By Guillermo Azabal
Los Angeles, Jul 12 (EFE).- From an ad for a real-estate development to iconic symbol and landmark.
The famed Hollywood Sign on Friday marks its 100th anniversary as the most recognizable sight in the LA neighborhood that is home to the United States’ world-famous film industry.
On July 13, 1923, real-estate promoter Hobart Johnstone Whitley, nicknamed the “Father of Hollywood,” placed a 50-foot-tall (15-meter-tall), 450-foot-long sign with the words “Hollywoodland” on Mount Lee, a hill in the Beachwood Canyon area of the Santa Monica Mountains.
That area had become a choice destination for cinema figures after the first studio opened its doors in that Southern California city.
(The cinema industry had its origins on the East Coast, but filmmakers were driven away by high fees imposed by Thomas Edison’s movie empire)
Initially illuminated by thousands of light bulbs, it gained widespread visibility due to the rise of the film industry.
But it suffered wear and tear over time and became unpopular with local residents, who called for it to be demolished.
That led the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to intervene in 1949 and buy the sign from the Whitley family – who had amassed an enormous fortune selling land in the surrounding area – for a symbolic amount of $1.
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From that point onward, the “land” part was removed and the sign was changed to just “Hollywood.”
It also started attracting tourists from all over the world, drawn to that structure of white block letters that has since appeared in hundreds of movies, including “Superman,” and in television shows such as “The Simpsons.”
“A lot of people around the world associate Los Angeles and Hollywood with this sign that we’ve all seen in movies,” Efrain Serrano, a native of Sacramento, told Efe in Lake Hollywood Park, a green space at the foot of Mount Lee.
Visitors are not generally not welcomed, however, by local residents.
For decades, signs have been in place that aim to mislead the nearly 3 million tourists who arrive every year on nearby streets, telling them it is not possible to visit the sign itself.
They are instead directed to lookout points, even though the back part of the sign is open to visitors and offers a panoramic view of Los Angeles.
Some rules do apply though.
People are not permitted to touch the letters, which originally were wooden but now are made of corrugated sheet metal after a definitive restoration in 1978.
As part of that overhaul, which rescued a sign that was in total disrepair, the letters were shortened to a height of around 44 feet.
The perimeter of the area also is protected by movement sensors that are activated if someone attempts to breach the restricted zone.