The famed Hollywood sign began life on the slopes of Mount Lee in 1923 as a billboard for the Hollywoodland real estate development and originally contained its full name; however, in 1949 when a storm knocked down the “H” and damaged the rest of the sign, the “land” part was removed and the rest became the familiar symbol of the area and of the entertainment industry. Unfortunately, the current incarnation has literally lost its radiance: it once featured 4000 light bulbs that beamed the district’s name as far away as LA Harbor, but a lack of maintenance and an abundance of thievery put an end to that practice.
The sign has also gained a reputation as a suicide spot, ever since would-be movie star Peg Entwistle terminated her career and life here in 1932, aged 24 – no mean feat, with the sign being as difficult to reach then as it is now. Less fatal mischief has been practised by students of nearby Caltech, who on one occasion renamed the sign for their school, while other defacers have included USC, UCLA, the US Navy and Fox Television. Because of this sullied history, there’s no public road to the sign (Beachwood Drive comes nearest, but ends at a closed gate) and you’ll incur minor cuts and bruises while scrambling to get anywhere near.
In any case, a razor wire fence, infrared cameras and radar-activated zoom lenses have been installed to catch graffiti writers, and innocent tourists who can’t resist a closer peek are also liable for a steep fine. The best views can be had from the Griffith Park Observatory, and, more distantly, from the junction of Hollywood Blvd and North Highland Ave.