For more than fifty years, the “largest sign in the world”—a city block long and four stories high—perched on the side of a hill on the edge of Griffith Park, Los Angeles, cruelly treated by time and weather. HULLYWOD , its broken letters read most recently; not too many years ago, they read HOLLYWOOD , and before that, when it was erected to celebrate the site of a fancy subdivision in the 1920’s, HOLLYWOODLAND .
By whatever name, and however decrepit, the sign was a symbol—one of the few surviving relics of Hollywood’s golden era, when the great studios were run like private fiefdoms by what author Ben Hecht called “undersized magnates,” when stars were discovered sitting at drugstore counters (or sometimes on bar stools), when moviemaking was still “fairy-land on a production line,” as screenwriter Otis Fergusson described it.
But that Hollywood is dead, done in by television, corporate mergers and conglomerate takeovers, and the disintegration of the studio system that made the whole glamorous machine work. And the sign that symbolized it became a bit of history. To mark it as such, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Board in 1973 officially classified it Historic Cultural Monument No. 111.Unfortunately, monument status was little protection from wind and rain, which eventually reduced most of the letters of the sign to tatters. Having been declared a historic monument, it was now declared a dangerous public nuisance; it would have to come down, the authorities said. A fluttery movement to save and reconstruct the sign foundered on the $250,000 necessary to do the job. Then, this year, the cavalry, led by rock star Alice Cooper, came thundering to the rescue. He wanted to donate $27,000 to rebuild an O. Hugh Hefner promptly decided he wanted to fix the Y, Andy Williams the W, Gene Autry an L, Warner Bros. Records another O, and so on. Next month, a spanking new fixed-up sign will be unveiled. History lives in Hollywood.