate Entertainment’s Jay Faires.

 

(Michael McCreary / Los Angeles Times)

 

But the real celebrity here is the house. It sits on 3 walled and gated acres. There are eight bedrooms, six bathrooms and a heart-shaped, black-bottom pool. The guesthouse was designed by architect John Lautner.

 

Wolf’s Lair was built by Hollywoodland developer L. Milton Wolf. One story connected to the house is that Wolf, said to be a womanizer of young starlets, built a secret apartment under the gatehouse in which to do his entertaining while his unsuspecting wife slept in the castle a few hundred feet away.

 

The exterior of the gatehouse still looks like a Norman-style castle; the interiors have been reworked.

 

(Michael McCreary / Los Angeles Times)
 

Matenopoulos did a brief stint hosting Good Day Live, a nationally syndicated show. She is one of three hosts on E! Entertainment’s weeknight celebrity gossip series The Daily 10.

 

Faires is president of music at Lionsgate and founder of Mammoth Records.

 

The listing agents are Laura and Brian Moore of Keller Williams Realty, Los Feliz.

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