Looking at photos of the Hollywood Sign in its early years is a little like seeing the Statue of Liberty with a third arm, or the Golden Gate Bridge with a second deck. The sign has become such an effective icon of Los Angeles that we assume its present configuration must conform to its Platonic ideal.
But when those white, sans-serif block letters first rose from the face of Mount Lee in 1923, they were simply a real-estate advertisement, not a cultural symbol, and there were four more of them: L-A-N-D. The thirteen letters—illuminated at night by 4,000 incandescent bulbs—promoted the Hollywoodland subdivision to the rest of the booming city of Los Angeles. And as Leo Braudy writes in his authoritative history of the sign, they were meant to be seen from an automobile; the sign’s principal designers, publicist John D. Roche and Los AngelesTimes publisher Harry Chandler, scaled the letters—50 feet tall by 30 feet wide—to be read from Wilshire Boulevard.
So what happened to the sign’s final four letters? A persistent urban legend holds that in the late 1940s a landslide claimed the L-A-N-D. (O, the irony!) While fun, this tale likely has its origins in clever wordplay, but it’s been repeated by so many tour guides andFrommer’s travel books that it will never drop out of circulation.
In fact, only one of the sign’s letters collapsed in the 1940s: the H. Apart from giving the sign a Cockney accent, this elision highlighted the sorry condition of the sign, which had long outlived its original purpose as an advertisement and was not well cared for. In January 1949 the city’s Recreation and Parks Commission ordered the sign—which by then sat on city land—demolished. But after the city council overruled the apparently unsentimental park commissioners, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce offered to restore the H if it could drop the L-A-N-D.
Thus the Hollywoodland Sign, an advertisement for a real-estate development, became the Hollywood Sign, an advertisement for a business and tourist district of Los Angeles. “Like a phoenix,” Braudy writes in his history of the sign, “it would have a few more rebirths before it became the icon we now see.”
And those final four letters? The chamber’s restoration crew apparently discarded them nearby on the hillside. They were still rotting and rusting among the chaparral of Mount Lee as late as the 1970s.
Images: Top and bottom photos courtesy of the Photo Collection – Los Angeles Public Library; Middle photocourtesy of the USC Libraries – California Historical Society Collection.21 42ReplyPopular DiscussionAll replies
Profilemwhite66UNathan MastersYesterday 6:45pmjShare to FacebookiShare to TwitterrGo to permalinkEveryone knows the LAND letters were blown up when Neville Sinclair stole the rocket pack from Cliff Secord and crashed there.71Reply
ProfileRobert SorokanichUmwhite66Today 9:18amjShare to FacebookiShare to TwitterrGo to permalinkYou are right. I should’ve YouTubed first, rather than relying on my pesky memory.1Reply
ProfileRobert SorokanichUNathan MastersYesterday 6:57pmjShare to FacebookiShare to TwitterrGo to permalinkOh MAN Nathan, this solves a mystery I’ve pondered for ages. In the movie The Rocketeer (which, I don’t care who you are, is the best movie ever made), Cliff crashes into the “HOLLYWOODLAND” sign on a test flight, destroying the last 4 letters to leave “HOLLYWOOD.” As a six-year-old, I pestered my parents incessantly trying to figure out if that was really what happened to the sign.Turns out, I was half-right.81Reply
ProfileNathan MastersURobert SorokanichYesterday 7:00pmjShare to FacebookiShare to TwitterrGo to permalink311Reply
ProfilexeagarURobert SorokanichYesterday 7:06pmjShare to FacebookiShare to TwitterrGo to permalinkDAMN IT! Spoiler alert, some of us haven’t gotten around to seeing The Rocketeer yet!113Reply
Profilescotty1186URobert SorokanichYesterday 10:14pmjShare to FacebookiShare to TwitterrGo to permalinkopened the story just to say this. Bravo. I loved that movie as a kid.11Reply
Profileeric_tanURobert SorokanichYesterday 11:12pmjShare to FacebookiShare to TwitterrGo to permalinkGreat movie! Yummy Jennifer Connelly! Timothy Dalton with an evil moustache. And the guy who would star in TV’s The Killing and Helix.11Reply
ProfileWebOSlivesURobert SorokanichToday 12:00amjShare to FacebookiShare to TwitterrGo to permalinkJust to clarify, Neville Sinclair went headfirst into the sign. Not Cliff. That would have been a bit of a downer ending.I was able to snag a copy of the poster during the sneak preview – to heck with anyone who says otherwise, but it’s one of the best looking posters in a long time – and took it from place to place until I left the country for a time working on cruise ships and my folks took a liking to it. They had it framed nicely, but are not in any rush to give it back!