Before it was the Hollywood sign, it was the Hollywoodland sign. That’s what the Los Angeles landmark spelled out when it was first built in 1923, and illuminating the 50-by-30-foot letters at night wasn’t easy — doing so took 4,000 20-watt light bulbs. What’s more, they weren’t all lit up at once: The “HOLLY,” “WOOD,” and “LAND” portions flashed individually before the full sign was illuminated at once. Designed by Thomas Fisk Goff of the Crescent Sign Company, the sign had nothing to do with the film industry originally — it was just an advertisement for a housing development. But as the movie business rapidly expanded over the next few decades under its literal and figurative shadow — and as many of those motion pictures used it in establishing shots as a shorthand for the area — the sign became synonymous with that industry.
During the Great Depression, the sign fell into disrepair, and both the “Land” segment and the light bulbs were removed around 1949, when the L.A. Parks Department and Hollywood Chamber of Commerce took over ownership of the sign. The sign deteriorated again over the next few decades and had to be rescued by a group of celebrities in 1978, at which point it read something like “HULLYWO D.” Alice Cooper, Hugh Hefner, and Gene Autry were among the nine donors who contributed $27,777 apiece to replace each of the original letters with new ones that were 45 feet tall and made of steel. That version is the one still standing today.
Mount Lee, the mountain on whose southern slope the sign resides, reaches an elevation of 1,708 feet and has several patches of steep, difficult terrain. In light of that — as well as the fact that its iconic status has made it the target of some less-than-safe pranks in the past — hikers can no longer walk directly to the sign. You can still get quite close to it via the Mount Hollywood, Brush Canyon, and Cahuenga Peak trails, but the sign has extensive security meant to keep both it and potential visitors safe.