Why the Hollywood Sign Isn’t Lit (and Never Will Be)

November 3, 2010 § 49 Comments

The Hollywoodland Sign at Night, circa 1925/Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific Collection

One of the perennial questions  about the Hollywood Sign is why it isn’t lit at night. The answer is that the Sign overlooks a residential neighborhood whose access narrows from a two-lane road to a steep, winding single lane as one nears the Sign. If the Hollywood Sign became a nighttime beacon, traffic in the Canyon would quickly reach gridlock.

That’s precisely what happened on New Year’s Eve of 1999, when the Hollywood Sign was rigged for a Millennial light and fireworks show. People came up Beachwood Drive by the thousands, effectively trapping everyone in the Canyon and preventing emergency vehicles from entering. It had a lasting effect on residents, some of whom still shudder at the memory.

In the Sign’s original incarnation as a billboard, it was lit, the better to impress prospective property owners. It flashed in segments, first Holly, then wood, then land, before lighting up completely. A searchlight below it lit up for emphasis, like an exclamation point. Hollywoodland! It must have been wonderful–and to Albert Kothe, the man whose job it was to change the lightbulbs, a grim reminder of his day job. More on Kothe, a true Hollywoodland character, in a future post.

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§ 49 Responses to Why the Hollywood Sign Isn’t Lit (and Never Will Be)

  • Tony says:

    I think what happened in 1999 is kind of a cop out bogus reason. Of course there was that many people coming up there that night. It was the first time it had been lit in how long? After the initial buzz dies down you won’t get any more people heading up there than you would during the day.

    • HollywoodF1 says:

      Exactly right. Any event in LA that happens one night in 60 years is going to draw attention. And they should have know it for that night. Were it to be lit nightly, it would draw the same attention at night that it does during the day… a trickle.

    • Erin says:

      Plus it was New Year’s Eve.

  • Raffi says:

    I agree. If it were always lit at night, it would be no more of a draw normal.

    • Bill says:

      As an employee at the Griffith Observatory, I hear this question regularly. Either the exact one on this page OR “how can we get to the HOLLYWOOD sign?” The observatory gets thousands of visitors from all over the world and i can tell you from my previous experiences with past events the throngs of people that would be drawn to the Hollywood sign would be devastating. Though Griffith park in in the heart of a metropolis it is still littered with dangers that most people i.e. tourist and most Angelenos dont even take into account. I’ve seen first hand what could happen when theirs a lot of people in a small area that are accustomed to finding ample parking and are less accustomed to walking.

      I’m glad its not lit.

      • Thanks for commenting, Bill. It’s very hard for people who haven’t actually driven up the streets of Hollywoodland to know how dangerous they are–and that’s in daylight! Nighttime driving on our steep, narrow streets, where cars going downhill have to give way to upcoming traffic (but invariably don’t) has resulted in fatalities in the past. Now imagine the potential if traffic were increased exponentially, as would be the case if the Sign were lit. The fact of the matter is that the Hollywood Sign can’t be made publicly accessible like the Eiffel Tower, which stands in a huge, flat park. It therefore can’t be expected to bear the traffic of that national monument, no matter how much people love it.

      • Mark Seegel says:

        The intent is NOT to have the sign lit every night. The intent of a permanent lighting solution is to allow the City to light the sign for special occasions. Such as the night of the Academy Awards where the sign can be see through the arch from the plaza area at Hollywood & Highland, 4th of July and other times.
        The Illuminating Engineering Society, Los Angeles Section, is offering to provide the design, material and installation at no cost to the City.
        This is the only major city icon that is dark at night. It is truly one of the most recognizable landmarks of Los Angeles.
        Having been to the site of the sign and climbed down the hill to the sign, it is not something that most people would like to undertake.

      • Sounds great–as long as the City is willing to undertake the expense of closing Beachwood Canyon to outside traffic on those nights. As everyone learned during the Millennium lighting, people outside the Canyon will jump in their cars and drive up for a closer look, which means disaster if there’s a fire or medical emergency.

  • For what it’s like during the day: “Beachwood’s Scofflaw Tourists: ‘Just Get Us to the Hollywood Sign, Residents Be Damned,'” August 7, 2010.

