Just below the summit of Mount Lee, this arrangement of giant letters in sans serif font attracts thousands of tourists. These tourists, much like ourselves, take the drive or hike up Beachwood Drive to pose for a cell phone photo. Much to our dismay, we read that these letters aren’t the original ones, which were made of wood and steel, each 50′-0″ tall and anchored on telephone poles. Originally, there were 4,000 light bulbs outlining each letter. There was even a guy, Albert Koeth who lived in a small shack behind the “L’s” of the sign and for fifteen years, he would scale the letters with 20-watt bulbs stuffed in his shirt, replacing any that had burned out.
This “remake” was constructed in 1978 when the old was torn down and in their place were 20′-0″ steel beams, drilled into the earth and cemented in concrete. These old letters were replaced with new ones constructed of corrugated steel coated white enamel and no lights. However, both signs have been advertisements for a promised life high above the smog of the city, a dream of wealth, fame, glamour.
By the 1920’s, the time for a large-scale hillside development was inspired by the increase in private car ownership. The hundreds of acres of foothills were put on the market promising to put the hustle and bustle of Hollywood at a distance. Paths for hiking and biking were cleared through the mountains and homes were built in various styles such as English Tudor, California Revival, French Normandy and Mediterranean. In order to shout out to others and promise a clean, healthful atmosphere and beautiful outlook of the hills, former topographer, John Roche, penciled out the large temporary Hollywoodland sign.
I think it was in 1949 when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce decided to tear down the “land” and to provide bonds for maintenance and insurance in case of liability suits and damage. Thus, advertising the city and movie business, not the housing development.
Because these letters are seen as a potential target for terrorists and teenagers, the letters are protected by infrared cameras, a satellite view, and 24 hour surveillance. We had a good time seeing these letters anyway and took in the view of the hills at dusk.