Just Above Sunset
March 5, 2006 - Adventures in Hollywoodland













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Hollywood sign up close, Beachwood Canyon
Click on the image to see it full-size...

Thursday is photography day, and March 2nd seemed like a good day to get some stock shots of the Hollywood Sign, what with the Oscars coming up Sunday.  From the front door it's just a few feet up to Hollywood Boulevard, so off on the jaunt.  Drive east on the Bouelvard - pleasant and sunny day - and everything is fine for the mile and half to the center of Hollywood.   But then everything is blocked off between Orange and Highland as they're rolling out red carpets and assembling bleachers in front of the Kodak Theater and the Boulevard is closed - so down to Sunset, east over to Wilcox, north through downtown Hollywood to Franklin, east to Beachwood Canyon, and up Beachwood Drive to where it ends at the riding stables, as close as you can get to the base of the sign.  Here's what it looks like up close, a fairly standard shot.

The tired horses at riding stables under the sign (too many of the curious rent these guys to get up to the sign) -

The horses of Beachwood Canyon, Hollywood

Ended up driving through the hills to the other side of the sign for these shots, which sort of captures Hollywood on Oscar weekend.

Hollywood sign with warning signs...

Hollywood sign with warning signs...

But earlier, rolling up Beachwood Drive, before you get to the base of the sign, you pass through the gates of "Hollywoodland."  Back in October 2002 NPR did a story on Hollywoodland and its connection to the famous sign (here, full text with audio link) –

 

In 1923, Los Angeles was in the midst of expansion, and the Hills beckoned those set on sniffing out opportunities to make a mint in the real estate game. Harry Chandler, publisher of the Los Angeles Times, had involved himself in other real estate schemes previously. "Chandler and his investors owned most of the San Fernando Valley," says David Wallace, author of the books Lost Hollywood and Hollywoodland. "They just grabbed desert land because they knew the minute that water came through with the weather in the Valley it would become a garden!"

Sensing a similar opportunity in the Hills, Chandler teamed up with movie director Mack Sennett, who oversaw the investment company that did the development.

To tune everyone else in to the same signal they were picking up, Chandler had a baker's dozen worth of letters, each standing 50 feet tall, erected in the Hills. The HOLLYWOODLAND sign spelled out an invitation to up-and-comers and wishful thinkers alike that was hard to ignore. To enhance the effect, the sign was lit by 4,000 light bulbs; a nearby cabin housed a maintenance man whose sole job was changing them.

... The sign was left derelict until 1949, when the 'H' toppled in the wind. According to Wallace, the damage made people take notice. "It was at that time that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce stepped in," he says. "[They] offered to remove the last four letters of the sign and repair the rest."

But sustained maintenance proved a somewhat trying task. As Hollywood itself started going to seed in the 1960s, the sign once again fell into disrepair. The Hollywood Kiwanis Club raised enough money to fix the damage, but soon after using the last of the funds to restore the 'D,' one of the 'O's crashed down the hill.

Fortunately, help was on the way. Hugh Hefner organized and hosted a party at the Playboy Mansion at which letters for a new sign would be sold at nearly $28,000 a pop. The adopt-a-letter campaign worked, and aided by Gene Autry (who bought an 'L') and rocker Alice Cooper ('O'), among others, Hefner ('Y') raised enough to prop those letters back up where they belonged.

 

So that's the story, and here's the original real estate office, still open.

Hollywoodland Real Estate office (and Day Spa)

Here's the local coffee shop –

Here's the local coffee shop -

The Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood has more detail at The Story Of Hollywoodland.

Gregory Williams –

 

From the moment of its inception, Hollywoodland defined the lifestyle known as "living in the Hollywood Hills." With a steady stream of publicity, it acquired and retained the adjective "famed." A lot of this is due to the huge metal sign crowning the tract, the neighborhood landmark. Originally it read "Hollywoodland," but missing its last four letters, what started as a real estate promotional stunt has become the international symbol for the Hollywood film industry. On any day, tourists stand smack in the middle of Beachwood Drive, having their pictures taken with it.

It's hard to figure a giant flashing electric sign as a classy touch, but in the twenties, the developers attracted the sophisticated and artistic crowd they intended. "Hollywoodland, one of the show places of the world" is how they saw their 500 acre subdivision. To their credit, they sensitively laid out Hollywoodland. A charming small town feeling has presided for close to seventy years.

... Another draw to Hollywoodland, expressed in the developer's phrase "freedom of the hills" applies to residents of Hollywoodland lucky enough to live and work within the canyon. An artist, writer, or musician can hole up with creative work yet remain close to the rest of the world. When our father, Dino, moved us here in the fifties, our neighborhood included painter Edward Biberman who lived across the street, painting scenes of Southern California and writer Aldous Huxley who lived and worked down the hill from us. (Mr. Huxley's long, thoughtful walks at that time often included my four year old sister.)

 

Selected items from the Steve Grant and Jay Teitzell timeline –

 

1923 - February - Developers Woodruff and Shoults conceive of "Hollywoodland" as a neighborhood of "superb environment without excessive cost on the Hollywood side of the hills."

1923 - The construction of Lake Hollywood Reservoir commences in order to provide the burgeoning city with water and pressure. The Lake is first filled in 1925.

1924 - The "Hollywoodland" sign is constructed at a cost of $21,000 atop Mt. Lee. Thirteen 50-foot letters and four thousand 20 watt light bulbs pronouncing, in classic advertising phonics, "Holly"... "wood"... "land"... Hollywoodland."

1929 - The stock market crashes and the Depression dashes developers' plans for extending Hollywoodland further east. The limits of our neighborhood are essentially set.

1930 - Peg Entwhistle, despondent over her lackluster acting career, jumps to her death from one of The Hollywoodland Sign's 50-foot letters.

1938-39 - Bugsy Siegel opens a Speakeasy at the Castillo del Lago mansion on Hollywoodland's Durand Drive.

1944 - Hollywoodland developers deed the land north of Mulholland Highway (including The Hollywoodland Sign) to the City of Los Angeles. Later, it becomes part of Griffith Park.

1949 - The Hollywoodland Sign, originally built to last only 18 months, is in total disrepair (and all the light bulbs have long-since been stolen). The City begins removing it but is halted by a public outcry - the citizens have come to love the symbol. Instead, the sign is refurbished and shortened to "Hollywood."

1961 - May - A hillside brushfire damages 30 Hollywoodland homes and destroys 24 more including that of Aldous and Laura Huxley of Deronda Drive.

 

Learn more about this unhappy Peg Entwhistle here. And of the ninety digital shots from this day, forty-two were usable, and the best of those will be in the Sunday weekly.

 

Town details – at the antique shop –

Hollywoodland antique shop, Beachwood Drive

Hollywoodland antique shop, Beachwood Drive

The cat at the fountain –

Figaro, 1998, Sharon Loper

Figaro, 1998, Sharon Loper
Click on image to enlarge...
















The town center, bougainvillea and the flag…

Hollywoodland, bougainvillea and the flag ...

Hollywoodland plaque, Beachwood Drive

If you use any of these photos for commercial purposes I assume you'll discuss that with me.  

There is a copyright notice at the bottom of this page, of course.

These were shot with a Nikon D70 – lens AF-5 Nikor 18-70mm 1:35-4.5G ED

They were modified for web posting using Adobe Photoshop 7.0

The original large-format raw files are available upon request.

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Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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The inclusion of any text from others is quotation for the purpose of illustration and commentary, as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.  See the Legal Notice Regarding Fair Use for the relevant citation.
 
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