Iconic Hollywood Sign Changed to read “Hollyweed” on New Years Eve

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Los Angeles residents awoke early Sunday morning to see that one thing, at least, looked different in the New Year: the Hollywood sign.

Armed with four tarpaulins, a prankster had climbed Mount Lee under the cover of night to edit the iconic landmark, which was changed to “HOLLYWeeD.”

Security footage recorded at 3 a.m. Sunday showed a “lone individual” climbing up the mountain, scaling the sign’s ladders and hanging tarpaulins over the O’s to change them to E’s, said Sgt. Guy Juneau of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Security Services division.

It could have been a New Year’s Eve prank, Juneau said, or the work of “a thrill seeker.”

The surveillance footage showed a man dressed in black, tactical-style gear. One of the tarpaulins was decorated with a peace sign, and another with a heart.

Because the sign was not damaged, the incident will be investigated as misdemeanor trespassing. The police have no suspects.

Some Angelenos joked that the alteration reflected California’s recent vote to legalize recreational marijuana.

The New Year’s Day change is far from the first time the Hollywood sign has been edited by artists and pranksters.

The sign, erected in 1923 as an advertisement for a housing development, originally read “Hollywoodland.”

A 1929 publicity photo for the Hollywoodland groundbreaking shows a plow, mules and surveyors.
A 1929 publicity photo for the Hollywoodland groundbreaking shows a plow, mules and surveyors. (Bruce Torrence Collection / Hollywood Sign Trust)

Mother Nature became the sign’s first editor, knocking out the H in a violent storm in 1949. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce restored the letter, but removed the “land” the same year.

On New Year’s Day of 1976, the sign became “HOLLYWeeD” for the first time — the work of Cal State Northridge student Daniel Finegood, who scaled Mount Lee with $50 worth of curtains.

The modification was his project for an art class assignment on working with scale. He earned an A.

The Hollywood sign's first iternation as "Hollyweed" was 41 years ago, on New Year's Day 1976, when an art student scaled the peak for a class project.
The Hollywood sign’s first iternation as “Hollyweed” was 41 years ago, on New Year’s Day 1976, when an art student scaled the peak for a class project. (Los Angeles Times)

The first iteration of “Hollyweed” was also the first day that California classified possession of up to one ounce of marijuana as a misdemeanor, rather than a felony.

In 1983, the sign was draped with the words “Go Navy” before the annual Army-Navy game. Later that decade, Caltech students edited the sign to spell out the name of their school.

(Axel Koester / Los Angeles Times)

In 1987, the sign became “Holywood” to mark a visit by Pope John Paul II. But the prank was undone before the pontiff arrived in Los Angeles.

In the decade that followed, edits to the sign got political at least twice. The first time was in 1990, when Finegood scaled the peak again and changed the sign to read “Oil War,” to protest the Persian Gulf War.

Five days before the 1992 presidential elections, supporters of independent candidate Ross Perot draped sheets across the landmark to spell out “Perotwood.”

Tired of the unsanctioned changes, city officials eventually enhanced security with a fence, alarms and a surveillance system that captured Saturday’s prankster.

Most recently, in 2010, the Trust for Public Land modified the sign to read “Save The Peak.” (As the banners went up, Angelenos snapped photos that read “Sallywood” and “Save the Pood.”)

That edit publicized a fundraising effort to purchase Cahuenga Peak, the 138-acre parcel just to the west of the sign, following reports that the land’s owners had been planning to build luxury housing there.

A helicopter flies over the iconic 450-foot-long Hollywood sign after activists covered it with banners during an effort to prevent the building of houses on the nearby Cahuenga Peak.

 

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