Looking at photos of the Hollywood Sign in its early years is a little like seeing the Statue of Liberty with a third arm, or the Golden Gate Bridge with a second deck. The sign has become such an effective icon of Los Angeles that we assume its present configuration must conform to its Platonic ideal.
But when those white, sans-serif block letters first rose from the face of Mount Lee in 1923, they were simply a real-estate advertisement, not a cultural symbol, and there were four more of them: L-A-N-D. The thirteen letters—illuminated at night by 4,000 incandescent bulbs—promoted the Hollywoodland subdivision to the rest of the booming city of Los Angeles. And as Leo Braudy writes in his authoritative history of the sign, they were meant to be seen from an automobile; the sign’s principal designers, publicist John D. Roche and Los Angeles Timespublisher Harry Chandler, scaled the letters—50 feet tall by 30 feet wide—to be read from Wilshire Boulevard.