When Hollywood Became Hollyweed: New Year's Day, 1976
The big white block letters of the HOLLYWOOD sign are an emblem of Los Angeles, signifying glamor, celebrity and movie magic -- but for a brief moment on New Year's Day in 1976, they were altered to read HOLLYWEED. The nod to stoner culture was one of many interesting moments in the history of the sign, which was built 50 years earlier as a temporary advertisement for local real estate.
The Hollywood sign was erected in the right place at the right time -- objectively speaking, it is neither elegant nor essential. It's a billboard, more or less. But with the rise of the film industry, it became a fitting symbol of the big dreams of ambitious directors and would-be screen idols. Hollywood is an adjective, an abstract concept, and something to be emulated all over the world -- most famously, "Bollywood" in India -- and the sign has played a huge part in that phenomenon. All of which makes is a tantalizing target for artists and vandals who want their messages to be seen.
The Original Sign Was Not What You Think
The Hollywood sign sits on Mount Lee, in the Hollywood Hills region of the Santa Monica mountains. Constructed in 1923, its original purpose was to draw attention to a new housing development within Hollywood, called Hollywoodland. In concept, Hollywoodland was a refuge for white Angelenos who disliked the changing racial makeup of the city -- it was a little further out (thus the size of the letters), but still a reasonable commute into L.A. proper for those seeking the segregated life.
The Sign Has Always Been Under Attack, By The Elements
In 1949, the sign had its first alteration: by Mother Nature. A storm took out the H. When the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce restored the H, they also removed the “land,” creating the sign we know today. The truncation of the sign changed its meaning -- rather than an advertisement for the development, it was now a billboard for the entire district of Hollywood.
The Ravages Of Time And Termites
Neglect and termites took a toll on the sign, and it deteriorated over the two decades that followed. By 1973, it was an eyesore. Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, an obsessive film fan, launched a fundraising campaign to restore it. Nine sponsors adopted a letter each, at a cost of $27,777.77 apiece -- for example, Gene Autry paid for the second O, Alice Cooper bought the second L, and Hefner himself paid for the Y. In 2010, when the sign was again in need of sponsorship, Hefner stepped in with a $900,000 donation.
The first time the sign was altered to read “HOLLYWEED,” on January 1, 1976, the alteration was done not as a prank, but as an art project by Daniel Finegood, a Cal State Northridge student, who completed his project using $50 worth of curtains. He received an A on the project which was about working with scale. Interestingly, the day that Finegood altered the sign was the first day that California had changed the classification of the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana as a misdemeanor, rather than a felony.
Copycats, Sort Of
The sign has been altered multiple times since then. In the 80’s, it was altered to read “GO NAVY” before the Army-Navy game. It was also altered by Cal-Tech students to feature the name of their school. Prior to the visit of the pope in 1987, pranksters changed it to “HOLYWOOD,” but it was changed back before the pope arrived.
Finegood Strikes Again
In the 1990s. the sign got political. Finegood once again scaled the mountain to change it, this time to “OIL WAR,” in protest of the Persian Gulf War, although it was there so briefly that there are no pictures of this change. Then, in 1992, supporters of Ross Perot, changed the sign to “PEROTWOOD” five days before the election. With all of the vandalism of the sign, increased security, adding a fence, alarms, and a surveillance system.
The Sign Spreads More Messages
Defying the enhanced security, the Trust for Public Land changed the sign to “SAVE THE PEAK,” a rallying cry to stop landowners from building luxury houses on Cahuenga Peak, the land parcel just west of the sign. In 2000, Virgin Atlantic altered the sign to say JOLLY GOOD as a promotion for its newly announced nonstop flights from London to Los Angeles.
Spread The Love
Then, on the 41st anniversary of the original HOLLYWEED transformation, at about 3 a.m. on January 1, 2017, the two O’s were partially obscured by sheets, changing the sign to “Hollyweed” once again. A few days after the 2017 transformation, the prankster turned himself in, accompanied by his lawyer. Zachary Cole Fernandez was charged with trespassing. Fernandez, a 30 year old artist said he thought his action was an art installation, not a prank. As he said, he changed the sign with good intentions, “just to bring light and positivity and happiness.” However, the city council did not take it that way, stating that it cost Los Angeles to investigate the crime and to deal with the crowds that the incident generated.
Fernandez, who is a father of four children, was willing to face the consequences for his actions, even though he didn’t do it to destroy anything and took care to not damage the sign; in fact the sheets he used were decorated with a peace sign and a heart. As he said, “I don’t want to destroy anything,” I’m about peace and love and respect and integrity and a lot of things that in some ways are missing these days.”
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