I have hiked up to the Hollywood Sign a couple of times. The journey is not for the weak. This roughly 45-minute trek up to Mt. Lee can be tough, but the spectacular views and local history are worth the climb.
The Hollywood sign was originally erected in 1923 as part of a housing development called “Hollywoodland”. And yes, the original sign included “land” in its name. The sign was meant to be a giant advertisement for the local real estate with the hope of selling the ideal lifestyle. In its early form, the sign was a bit flashy. Quite literally, it flashed “holly”, then “wood”, and finally “land”. The ad was only meant to run for about a year and a half, but as you know, the glowing letters still stand today.
Thanks to the Great Depression, the Hollywoodland development went downhill and the sign eventually became property of the City of Los Angeles. In the late ’40s, a decision was made to remove the “land” and make the well-known label shorter. The sign became an official landmark in 1973. By the late ’70s, however, the sign was in pretty bad shape. Through an auction held by Playboy mogul, Hugh Hefner, the individual letters were purchased by celebrities and a whole new sign was built in 1978. Thanks to Hefner’s continued support and a variety of other big name doners, the sign is regularly maintained and painted.
What I find most interesting about the sign is how it visibly showed the status of the surrounding area. When the Great Depression hit, it went into disrepair. When WWII came around, it again started to decay. When the celebrities and movie studios started to move to the valley in the ‘60s, the sign was temporarily forgotten. This icon is not only a symbol of big dreams, but also a reflection of the community it overlooks.
To get to this quiet pathway, take the 101 freeway to North Gower Street, then make a right onto Franklin Avenue. Make a left at Beechwood Drive and follow the road to the end. The entrance to the neighborhood still has the original Hollywoodland plaques, a reminder of the area’s beginnings. There is a small dirt lot at the base of the path with very limited parking. You may also park along the street adjacent to the homes. As always, please be respectful to the neighboring residences. The path is fairly clear, marked as Hollyridge trail, and there are usually a lot of locals coming and going. Head on up.
You will see the Sunset Ranch stables not far up the trail. Those who like horseback riding can sign up for an afternoon ride, which can include a lunch stop. Let this be your warning that there may be horse droppings along the lower part of the trail. The Griffith Observatory is across the canyon and there are other trails around that area as well. As you walk up the steep incline, you will obviously have increasingly better views of the area. Be sure to take time on the hike to enjoy the changing scenery.
Once you finally reach the top, you will actually be behind the sign itself. The sign is heavily monitored and climbing the fencing to touch the beloved letters is a big no no. There is a large transmission facility up there as well. Mt. Lee is named after entrepreneur, Don Lee, who originally purchased and installed equipment for fantastic long-range television transmissions.
The sign hike will afford you views of Burbank, North Hollywood, Universal City, Griffith Park, the Hollywood Reservoir, and West Hollywood. If it’s a clear day, be sure to have your camera handy. There are miles and miles of the Los Angeles area unfolding before you. And for a little while, you get to be the person on top of it all.
Whether your aim is to tackle a large climb or to step close to a historic landmark, the Hollywood Sign is worth the uphill hike. You get to see an icon who’s legacy has lasted almost 100 years, you get to see views of the area around it that brought the true meaning to the sign, and you get to accomplish a killer workout. Tighten your laces, pack some water, and get out there. It’s just waiting for you.