  • Lit up says:

    How about lighting it randomly both in days, start times, and duration. You could light it twice in once night (randomly) for say fifteen minutes during one period and an hour for another. Or even 10 or 20 minutes so that people would know they’d never actually have time to drive up the hill and crowd the neighborhood.
    Just a couple thoughts. But I think there would be ways to do this both administratively and technologically. It would be wonderful and historically appropriate.
    By the way the lighting in 2000 was harsh and garish. This could be simpler and possibly along the lines of the original outline shown in your picture. LED lamping would keep the power use to minimal levels. Get Philips (large LED manufacturer) to donate and get a solar PV company to donate and install a system to power it. USe it as a way to demonstate and educate about energy and lighting use. Make it a campagin issue for the next CD4 election…that would be interesting.
    Could be good…

    • Thanks for the fascinating ideas. I like the idea of brief, random lightings–because anything of longer duration would require street closings at Franklin. The Sign has an amazing magneticism even when unlit, and draws nighttime tourism as it is. To be continued…..

  • Lit up says:

    One other tact. Paint the edges with glow in the dark paint. It would be fairly dim, but as it wore off, the outline would slowly fade away into the night. Less control than lights you could turn on and off (and/or dim by the way), but subtle.

  • Laura Garcia says:

    I Love this site
    Lit or not – I still love that sign.
    Those letters seems to have a kind of power of their own
    Thanks for the info

  • […] The busiest day of the year was November 4th with 704 views. The most popular post that day was Why the Hollywood Sign Isn’t Lit (and Never Will Be). […]

  • Y says:

    Thanks for answering this questions, I personally think that Beachwood Dr should become a closed neighborhood just like Bel Air. Scheduled trips should be set a head of time for visitors, this way everything will be handled in an organized manner. Looking forward to seeing the sign lit up again in the future, really enjoyed visiting your blog!

  • Robert Canales says:

    Hello…. common sense, if you want to live in the hills by the sign, your going to have people who would love to see the sign for their selfs. Too bad so sad you chose to live right there, and thats the price you have to pay. If you dont like it, well you rather move because thats a landmark which is now invisable, due to home owners think they have more say so or rights over everyones hollywood experiance. I can understand if it was a gated area, then yes public doesnt belong up there. Just sucks to have a waste of a great landmark.

    • You’re ignoring the fact that many homeowners bought here long before the Sign became a tourist draw–some of them, in fact, before the Sign was rebuilt in 1978. It’s also important to understand that the Hollywood Sign only exists because the original was an billboard for the neighborhood. It was meant to attract home buyers, not tourists. As for the idea of gating the community, it only!–that way, residents could charge admission and use the money to fix the roads.

      • The sign was always a tourist draw…it’s not like somebody put it in a book one day and all of a sudden they showed up. A large of Beachwood’s charm is the sign…unfortunately for the canyon’s residents, it’s not only theirs to enjoy. I agree with the above poster…if locals want to control the traffic, they can privatize the neighborhood and pay for their own streets. Great blog, btw.


      • The Sign may always have been popular, but getting close to it wasn’t an issue until GPS became standard in the last few years. For residents, it’s a matter of volume–the number of vehicles going up those roads has overwhelmed a finite space, with dangerous consequences. Neighborhood privatization is easier said than done, but it’s certainly being studied. Thanks for reading!

  • […]  https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2010/11/03/why-the-hollywood-sign-isnt-lit-and-never-will… […]

  • FYI, the last time the Hollywood Sign was lit before 12/31/99 was during the 1984 Olympic Games. There wasn’t much of an outcry back then.

  • Marcel says:

    We must remember that the sign was lit in 1978 for it´s debut after being rebuilt. And also in 1984 for the Olympics in LA. That happened for two whole weeks.

  • Justin says:

    As suggested last year they should just erect some gates at the entrance to the winding road and make it a gated community so when the sign is returned to being lit on a nightly basis only residents would be able to gain access using keycards or pincodes.. and educate the visitors that there is no chance of you gaining access to that particular location and that there are many places around Los Angeles you can view the sign illuminated at night. It doesn’t have to be privatized as such just a gate erected by the city council. It astounds me that some solution hasn’t been enacted by now but I guess this is LA and California where most people see the easy way (not have it lit at all except the rare occasion) as the only way. I think its a bit silly to say it never will be lit on a nightly basis it just won’t be lit till someone pulls there finger out of their a*** and does something.

