How The Hollywood Sign Became An Icon

A sign advertises the opening of the Hollywoodland housing development in the hills on Mulholland Drive overlooking Los Angeles, Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, circa 1924. (Underwood Archives/Getty Images)

The Hollywood sign, located in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles, California, is one of the most iconic landmarks in America, its bold white letters looming over the city since its construction in 1923. Originally, the sign actually read "Hollywoodland," as it was built to promote a new housing suburb being constructed by developers Woodruff and Shoults, who thought its flashy lettering would attract the wealthy. As if the 50-ft. letters weren't enough, the Crescent Sign Company who installed it placed over 4,000 light bulbs on the letters which spelled "Holly" then "wood" then "land" in successive order until finally flashing the entire sign.

It may be hard to believe now, but the famous sign was expected to last only about two years after its completion. It was never intended to be anything other than a short-lived advertisement, so the sign maker didn't use the sturdiest materials. By the 1920s, however, when the Golden Age of Hollywood was in full swing, the bright white letters became a media icon, conflating the relatively small neighborhood of Hollywood with the American entertainment industry itself.