It is by far the most famous sign in the world, and this week it’s undergoing its first major facelift in 35 years. When it was constructed in 1923, The HOLLYWOOD Sign originally read “HOLLYWOODLAND” and was an advertisement for the name of a new housing development in the hills above the Hollywood district of Los Angeles. It was only supposed to last 18 months, but it became so beloved to the people of L.A. that it was left standing. During the early 1940s, Albert Kothe (the sign’s official caretaker) caused an accident that destroyed the letter H, as seen in many historical pictures. Kothe, driving while inebriated, was nearing the top of Mount Lee when he lost control of his vehicle and drove off the cliff behind the H. While Kothe was not injured, the 1928 Ford Model A was destroyed, as was the letter.
In 1949 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce began a contract with the City of Los Angeles Parks Department to repair and rebuild the sign. The contract stipulated that “LAND” be removed to spell “Hollywood” and reflect the district, not the “Hollywoodland” housing development. The Parks Department dictated that all subsequent illumination would be at the cost of the Chamber, so the Chamber opted not to replace the light bulbs. The 1949 effort gave it new life, but the sign’s unprotected wood and sheet metal structure continued to deteriorate. By the 1970s, the first O had splintered and broken, resembling a lowercase u, and the third O had fallen down completely, leaving the severely dilapidated sign reading “HuLLYWO D”.
In 1978, in large part because of the public campaign to restore the landmark by shock rocker Alice Cooper (who donated the missing O), the Chamber set out to replace the severely deteriorated sign with a more permanent structure. Nine donors gave US$27,700 each (totaling US$249,300) to sponsor replacement letters made of steel, guaranteed to last for many years (see Donors section below). The new letters were 45 feet (14 m) tall and ranged from 31 to 39 feet (9.4 to 12 m) wide. The new version of the sign was unveiled on Hollywood’s 75th anniversary, November 14, 1978, before a live television audience of 60 million people.
Since that time the sign has been painted repeatedly, but this week the sign is getting a more heavy duty makeover. The Hollywood Reporter writes, “Workers will strip off all the old paint and add a protective layer consisting of 110 gallons of acrylic primer and a sparkling coat of 275 gallons of white exterior paint … In the current sprucing up, crews will pressure-wash the corrugated metal, sanding and stripping it of all the weather-beaten paint before a glimmering coat of paint makes the old sign look new again. How fitting. This is Hollywood, after all.”