    • Interesting idea! Unfortunately, it’s extremely difficult to “just erect some gates” in a neighborhood in Los Angeles–something you wouldn’t know because you’re from England. Gating is not only strongly resisted by the City but by residents, as it means an end to municipal trash collection and street maintanence, including lighting. All these services are automatically privatized upon gating and must be paid for by residents, many of whom are unable to afford the extra costs involved. I don’t know where you get the idea that “most people [in LA] see the easy way as the only way:” Beachwooders have explored every conceivable solution to the problems caused by tourist traffic, often in direct confrontation with City officials. It has been an exhaustive process and no one involved has assumed there will be an easy fix. It’s ironic that you do–but then it’s always easier to judge from afar.

  • Stacey says:

    IIRC, didn’t they stop lighting it up at night when energy costs became too high? I’d always thought that it had more to do with economics than with gridlock.

    And by the way, I agree with the statements made earlier that, if it were lit up on a regular basis, it would soon cease to be a novelty and traffic would return to normal. Blaming the traffic that occurred on one night in 1999 is a cop-out.

    • The Sign that they stopped lighting was the original Hollywoodland Sign, not the current version, and it stopped being lit during the Depression because the Hollywoodland Company, which developed the tract, went bankrupt. The current Sign, which dates from 1978, has only been lit on a few occasions.

      As for your contention that “it would soon cease to be a novelty and traffic would return to normal, the daytime tourist traffic proves you wrong by continuing to increase. The public fascination for the Sign is neverending, as anyone who has seen it can attest.

  • lockeduplove says:

    I’m not a Beachwood resident, or a resident of California for that matter, but it’s so sad to hear about the traffic and the thoughtless folks that pack the neighborhood everyday. I visited the Sign for the first time three years ago and utilized the Beachwood Dr. route. I’m unsure of the road, I believe it was Gower, there is, or used to be, a gas station near the sign and I went in and got permission from the cashier to park there so I could go snap a couple quick pictures.

    It’s unfortunate that so many inconsiderate tourists have given all tourists a bad rap. My sympathies go out to the residents that live near the Sign that have to deal with thoughtless tourists on a daily basis!

    • Thanks for your sympathy–as the other letters attest, you’re one of the few who care about the situation residents face. Summers are particularly nerve-wracking because of the fire danger; already we’ve had one fire started by a tourist who flicked a cigarette into the dry brush.

  • THS- says:

    Fascinating story here. Here’s an idea for a “movement” via Reddit:


    • The only way it would work was if Beachwood Canyon were closed to thru traffic at Franklin and Canyon Lake, which would involve manned checkpoints at Mulholland Highway, Beachwood Drive and Gower Street. There is no money in the budget to pay for this, or the cost of litigation if the Sign were lit without street closings.

  • Lit up says:

    How about lighting it randomly both in days, start times, and duration. You could light it twice in once night (randomly) for say fifteen minutes during one period and an hour for another. Or even 10 or 20 minutes so that people would know they’d never actually have time to drive up the hill and crowd the neighborhood.
    Just a couple thoughts. But I think there would be ways to do this both administratively and technologically. It would be wonderful and historically appropriate.

    • It sounds logical enough, except that the moment the Sign is lit, people jump will jump into their cars and drive up into the Canyon, blocking all access. As it is, people come up all the time, day and night–yes, people come up at night even though it’s not lit. Imagine how many more would come up if it were! The only days when the Canyon isn’t overrun with traffic are the ones when rain and clouds render the Sign invisible.

  • Litup says:

    UTHS – I don’t get your logic about people jumping in their cars. If it’s known that the lightings are random (and I mean random and for short periods, heck make it 1-10 minutes). Light it at 7pm, 10pm, 9:02pm, 5:39am. Light it once a week, then twice one month, none the next, when its cold, when it rains for the third day, whatever – random. The only days when tourist flock to the sign is – tourist season and major holidays. It will be fine, I’m sure. Heck they light Griffith observatory every night of the week. I realize it’s not the same, but it looks nice from the 10 and 101. This would be simple. People like it. What’s wrong with some joy and wonder? Lighting it this way won’t change the fact that people want to go up there at any moment. It’s a symbol know the world over.

