• Industry

After One Hundred Years of Unifying Identity, The Hollywood Sign Gets a Visitor Center

A US Navy Vessel entered an extremely secluded area of the Pacific, where suddenly it was attacked by canon fire from a tiny nondescript island. As it turned out, two Japanese soldiers who had not been informed that World War II had ended years before, had dutifully held their positions there and were now firing at the perceived enemy ship.

Japanese speakers on board unsuccessfully tried to convince them that their former enemy was now their friend. Finally, the ultimate incentive was offered: if the two brave warriors would peacefully come onboard, they would be invited to America to see the Hollywood sign. It worked.

This story may be apocryphal. But the gist of it is certainly accurate: the Hollywood sign is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable landmarks on the planet.

It was erected in 1923, and that makes it a centenarian. High up in the hills, like a supersized matinee title, it has been announcing for a hundred years that the stories, tales and fantasies the world is craving are produced in the dream factories beneath it.

One could even claim that it was more the sign and less the studios that lead to “Hollywood” as the blanket term for the entire North American entertainment industry: not too long after the founding years in and around the Los Angeles community named Hollywood, there was only one active studio left within Hollywood’s borders, Paramount.

The other major studios were spread all over LA but they were still considered part of “Hollywood”. An actor could live in New York, he or she was still a “Hollywood” star. And if you were an accredited foreign correspondent covering entertainment you were probably a member of the “Hollywood” Foreign Press Association.

For a century, it was the Hollywood sign that stood for the industry as a whole, providing an overarching name and a unifying sense of identity.

All this calls for a celebration. And that is exactly what the Hollywood Sign Trust is planning. Betsy Isroelit, the Trust’s spokesperson, confirmed to the HFPA: “We will celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Hollywood sign throughout 2023, and the Trust will be announcing festivities and activities as they develop.”

The website (hollywoodsign.org) describes the Trust as a nonprofit organization responsible for, among other tasks, “physically maintaining, repairing and securing the Hollywood sign; providing capital improvements…and educating the world about the sign’s historical and cultural importance”.

Last year, in order to present the sign in its finest birthday outfit, the Trust ordered a major overhaul of the nine towering letters above Mount Lee Drive.


But the Trust has more ambitious plans, as Jeff Zarrinnam, chair of the Hollywood Sign Trust, explained: “Over the years, visitors and locals have expressed great interest in a ‘close-up’ experience where they can learn more about the roots of the Hollywood sign, its legendary stories, and the epic hopes and dreams the Sign continues to inspire.”

He added, “We are thrilled to move ahead on plans to create a one-of-a-kind Visitor Center.”

There is no shortage of legendary stories that could fill such a center. The initial purpose of the sign as a monumental sales tool to sell real estate parcels of “Hollywoodland.” Its shameful neglect and resulting decay over the centuries. In 1944, it was donated to the City of LA. Three years later the “LAND” part slid down the hill, and later on, so did the letter H: for six years, the sign read “OLLYWOOD”.

The young actress Peg Entwistle threw herself to death from the top of the 45 feet high sign. Rock Star Alice Cooper donated on “O” in honor of his name towards the restauration of the sign. Eight other donors also spent $ 27,700 for each the remaining letters. In 1978, the sign was structurally restored and the Hollywood Sign Trust was established.

Plenty of stories, indeed. But the access to the sign is closed to the public for security reasons and its steep hillside location makes it difficult to access. Will a “close-up” experience even be possible?

Betsy Isroelit told the HFPA, “A site near the letters is not being considered.” To get help to accomplish this birthday present to the Hollywood Sign, she offers an invitation: “The Trust welcomes ideas about the location and what the center should offer from fans around the world.”