An Eye on the Sign : Fox Broadcasting Co. Wants to Hang Its Shingle Out for a Week With HOLLYWOOD Landmark

Times Staff Writer

There is a move afoot to add a three-letter word to one of Los Angeles' most famous landmarks--the huge hillside HOLLYWOOD sign.

A certain company wants to revise the sign for just one week to read: FOX HOLLYWOOD.

The idea is the inspiration of some promotional executives at Fox Broadcasting Co., the new owners of television Channel 11.

Fox also wants to illuminate the big sign, beginning April 5. After a week, the extra three letters would be taken down and the lights turned off, according to Fox officials.

The controversial proposal is scheduled for debate Friday at a meeting of the city Recreation and Parks Commission.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce already has endorsed the proposal, but preservationists and residents who live near the sign have questioned whether it should be used for commercial purposes, arguing that it would set a precedent for future promotional exploitation.

Although the sign, which stands 45 feet tall and stretches 450 feet along the lower slope of Mt. Lee above Beachwood Canyon, is on city property, its maintenance is the responsibility of the chamber. It was deeded the sign in 1945 by a land development company.

For the use of the sign, Fox has tentatively agreed to donate $27,000 to the chamber toward the repair and repainting of the landmark. Fox also agreed to supply three round-the-clock security guards while it uses the sign.

"We would do nothing in any way to alter the sign," said a Fox spokesperson. "We just want to use it as one of the many stunts we are considering to call attention to the inauguration of our prime-time scheduling."

The president of the Chamber of Commerce, Bill Welsh, said, "We think it is a very fair proposal. The sign is repeatedly being vandalized and in need of repair and, eventually, some sort of security system, such as an alarm fence. The money will definitely help. The chamber just can't do it by itself."

Welsh added that he is aware of strong protests from some residents in the Beachwood Canyon neighborhood below the sign. They have expressed concern that use of the sign for commercial advertising would set a dangerous precedent and that its lighting would attract vandals.

"I have some real reservations about the impact on the neighborhood," said City Councilman Michael Woo, who represents some nearby areas. He said his office has received complaints about the proposed use of the sign.

The sign itself and some adjoining neighborhoods are in the district of John Ferraro, whose office participated in the chamber's negotiations with Fox and who has given tentative approval to the proposal.

After extensive debate, Hollywood Heritage, a local preservationist group, gave "reluctant" approval to the proposal on Tuesday.

"We have reservations about the future promotional use of the sign by non-entertainment related enterprises," said Richard Adkins, president of Hollywood Heritage. "But if it wasn't for companies like Fox there wouldn't be a Hollywood as we know it."

'Have to Trust Their Judgment'

Adkins added that what swayed the Heritage board was the fact that the use does not involve any structural change in the sign, and that if it were not for the efforts of the chamber the sign would have been destroyed long ago.

"You have to trust their judgment in this," Adkins said. "Besides, you have to be pragmatic about preservation. Someone has to pay to preserve these monuments."

A now-familiar symbol of the region's entertainment industry, the sign was erected in 1923 to call attention to another thriving local industry, real estate, specifically to the Hollywoodland subdivision then rising in the Hollywood Hills.

The sign endured long after the last lot in the subdivision had been sold, and eventually the last four letters were removed or collapsed.

Over the years, the sign has been a frequent victim of vandals and pranksters as well as of natural wear and tear. Graffiti was sprayed on the sign almost daily, and occasionally pranksters have used sheets to make the sign spell out something different.

On one occasion it was HOLLYWEED and on another GO NAVY, and on one New Year's morning it read RAFFEYSOD. The weather-beaten sign was restored in 1978 and it was refurbished again for the 1984 Olympics. In 1986, the Parks and Recreation Department erected a chain-link fence alongside Mulholland Drive to close off one heavily used path to the sign.

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