The Hollyweed Sign and Its Predecessor

January 3, 2017 § 1 Comment

The Hollywood Sign on January 1, 2017/Courtesy LA Times

The Hollywood Sign on January 1, 2017/Courtesy LA Times

Because I was out of town on New Year’s Day, I missed seeing the Hollywood Sign transformed to read “Hollyweed.” Nevertheless, I heard about it from neighbors as soon as I woke up, and shortly afterwards from every imaginable news outlet . While I was surprised that the prankster got away with it, the prank itself wasn’t new, as I knew from making my documentary “Under the Hollywood Sign.”* On New Year’s Day, 1976, less than two years before the completion of the current Sign, a prankster named Daniel Finegood did exactly the same thing to the orignal Hollywood Sign. Here’s a photo:

Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific Collection

Courtesy Los Angeles Public Library, Security Pacific Collection

At the time of the first prank, the Sign was a crumbling, unguarded relic that anyone willing to climb to could access. Today, the rebuilt Sign is fenced, alarmed and off-limits to visitors without official permits. (Disclosure: I have filmed there twice, both times with permission.) Because the Sign stands below a militarized emergency communications center, trespassers are subject to arrest–or so the City claims. That whoever who transformed the Sign was able to escape notice, let alone arrest, is proof that the Sign’s alarm system failed or went unheeded. One wonders whether terrorists have taken note.

The Hollyweed incident capped off a particularly frenetic holiday week, when thousands of tourists walking in the street (itself a crime) on the sidewalk-less part of Beachwood Drive endangered themselves and trapped residents in and out of their homes. Beyond the gridlock, there’s everything that comes with uncontrolled crowds: trash, public urination, defecation and sex, trespassing, illegal parking, drinking and drug use. The Hollyweed prank was the last straw–and also the event that exposed the lies and double-dealing of Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Councilman David Ryu, who have long promised to enforce the law in Hollywoodland. They haven’t and they don’t, and now it’s indisputable.

*”Under the Hollywood Sign” is available on DVD and as a digital download from http://www.hopeandersonproductions.com

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On Being Interviewed (Again) About the Hollywood Sign

October 23, 2015 § 1 Comment

Lately my workdays have consisted of moving from writing project to writing project in monastic solitude. Although this suits me fine, others might compare it to self-imposed house arrest, despite my occasional escapes to the gym and grocery store. Yesterday would have been more of the usual, except that I spent the morning in front of the camera for an interview with two Miami-based French journalists for the TF1 program “50 Minutes Inside.”

Regular readers might recall my previous French TV interview, which took place at the Hollywood Sign in 2012. Not only was I overcome with vertigo but the rough terrain did something to my ankle that has never resolved itself. Even during the interview I realized it was the last time I would rappel down Mt. Lee to the letter H, and I was only slightly sorry about it. https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/going-back-to-the-hollywood-sign-this-time-as-an-interviewee/

Fortunately, this time the director was amenable to interviewing me at home, so after making myself presentable (sympathies to everyone who has to have camera-ready hair, makeup and clothes daily), I spent some time pretending to work at my computer before answering a lot of questions about the Hollywood Sign, its origins and its meaning.

As some have noticed, I’ve avoided writing about Hollywood Sign-related tourism issues for the past couple of years, but not because of email from readers hellbent on lighting the Sign at night. What did it was the howls of neighbors who disagreed with what I wrote, accusing me of trying to “speak for” them. (Note to those neighbors: write your own blog.) Nevertheless, I agreed to be interviewed because I wanted to show that the Hollywood Sign’s present status is a very recent, GPS-fueled phenomenon, and that whatever symbolism it possesses today appeared not only decades after its origins in 1923 but well after its reconstruction in 1978. I also wanted to explain the Sign’s beginnings as a billboard for Hollywoodland real estate, as well as its kinship to other municipal signs that, for lack of a mountain or evocative name, decorate water towers and hillsides across America, attracting no one.