  • Bonifer says:

    In 2009-11, via a group called Solar The Sign (@solarthesign), we proposed to Tom LaBonge, the Hollywood Sign Trust, and the local neighborhood councils that the Sign be lit one night a year, the night of the Academy Awards, using a portable solar grid on a truck parked on the road above the Sign. We have built physical and digital models for how to do it, run tests on the lighting with lightweight LEDs that would be installed at the base of each letter, budgeted it, met with hundreds of people. Backstory: The residents who were there at the time remember the Eve of 2000 lighting of the Sign as being disruptive and costly, which it was. Scaffolding built along the base of the Sign on which to mount super heavy and fire-risky 10K spotlights. Lots of huge trucks going back and forth. Lawsuits, injunctions, and confrontations with Dick Rioridan, who jammed it through over the residents’ objections, pissed off lots of people and left a bad taste in many residents’ mouths. Flash forward to today: Solaring The Sign calls for one truck, one cable, and 9 lightweight, high powered LEDs at the base of each letter. In and out in 24 hours. No disruption to vegetation or traffic. No fire hazard (and we’d have fire crew on duty anyway; and also police for traffic in and out of Beachwood). Any sponsorship fee would be split equally among three neighborhood councils to be used for traffic abatement. The Solar The Sign narrative will include information about HOW and WHEN to view the Sign in a way that’s least disruptive to the Beachwood Canyon and surrounding neighborhoods. It’s a good counter-narrative to the Sign-as-tourist-mecca most of the local residents don’t dig. Solaring the Sign is designed as a pre-cursor to the Sign eventually being painted in white nano-cell solar energy-generating paint, whenever that technology is feasible. (Estimates range from 8 months to 2 years, but it’s coming for sure, or a super lightweight variation is) Most of the Beachwood and Los Feliz residents we met were very supportive of this idea, as was Thomas O’Grady, who ran against LaBonge for the City Council, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, and the Producers Guild of America. We met a few extremely obstinate residents who see any change to the Sign as being inevitably worse, and rule out all possibilities that it could actually make things better than the current status quo. It is ludicrous, in my opinion, to use the word “never” like you do in your headline, in association with the Sign, when history says the Sign has always changed. So why can’t lighting the Sign with solar power on “Hollywood’s Biggest Night” be part of the ongoing narrative of the Sign? It’s where we are. Lots of homes in the vicinity of the Sign already have. The south-facing Hills are a perfect angle to capture solar. Please, Kate, and the rest of you, see the wisdom of doing this, of sending a symbol to a global community, of support for renewable energy by the entertainment industry. Or are we just going to fight over oil for the next hundred years? Because if we don’t change, if every landmark in every city in every country isn’t lit by renewable energy in our lifetimes, that is what will happen. Is already happening. Is this what you want for our children? Be the change, Beachwood! Solar the Sign! Let LaBonge know it’s time to do this.

    • I love the idea of using solar energy and appreciate your input; I only wish you had put as much thought into the particulars of traffic abatement if the Sign were lit. You seem to assume that “three neighborhood councils” would use the money generated by sponsorship to police the streets; however, that function has to be performed by the City, which is understaffed and generally loath to pay for it. Unless the Canyon were closed to thru traffic when the Sign was lit, the extra traffic would create a hazard to everyone who lives here. It’s no joke when ambulance and fire trucks can’t get in and when residents can’t leave or return to their houses, yet no one seems to think this is a problem. It is, and it happens frequently during the day now. Btw, my name isn’t Kate.

  • aitchcs says:

    Looks like David Cronenberg lit it up somehow a few nights ago for a Film shoot.

  • Jayy says:

    Beachwood Dr needs to be gated. The city should continue to fix roads and other amenities. Have one road that will lead to Griffith observatory with city bus going up and taking people to Griffith observatories charge a fare for bus. That way cars can’t go up just people in a bus. Unless u want to walk up! Light up the sidewalk for people walking at night close street and stop buses from going up at a certain time And bam! solar panels that light the sign at night. Would most def bring more tourist. The city would make money of it. Just like how u have to take a boat to Statue of Liberty. Or see it from afar. Things can be done.. Why not?

    • The City already makes money off tourists–through hotel taxes and business taxes on the sightseeing companies. But none of that money benefits us Hollywoodlanders, and that’s a problem. As I’ve mentioned, lighting the Sign at night would only mean that the gridlock and auto accidents will take pale around the clock instead of abating between dusk and dawn. The result: a miserable quality of life for those who live near the Sign. Like it or not, all citizens have a legal right to the peaceful enjoyment of our homes, including us, and it’s this right that is being eroded day by day. As for gating Hollywoodland, if we were able to, we would–but that would mean privatization, and many people could not afford to pay for trash, emergency services and street repair. The City does not gate communities; in fact, it opposes it at all times because it doesn’t want to lose tax revenue and access.

