The Hollywood Sign has come to signify all that is glamorous in the movie-making business, but over nine decades ago, those hillside letters — made of telephone poles, corrugated sheet metal, and chicken wire — were merely an advertisement for the real estate development below: HOLLYWOODLAND.
The Hollywood Sign (photograph by Todd Eric Andrews)
To explore this unusual monument — a landmark that became permanent after several restoration efforts and fundraising campaigns — the Los Angeles Obscura Society first gathered down in the area that was once known as Hollywoodland, now Beachwood Canyon, where you can pass through the Old Hollywoodland Gate (built from granite that was mined locally) on your way to the sign. The area still contains prime real estate and architectural styles worth admiring, though now this neighborhood has all the advertising it could ever want (and more).
Meeting at the Old Hollywoodland Gate (photograph by Todd Eric Andrews)
Hollywoodland Realty Co. (photograph by Todd Eric Andrews)
We were accompanied on our journey up Mount Lee via the Hollyridge Trail by LA’s resident Hollywoodland expert, Mary Mallory — author of Hollywoodland, frequent docent, and board member of Hollywood Heritage — who added lots of tidbits about various points of interest along the way. From the movies that have featured the Hollywood Sign, to the lore that surrounds it, to the sprawling estate that was planned but never built atop Mount Lee, our climb to this Griffith Park peak was not merely a hike, but a ramble through time and history and a version of Hollywood many of us had never seen before.
Group photo at the Hollyridge trailhead, our first photo opp with the Hollywood Sign (photograph by Sandi Hemmerlein/Avoiding Regret)
Hiking Mt. Lee (photograph by Sandi Hemmerlein/Avoiding Regret)
Hollywoodland expert Mary Mallory shares historic photos of the Hollywood Sign and surrounding area from her book (photograph by Todd Eric Andrews)
Taking in one of the many vista points along the way that provide a scenic view of the Los Angeles Basin (photograph by Sandi Hemmerlein/Avoiding Regret)
Mallory shares more facts about the preservation of the Hollywood Sign and surrounding open space, including the recently-saved Cahuenga Peak (photograph by Sandi Hemmerlein/Avoiding Regret)
Our destination: right behind the Hollywood Sign letters, high above Hollywood, with the downtown LA skyline in the distance (photograph by Sandi Hemmerlein/Avoiding Regret)
Thanks to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, both the sign and the land next to it have been saved from demolition and private development (photograph Sandi Hemmerlein/Avoiding Regret)
Two happy hikers, peering down at the sign from the overlook above (photograph by Sandi Hemmerlein/Avoiding Regret)
Despite it being clearly visible from many Los Angeles neighborhoods (though no longer at night, since it isn’t lit by incandescent bulbs screwed into each letter anymore), the public path to it — to the closest spot you can legally get to it — isn’t well-known, and is hidden in plain sight.
Perhaps more importantly, those that do know the way, and make the trek up Mount Lee to the sign, often have no idea about its controversial past, like that time the H was so damaged it read “OLLYWOOD,” or that time a young budding actress named Peg Entwistle jumped to her death off the H, and how her spirit may still haunt it.
The Obscura Society is the real-world exploration arm of Atlas Obscura We seek out secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us. Join us on our next adventure!