100 years of history: The Hollywood sign celebrates a special occasion
The billboard was installed as a real estate advertisement on July 13, 1923.
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In the summer of 1923, exactly on July 13, Hobart real estate developer Johnstone Whitley, now recognized as the "Father of Hollywood," installed a striking billboard atop Los Angeles' Mount Lee hill.
The notice, 106 meters long and 14 meters high, assembled with large letters that originally alluded to the Hobart urban project, called “Hollywoodland,” became one of the most recognized symbols of the Californian city and in the image generally associated with the mecca of American cinema.
Leo Braudy, author of the book "The Hollywood Sign: Fantasy and Reality of an American Icon" (2011), told EFE news agency:
Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Statue of Liberty in New York, and Cristo Redentor of Rio de Janeiro, the Hollywood sign is closely linked to the city that surrounds it, with an evocative message of what the world of cinema and entertainment represents.
Braudy's story is recognized among those contemporary academics who have been encouraged to delve into the legacy of the sign.
The celebration of the 100 years of this global icon is marked by stories that have made this sign the most representative image of Los Angeles and the film industry.
Thanks to the real estate appeal of this area, from the beginning it was chosen by movie personalities, who came to California in response to the high costs of shooting a movie on the East Coast, the advertisement was soon surrounded by luxury mansions that they helped fuel the aura of magic that surrounds Hollywood.
Since then, some letters on the sign have been removed to leave the well-known “Hollywood” that today we all associate with the mecca of American cinema and as the home of the world's most famous celebrities.
The last restoration of the billboard by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce took place in 1978, at a time when the plates had deteriorated significantly.
The Hollywood sign right after it was built, 1923. pic.twitter.com/gHdscwWCi5— History Tribune (@HistoryTribune) July 9, 2023
EFE emphasizes that the repair of the letters had an individual cost of $27,777, which was assumed by different personalities who were in charge of paying for the repair of each one of them.
Among the celebrities of the time behind providing the resources for the restoration were the Italian film producer Giovanni Mazza, who provided the money for one of the “Os”; the first “L” was sponsored by former football player Les Kelley; the second was paid for by country singer Gene Autry; and the “Y” was paid for by Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.
"Anyone can give it the meaning they consider, because that sign on top of an inaccessible hill represents the difficulty of achieving fame and its subsequent reward," added Braudy.
You can see it, but you can't touch it
The care of the sign, whose letters currently measure 13.7 meters high, is in the hands of the Los Angeles Department of Parks and Gardens, which protected the sign with a steel shield.
For its part, among the policies implemented by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce after the repair work on the notice, one of the most important is that you cannot touch the letters, so the area is perimeter with motion sensors and alarms that are activated if someone crosses the restricted area.
“Its story is the best metaphor for an industry in which everything is possible thanks to fiction. Nothing could reflect it better,” told EFE Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University.