The refurbished Hollywood sign was presented in all its freshly painted glory Tuesday after its biggest makeover in 35 years, in time for 90th birthday celebrations next year. Some 360 gallons of fresh bright white paint was applied over the last two months to the Tinseltown icon, which sits atop Mount Lee in the Hollywood Hills north of Los Angeles.
“It’s our Statue of Liberty, it’s our Golden Gate… but it’s more than that it’s Hollywood, which is hope,” said Tom LaBonge, LA city council member for Hollywood. “The Hollywood sign, there’s nothing like it in the world.”
“It puts a bright face on the icon of the southern California lifestyle,” added Chris Baumgart, chairman of the non-profit Hollywood Sign Trust that manages the icon, at a press conference staged below the landmark.
Over the last two months, workers have used window-cleaner style platforms to strip down the 50-foot (15-meter) tall letters, powerwash the corrugated iron and apply fresh primer and topcoat paint.
The paint job cost some $175,000, $140,000 of it paid for by the company whose paint was used. Sherwin-Williams also provides the distinctive color for the Golden Gate bridge, further up the California coast.
“The sign was scrubbed to the bone, and two tonnes of makeup was put on her best side. A lot was done to her backside but we’ve leaving that her secret,” quipped Baumgart.
Victor Galindo, who was on the team of painters, said he felt proud of having worked on the world-famous landmark.
“It’s a privilege for a lot of us to be up here, because a lot of us grew up here in the City of Los Angeles, and we’re used to seeing this sign from far away, and now we’re so close to it, painting it,” he said.
The job went more quickly than expected it, added the 37-year-old.
“The hardest part was the H. After that first letter we got the hang of it, we just went fast.”
Millions of tourists come to see the icon — visible from large parts of Los Angeles, depending on the weather — but fences, warning notices and security surveillance keeps all but the most determined from the sign itself.
Access for the painters — and journalists given a close-up look at the makeover Tuesday — is via a steep slope down from behind the sign, through a locked gate and using a rope to rappel down for newcomers.
Cameras attached to the top of the huge white letters feed live video 24 hours a day to a bunker in downtown LA to alert officers to anyone trying to scramble several hundred meters (yards) up the steep slope below the sign.
Looking down the hill from just in front of the sign, ranger Patrick Joyce said: “Several times a month people make their way up here. It’s against the law, you can be arrested.
“Most of the time what they do they write on the sign, or they just want to take a picture up here and they leave,” said Joyce, 40.
“But every once in a while somebody will come up here and they drink too much, or they’ll consume drugs. We’ve had crazy people come up here, start small camp fires and stuff like that.”
The original sign was erected in 1923 to advertise a property development called Hollywoodland, but the last four letters were removed in the 1940s.
One of the City of Angels’ most beloved attractions, the sign had fallen into disrepair until it was restored in the 1970s after a campaign that saw nine donors pay $27,777 to “adopt” one letter each.
It was threatened again more recently when investors who own land surrounding the giant white letters indicated plans to sell the plot to developers.
But Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner helped secure the sign in 2010, along with then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and other Hollywood luminaries, including Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
The sign’s history is not without tragedy. In 1932, British actress Peg Entwistle infamously committed suicide by throwing herself off the top of the letter H.