Friday, July 7, 2023

The History of the Famous Hollywood Sign

By Michelle Shocklee

We've all seen it at some point, either in person, in photographs, or on television. It's probably one of the most famous signs in the entire world. Yep, I'm talking about the nine enormous letters that sit on a hill overlooking Los Angeles, California, that spell out H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D!

Hollywood sign; Free use photo

I remember the first time I saw the sign. I was about ten years old, and my family had traveled from New Mexico to California, with stops at Disneyland, the San Diego Zoo, and Arizona's Grand Canyon One of the most exciting sites for me, however, was the famous Hollywood sign. Why? I have no idea. HA! I suppose it represented a foreign, exciting world to me back then. A world where the rich and famous lived, and where you could see a movie star on every corner. Well, we didn't see any movie stars while we were in California, but I still remember seeing the huge, white letters on the hillside as we drove through Los Angeles in the craziest traffic I'd ever witnessed in my short life.

Yet even though most of us recognize this famous landmark, not everyone is familiar with its history. Let me tell you a fun little tale...

Once upon a time (it was actually 1923, 100 years ago!) a group of real estate developers bought some land in the hills above Los Angeles, California, with the intention of building upscale homes on big lots. One of the investors was Harry Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Harry wanted everyone in LA to know about this new housing development called Hollywoodland, but he needed something BIG and EXTRAVAGANT in order to capture the publics attention. Your average advertising billboard simply would not do.
Hollywoodland; Free use photo

Harry hired Crescent Sign Company to create his vision. For $21,000, the company crafted thirteen giant letters, spelling out Hollywoodland. Each letter stood 43 feet tall and was 30 feet wide. But even though the entire sign was over 350 feet long and was visible from up to 15 miles away, Harry wanted to be sure it was seen 24-hours a day. So he had 4,000 lights installed on each letter, along with spotlights shining from below. At night the sign blinked into the darkness: first ‘Holly’, then ‘wood’, and finally ‘land’, punctuated by a giant period. Now everyone could see it!!

Because of its instant popularity, the sign that was supposed to stay on the hill for a year or so, remained in its original location, with blinking lights and all, into the 1930s. In 1933, however, the new owners deemed it too expensive to illuminate, and the power was turned off. Over the next decade the sign began to deteriorate. The "H" was damaged in 1944, either by strong wind or vandalism. By 1949, complaints from residents began to roll in, deeming the sign an eyesore and asking that it be removed.

Enter the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber offered to take over the cost of repairs of the sign, but one thing had to change: the last four letters -- L-A-N-D -- had to be removed. The sign was shortened, repaired, and continued to grow in fame. Sadly, in the 70s, it once again fell into disrepair. This time the public was invited to save the famous landmark. People from the movie industry, famous singers, and businessmen contributed money, raising over $250,000, with each contributor assigned to a letter.

Hollywood sign; Public domain picture

Today, the Hollywood sign continues to draw visitors, although access to it is not easy due to private land that surrounds it. But millions of people, including myself, have been in awe upon seeing it in person for the first time.

Your turn: Have you been to Hollywood and seen the sign? What did you think?

Michelle Shocklee is the author of several historical novels, including Count the Nights by Stars, winner of the 2023 Christianity Today Book Award, and Under the Tulip Tree, a Christy Awards and Selah Awards finalist. Her work has been included in numerous Chicken Soup for the Soul books, magazines, and blogs. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of two grown sons, she makes her home in Tennessee, not far from the historical sites she writes about. Michelle's next novel, Appalachian Song, releases October 3, 2023, and is available for preorder. Visit her online at

*2023 Christianity Today Book Award Winner*

1961. After a longtime resident at Nashville’s historic Maxwell House Hotel suffers a debilitating stroke, Audrey Whitfield is tasked with cleaning out the reclusive woman’s room. There, she discovers an elaborate scrapbook filled with memorabilia from the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. Love notes on the backs of unmailed postcards inside capture Audrey’s imagination with hints of a forbidden romance . . . and troubling revelations about the disappearance of young women at the exposition. Audrey enlists the help of a handsome hotel guest as she tracks down clues and information about the mysterious “Peaches” and her regrets over one fateful day, nearly sixty-five years earlier.


  1. Thank you for posting today. If I ever had read of the reason for the sign, I had forgotten. I actually thought it was done for a movie. I'm glad it has been preserved. At this point it's too iconic to be allowed to fall apart.

  2. I FINALLY saw it three years ago after multiple trips to California as a child and as an adult. My adult son insisted I see it and have my picture taken.