  • […] and building light dot the horizon, although the Hollywood sign is not visible at night (click here to find out […]

  • […] sign isn’t even lit up at night, much to my surprise. Apparently the rich homeowners are terrified that the unhinged tourists will lose all sense of restraint if they see a gleaming Hollywood sign […]

  • Juan Valdez says:

    Came all the way from South Dakota to see the sign at night and it wasn’t lit, boo-hiss! As a resident you of all people should know the thing is a national icon(?). The developer of this yuppy (hippy?) hamlet must have been stoned beyond belief when he came up with the street layout as well the city elders for approving it. Yes I drove it. Why, because I couldn’t see it from afar like I wanted to. I thought I was missing it and I was just under it. What I did notice was a lot of BMWs, Lexus’s, Audie’s, and lots of high dollar cars. I just checked the property values and yes they right up there where I thought they would be. So what the heck? Gate the residents in. You can Co-op the trash collection, street repair, and keep out the riff-raff out. The folks living there now are not the friendly locals of the good old days but the new yuppy kids with too much cash and a view they don’t wish to share with anyone. Right, right. We had the same problem with Mt. Rushmore and the federal government. They wanted to “update” the park and charge admission (to the shrine to “freedom”). We did a grassroots protest against it and what did it accomplish? The feds say its free to enter and then charge a crazy high fee to park? They remodeled the park from its humble good looks into something akin to a graveyard. White marble everywhere. Where’s the money going, not into the park. If you actually do live there and not just run a site for rants and drama, gate the thing while you still have a chance. Get the government out. Do it yourself. Pull up your big girl panties and stop the problems. You guys can really do it if you try. So try. Change it up if the current change doesn’t work. Hell I didn’t get to see the thing at night (think bucket list) anyway! Or just tear the stupid thing down! “It’s such a distraction Reginald, don’t you agree”. God, I traveled 1/2 way across the country to see it lit at night, so cool, and not a damn thing but yuppieville. BOO-HISS!

    • I’m sorry you were disappointed, Juan Valdez, but what made you assume the Hollywood Sign was lit in the first place? That hasn’t been the case since before WWII, so it’s not as if someone turned out the lights for your visit. As for gating the neighborhood, the City of Los Angeles fights privatization tooth and nail, since it deprives the City of tax revenue. Privatization also requires homeowners to pay for trash, street repair and emergency services, which many simply can’t afford. (Don’t be fooled by the cars–the amount of driving one has to do in LA makes high performance cars a priority.) Last, the comparison between Beachwood Canyon and Mount Rushmore is nonsensical. Mount Rushmore was conceived as a national monument; Hollywoodland is simply a residential neighborhood whose billboard became an accidental monument. It was never intended for high-volume traffic, so you have it backwards when you say the developer “must have been stoned…when he came up with the street layout.” Hollywoodland’s developers were merely building a little neighborhood along the natural contours of a canyon. They weren’t psychic and certainly couldn’t have predicted what would happen a century later.

  • Juan Valdez says:

    Sorry, I’m not sure what nonsensical means. I guess I have assumed a lot of things. The view from just below the bottom of the sign made me think I was in heaven, very cool. If you live in that little hamlet you are surely blessed. Thats why I compared the two (it and Mount Rushmore). The roads there are way to small, angled, cornered, etc for anything less than horse traffic and even pre-WWI civil engineers would not let it pass code, and California has some of the strictest codes across the board. I assume this would have corrected itself in the years since then but it has not, sorry for your loss. Thank you for the pollution codes though, last time I was there I came across the top of the ridge going into LA and saw a haze. Upon descending into the valley I became sick and was so the whole week I was there. Much better now, you all deserve my thanks! The Hollywood sign is a monument though. Every time I see a good movie I have the mistaken belief it comes straight out of Hollywood (a monument to movie making?). People have funny beliefs. We’re all different. You have good points on all the items we talked about. I wish I lived there and the sign was lit at night though. If you see a cheap little Honda Civic drive through (looking lost) and I wave to you, please wave back. I do wish I was you, living there, in Hollywoodland.

  • Thanks for your reply–glad you had good air in during your visit, at least! I do enjoy living in the Canyon, but mainly at night, which is the only time the roar of traffic dies down. See my new post for a photo of the Sign at dusk.

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