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Why doesn’t the Hollywood sign light up at night? We have answers

In the summer of 2021, we started asking readers to send us their pressing questions about Los Angeles and California.

Every few weeks, we put the questions up for a vote, asking readers to decide which question we’ll answer in story form.

One of our latest winners was submitted by Jeff Napshin. His question: “Why don’t we light up the famous Hollywood sign at night?”

This question instantly brought me back to one of my first nights in LA after moving out west in 2015.

A few friends and I had planned to hike around Griffith Park after dark, hoping to catch a glimpse of the illuminated Hollywood sign. I thought it would be a magical, if not cliché, way to commemorate my first night as a new resident of Los Angeles.

Spoiler alert: there was no Hollywood sign in sight.

Of course, I should have researched the sign before driving to Griffith Park. But I’m not the only newcomer to have made this mistake.

Napshin, president and CEO of Star Track Tours in Hollywood, says tourists visiting LA are often surprised to learn that the sign isn’t illuminated at night.

“They are always disappointed,” he says. “They always ask me ‘Why can’t we see the sign? Why isn’t it on?'”

Before we delve into these questions, why do people expect the sign to be lit in the first place?

Napshin points to misrepresentations of the Hollywood sign in pop culture. For example, Jimmy Kimmel’s backdrop at one point included the stylized Hollywood sign illuminated behind the city skyline. The sign is also depicted illuminated in the 2012 film “Rock of Ages”; the crew built a fake Hollywood sign on Mount Trashmore in Florida during filming.

“You see this all the time – pictures of the sign come on,” he said. “This is a lie.”

An enlightening story

Although the sign is currently not illuminated at night, this has not always been the case.

A sign reading “Hollywoodland” in flashing light bulbs was first lit on Dec. 8, 1923, said Jeff Zarrinnam, president of the Hollywood Sign Trust, a nonprofit organization responsible for repairing, maintaining and restoring nine the panel. The sign flashed “Holly”, then “wood”, then “land” in sequence – then “Hollywoodland” in one word.

Its purpose: to advertise the upscale Hollywoodland subdivision (which is why it was written “Hollywoodland” instead of “Hollywood” at the time). You can easily find the posh community of Hollywoodland on Google Maps today, nestled between Hollywood Reservoir and Griffith Park.

The change came in 1933, according to Zarrinnam, who said, “It was getting expensive to continue to maintain the sign’s bulbs, and the Sherman Company, which owned the sign at the time, decided to put them out. “

Years passed, and in 1944 the Sherman Company donated approximately 400 acres of land—including the area with the sign—to the City of Los Angeles, which annexed the land to Griffith Park.

Meanwhile, the sign was falling apart. “The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce stepped in in 1949 and agreed to fix the sign,” Zarrinnam said.

Another change? The word “earth” has been removed from the panel.

“Since 1949 the sign has said ‘Hollywood’ to celebrate and promote the motion picture industry, as well as Hollywood itself,” he said.

Yet time continued to physically weigh on the panel.

“The sign fell into such disrepair that in 1978 the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce stepped in again… [and] raised $250,000 to completely rebuild the sign. During this time, new lighting infrastructure has not been installed,” Zarrinnam said. “That’s how it has remained ever since.”

Will the sign be illuminated in the future?

Over the years it has been illuminated on occasion. “We get lighting requests all the time,” Zarrinnam said. However, “we just don’t have the infrastructure in place to light it up.”

“It’s also a controversial issue,” he said. For example, how would the sign be lit?

“There are lots of ways to do it,” Zarrinnam said. “One of them is from a bottom projection system…near the Mulholland Highway.” However, “you have advocates who want to light it up in a historical sense,” he said, with light bulbs attached to the panel.

How often would the sign be illuminated? “Do you turn it on once a year, five times a year, do you turn it on every night?” He asked.

Then come the logistical questions: “How do we bring the power? Do we bring electricity from the city? Is there enough power available to do this? Do we have to bring our own energy via solar? Do we use batteries? Zarrinnam asked. ” Those are the [questions] that we are studying right now, so that it will be documented for the future,” he said.

The trust expects the studies to be completed within the next year.

Also under consideration by the trust: whether or not a lighted sign would harm nearby wildlife or neighborhoods.

Some Angelenos are strongly opposed to the ability to light the sign due to these concerns.

“We would be strongly opposed to further illumination,” Gerry Hans, president of the Friends of Griffith Park, said by email.

“Birds are attracted to light,” which can lead to deadly collisions with lighted structures, he said on a later call.

The Hollywoodland Landlords Association. also object to illuminating the sign.

The association “has always taken the position of not promoting and not lighting the sign”, for safety and environmental reasons, said Christine O’Brien, president of the association, by e- mail.

A 1987 article in the LA Times, written by a resident named Carole Zahn, details some concerns about the sign’s lighting.

“I am one of the ‘local residents’ who strongly oppose any new lighting of the Hollywood sign. This is what we endured during the 1984 Olympics when the sign was lit every night from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. “, begins Zahn. the room. “Each evening at dusk, a group of cars would gather at the bottom of our driveway, completely blocking it. …Cigarettes were lit and thrown, still burning, into the dry canyon despite the ‘Extreme Fire Danger’ signs. .”

Traffic and gridlock can be a “big problem” in residential areas around the sign, Hollywood Community Police Station Officer Brian White said. “The biggest concern is … being able to react in an emergency.”

“The Hollywood sign will once again be lit over my corpse,” Zahn concluded in his opinion piece, though it should be noted that the sign was lit 13 years later to celebrate the new millennium.

However, not all residents are strongly against lighting the sign a few times a year.

“I didn’t mind when they turned it on for the year 2000,” said Augusta Weaver-Johnson, who grew up in nearby Beachwood Canyon and continues to call the area home.

“I would be okay with turning it on for events for a few hours a few times a year,” she continued. “I would also like an environmental impact report to be done before this happens.”

In addition to her concerns about wildlife, “I have safety concerns about traffic issues,” Weaver-Johnson said. “At the same time, I also feel that [the sign] is something to share with the world.”

So what are the odds that the Hollywood sign will glow again in the LA night sky?

Ultimately, the decision to light the Hollywood sign wouldn’t come from confidence alone, Zarrinam said. Rather, it would be “a collaborative effort in partnership with the trust, the city, which includes elected officials, the general public, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.”

“The Hollywood Sign Trust would not want to unilaterally light the sign, but they are able to light the sign,” he said. “If there is a demand from the city and its people, the trust will make it happen.”

This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.