No doubt all of this proved disappointing to Adrien Rappoport, my interviewer. “What do you feel when you see those letters?” he kept asking, as if I still might be capable of an epiphany about the Sign. Unfortunately, any charm I felt toward it when I moved here in 2005 faded long ago. Now that the Hollywood Sign is inextricably tied to noise, trash, bumper-to-bumper traffic and a complete lack of street parking on weekends, what I usually feel is annoyance. That emotion has its limits, so I moved on to the feelings of people who happily come here each day to pose for pictures. “I’m a star,” their expressions say, which explains the Hollywood Sign’s appeal: instead of making people feel small, it makes them feel big. Ultimately, the letters on Mt. Lee are a blank screen on which countless individual dreams are projected. As for the Sign’s meaning, it’s whatever people want it to be.

—————
My interview on “Cinquante Minutes Inside” will be broadcast in France in February. Information about online availability to come.

Two Hollywood Signs, Old and New

November 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Hollywood Sign As It Looked on August 7, 1978/Both Photos Courtesy Raiden Peterson

The Hollywood Sign As It Looked on August 7, 1978/Both Photos Courtesy Raiden Peterson

The New Hollywood Sign, Circa November 1978

The New Hollywood Sign, Circa November 1978


I’ve been immersed in a weeks-long repainting of my house’s interior, an ordeal I wouldn’t recommend if it weren’t necessary. Tomorrow the final phase begins: the repainting of the woodwork in my living room/office, so today I began the arduous process of clearing out all the cabinets. That’s when I found these two photos which were sent to me by Raiden Peterson, who I interviewed in 2007 my documentary Under the Hollywood Sign . (The documentary is available for sale on DVD at underthehollywoodsign.com and as a download for sale or rent from https://vimeo.com/ondemand/uths)

Raiden Peterson supervised the tear-down and reconstruction of the Hollywood Sign for Pacific Outdoor Electric, and documented his work throughout the process. The first photo was taken on August 7, 1978, the day before demolition began. The second was taken soon after the new Sign was completed on October 30, 1978. Thirty-six years later, many–perhaps the majority–of the visitors to the Hollywood Sign have no idea that the current Sign is not the original. These photos tell the story.

Waiting For Rain In a Bone-Dry Canyon

August 24, 2014 § 1 Comment

The "Wood," 8pm Friday, August 22, 2014/Hope Anderson Productions

The “Wood,” 8pm Friday, August 22, 2014/Hope Anderson Productions

August in Southern California is a very dry month, the prelude to an even hotter, drier September. Those of us who live in canyons live in dread of fires, which can start from a single match or cigarette–hence the NO SMOKING signs that tourists somehow ignore. In the fourth year of a great drought–the worst on record in California–we are waiting for the winter rains.

On Friday night, I looked north and to my surprise saw an unusual amount of cloud cover at the Hollywood Sign. It seemed to be a harbinger of better days to come, so I got my camera and took this photo.

A Great Way to See the Hollywood Sign: New Shuttle Vans Start Saturday, May 3rd, from the Greek Theater

April 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

Photo by Hope Anderson Productions

Photo by Hope Anderson Productions

In a promising development for tourists and Angelenos alike, the City of Los Angeles Recreation and Parks Department will begin running weekend vans to the Hollywood Sign from the Greek Theater this Saturday. The tour, which will take a scenic route through Griffith Park, costs $7 and includes admission to the Observatory. This is a trial that will last through July.

