In the basement of Leatherby Libraries exists a piece of Hollywood history that you might not know is there. What might initially look like a porous piece of rusted iron is actually a piece of the original Hollywood sign that stood on Mount Lee, overlooking the Hollywood district of Los Angeles from 1923 to 1939.
Originally constructed in 1923, the sign read “Hollywoodland,” and served to advertise the real estate development of the same name. The original sign was electric, and 4,000 bulbs illuminated the hillside each night. The sign was meant only to last a year and a half, but ultimately went on to become a symbol synonymous with the area itself. Due to complaints from nearby residents and high costs for the company, the lights were abandoned in 1939, and the paneling was entirely replaced by 1949. As the hill no longer needed to advertise the “Hollywoodland” company, the sign was simply changed to spell out “Hollywood,” and stands proudly overlooking Los Angeles to this day. Famed television personality, and host of California’s Gold, Huell Howser (also the subject of the new permanent exhibit currently housed in the basement of the Leatherby Libraries) dedicated an episode of California’s Gold to the Hollywood sign. It can be accessed here in the Huell Howser Archives, presented by Chapman University.
Chapman’s University Program Board recently offered students a hiking excursion to the beloved sign. Having taken the trip myself, I feel that Chapman University has united the past and present in that a small piece of the original sign is housed on campus and can be viewed by anyone at any time. This beacon for the glitz and glamour of Hollywood’s early days is displayed in Leatherby Libraries on the wall opposite the basement entrance to the elevators.
Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, California, by Carol M. Highsmith, from the Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.