‘Hollywood’ Sign Symbol of a City, Industry and Lifestyle

This 1930s photo shows American tennis champion Henry Ellsworth Vines Jr. under the original “Hollywoodland” sign. This photo went to auction in May 2013.

By Jim O’Neal

Now that the Oscar buzz has abated, the folks who work in Hollywood are back busily creating new forms of entertainment. Most probably don’t realize that the world-famous HOLLYWOOD sign was originally HOLLYWOODLAND and used to promote a large real-estate subdivision overlooking Sunset Boulevard.

It was erected near the top of Mount Lee in 1923 and each white sheet-metal letter was nearly 50 feet high and 40 feet wide and outlined with lightbulbs. It soon became associated with the movie industry and in 1932, actress Peg Entwistle committed suicide by jumping off the letter H.

Alas, 15 years after being built, maintenance on the sign was deferred and it soon fell into disrepair. Then somebody stole all 8,000 of the 20-watt lightbulbs. By 1945, the development company had donated the sign plus some land to the city park and recreation department.

When the letter H blew down four years later, many regarded the sign as an eyesore and thought it should be removed entirely. However, the parks commissioner finally decided to repair just the first nine letters and remove the last four.

Ultimately, the show-biz community raised enough money through donations to keep it viable and since 1973 the sign has been officially designated a Historic-Cultural Monument.

I’m sure there must be others, but Los Angeles always seems to be too busy to spend a lot of time on the past. Houses up to 10,000 square feet are routinely razed (too small) to make way for more appropriate 40,000-square-foot second homes. Two swimming pools, 15-car garages, tennis courts and bowling alleys are considered de rigueur.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was right … the truly rich are different.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

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Hector Cantu

Hector Cantu was the editor of The Intelligent Collector magazine.

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