For further information:

http://ens.lacity.org/rap/press/rappress31487129_04162014.pdf

To purchase tickets online:

https://cnp.clickandpark.com/facility/?search%5Bfacility_id%5D=598

Silver Lake Reservoir: How An Unused Body of Water Could Become an Urban Oasis

February 17, 2014 § 1 Comment

Silver Lake Reservoir/Courtesy LA Times

Silver Lake Reservoir/Courtesy LA Times


It was with great interest that I read this article on proposed plans for Silver Lake Reservoir, which will soon be decommissioned as LA’s water supply is moved underground. There are proposals for a swimming area, a beach and an esplanade, any of which would be a boon for park-starved Angelenos.

http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-silver-lake-reservoir-20140215,0,7579276.story?fb_action_ids=10202745736035154&fb_action_types=og.likes&fb_ref=s%3DshowShareBarUI%3Ap%3Dfacebook-like&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582#axzz2tdSEHs33

New recreational facilities would make Silver Lake Reservoir a welcome destination for tourists as well. Perhaps the redesigned Reservoir would grow popular enough to siphon some of the Beachwood’s tourist traffic to an area that is far more accessible than Beachwood Canyon. I can dream, can’t I?

How Jeep’s “I Love You California” Ad is Worsening Hollywoodland’s Already Horrendous Traffic

January 20, 2014 § 1 Comment

Frame from Jeep Cherokee's "I Love You California Ad/Courtesy YouTube

Frame from Jeep Cherokee’s “I Love You California Ad/Courtesy YouTube


Several months ago, Jeep Grand Cherokee started running a commercial set to California’s State Song. I wrote about it and the song’s origins in this post https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/2013/02/26/i-love-you-california-the-song-the-era-and-the-ad/

Lately I’ve noticed that increasing numbers of visitors to Beachwood Canyon expect to be able to drive to the Hollywood Sign–not to its vicinity or to a lookout, but all the way up to it. Over the weekend it finally occurred to me that the Jeep ad, still in heavy rotation, might have something to do with this idea, so I watched it a few times.

Six seconds in, we see a Grand Cherokee ascending a hill that appears to be directly beneath the Sign; from the trajectory, it seems clear the Jeep is heading straight up to it. But it’s not, and it can’t. The hill in question is the so-called Millennium Plateau* which lies not directly under the Sign but east and far south of it. Although Jeep filmed at the Plateau, you can’t drive there: the road is closed except to police and fire vehicles, and to cars on official business. (Disclosure: I have been permitted to drive up the road to an area above the Sign for filming purposes on two occasions.) You could walk to the Plateau, but even if you’re up for a considerable hike, it’s nowhere near spitting distance to the Hollywood Sign. It’s not even the best view.

As long as we’re on the subject of tourist traffic in Hollywoodland, this weekend saw some of the worst traffic ever–and it’s only January. Saturday brought total gridlock on the streets leading to Lake Hollywood Park. On several blocks of Beachwood Drive north of the Gates, there was no street parking at all. The merchants in Beachwood Village have opposed parking restrictions near the stores on the grounds that restrictions would affect their businesses, but as far as I could see everyone who parked on my block was heading in the opposite direction, toward the Sign. Most of these sightseers were gone for hours, and the car with out-of-state plates blocking my garage sat there all day.

The influx of cars has become so severe that one elderly resident apparently died while waiting for paramedics who couldn’t get through a the traffic jam at the north end of Beachwood Drive. As a result of constant gridlock, many of our streets–including upper Beachwood Drive–will soon get permit parking. While I’m happy for those residents, my neighbors and I can forget about ever having friends or family over during daylight hours: all the spaces outside our houses will be taken up by tourists’ cars.

Those who say “You knew the Sign was there when you moved in,” should realize that this wasn’t the situation when we moved in; it dates to when GPS became ubiquitous on phones and has become a crisis only in the past two years. The tourist season is now year-round and affects us daily, and rarely in a good way. So here’s some advice for visitors: if you must come to Hollywoodland, please use public transportation to the Village and prepare to walk. Buy something more than bottled water from the Market and Cafe, especially if you expect to use the restrooms. And don’t smoke anywhere, including in your car. In a bone-dry canyon during the worst drought in memory, one spark equals catastrophe.

*The Plateau is where camera crews filmed the light show at the Hollywood Sign on New Year’s Eve of 1999. The lighted Sign drew such a stampede of cars into the Canyon that all access, including that of emergency vehicles, was completely blocked. It’s a nightmare that haunts residents to this day.

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