Blink and you might have missed it, but for a brief moment in the wee hours of 2017, the iconic Hollywood sign in Los Angeles was altered by a merry prankster looking to ring in the new year with a bit of hilarity.
At 3 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, one courageous and foolhardy individual climbed the mountain to the sign to perilously scale the ladders and artfully drape tarps over the O’s, intentionally changing the sign to read, “Hollyweed.” With the recent passage of Proposition 64, some have been speculating that the alteration was made to celebrate the newly legalized state.
While the world, and particularly those in favor of California’s legalization, guffawed at the mischievous vandalism, authorities were not laughing. By 10:45 a.m. the next morning, the sign had been restored, and for a period of time, the sign read “Hollywoed” while city park rangers were in the midst of fixing it.
This is far from the first time the “Hollywood” sign has been altered. The sign, erected in 1923, originally read “Hollywoodland.” In 1949, a storm knocked over part of the sign, felling the ‘H.’ The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce fixed the letter, but removed the “land” in the process.
On January 1, 1976, a Californian named Danny Finegood climbed the mountain and he, too, altered the sign to read “Hollyweed.” Fittingly, the sign was changed on the day that California reduced penalties for the possession of cannabis from a felony down to a misdemeanor.
He changed the sign as part of an art project on working with scale at Cal State Northridge. Finegood enlisted three friends to help him hoist the sheets up, and not only were his parents in on the prank, they were proud of their son for his creative art project. (Reportedly, he earned an A for his efforts.)
Finegood became known for his creative alterations of the sign. Later in 1976, he altered the sign to read “Holywood” in honor of Easter, and in 1987, he changed the sign to read “Ollywood” in protest of Marine Lieutenant Oliver North during the Iran-Contra hearings.
His final political protest was seen by almost no one. In 1990, he draped plastic sheeting to spell out the phrase “Oil War” in protest of the Persian Gulf War, but authorities removed the plastic in the early morning hours before sunrise.
Although Finegood was the most well-known of the pranksters changing the “Hollywood” sign, he was certainly not the only one. In 1983, the sign was draped with the words “Go Navy” before the big Army-Navy football game. Four years later, in 1987, students from CalTech draped sheets over the sign to read “Caltech.” They claimed that it was a “100th anniversary present for Hollywood,” much to the chagrin of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce president, who huffed, “We are not kidding and laughing about this at all.”
In 1992, supporters of independent presidential candidate Ross Perot draped a sheet across the sign that read “Perotwood,” alas, to no avail. Perot claimed 19 percent of the popular vote, still a rare success for a third party candidate.
To raise awareness of Cahuenga Peak, a parcel of land west of the sign, the Trust for Public Land modified the sign to read “Save The Peak” in 2010. The bid was successful, saving the land from being purchased by an investment firm. Instead, with donations of more than $1.7 million from the public, Cahuenga Peak was officially added to Griffith Park.
In response to the numerous pranks and vandals changing the sign, officials have beefed up security measures. A fence was erected, along with alarms and a closed-circuit surveillance system. Heightened security or no, determined pranksters shall not be dissuaded, to our collective delight.