Solar-Powered Sign? : Power Firm Proposes to Light Up Hollywood

Times Staff Writer

The landmark Hollywood sign--originally illuminated by 4,000 20-watt bulbs as a real-estate promotional gimmick in the 1920s--may again shine at night if the City of Los Angeles accepts an offer from Arco Solar Inc. to light the monument permanently as a demonstration of solar-powered electricity.

Arco Solar, a Camarillo-based subsidiary of Atlantic Richfield Co., submitted the offer in a 23-page draft proposal to Bill Welsh, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which is authorized by the city’s Recreation and Parks Department to raise funds to restore and maintain the sign.

The sign was designated a Cultural Historic Monument in 1973 and comes under the department’s jurisdiction because it sits atop Mt. Lee in what is now Griffith Park. Before being donated to the city, the land on which the 50-foot-tall letters stand was part of Hollywoodland, the once-fashionable housing subdivision that the sign was built to publicize.


The proposal calls for year-round lighting of the sign from dusk through midnight, with single floodlights bathing each letter in a soft glow.

Options for Security

The proposal suggests options for providing security around the sign--which over the years has attracted college pranksters and vandals--and in the nearby hillside neighborhood. These options include a solar-generated surveillance system, fencing, warning signs and signs directing tourists to “official picture points.”

The proposal lists two bonuses of sorts for the city. The solar energy source for the floodlights could be connected to the city’s communications center on Mt. Lee, to provide an emergency power supply for its transmitter. The center handles all city communications, including police and fire dispatches. Its emergency backup now consists of a diesel generator and 24 hours’ worth of fuel at the site.

Besides emergency power, free use of the solar facility for research purposes is offered to the Department of Water and Power.

The draft proposal contains five pages of text and several pages of drawings, charts and reproductions from magazines and catalogues. The proposal does not include a budget, nor does it discuss the environmental impact that lighting would have on the nearby hillside neighborhood or on Griffith Park. It does not specify what portions of the project would be paid for by Arco Solar, or what the firm would receive in exchange for its participation.

In a telephone interview, Jerry M. Reznick, Arco Solar marketing communications director, stressed that the document was “very preliminary” and “just a draft of an outline” intended to elicit “input from the homeowners in the neighborhood and the police.”

‘Too Premature’

When asked what elements mentioned in the proposal would be paid for by Arco Solar and which would have to be funded elsewhere, he said, “I don’t know if there’s a clear line.”

He said Arco Solar would pay for “the photovoltaic power and lighting system” and that the lighting was to be part of “an overall proposal by the chamber” for the sign and its environs.

Reznick said it is “too premature to discuss (the proposal) in too public a forum,” and that Atlantic Richfield Co. “was aware of it,” but that “as of right now, there is no specific cooperation on the part of the parent corporation.”

He said that, in exchange for providing the solar-powered lighting system, Arco Solar and Atlantic Richfield would have the right to “publicize our participation,” but that advertising and publicity rights had “not specifically” been delineated.

Neither Reznick nor Welsh would make the proposal available to The Times, even though copies had been given out--together with a two-page endorsement from the chamber--at a presentation Reznick made last week to the Hollywood Sign Advisory Committee, an unofficial body appointed by the Recreation and Parks Department board of commissioners. The committee includes representatives of homeowners groups, the police and fire departments, two councilmen’s staff members and a parks commissioner. The Times obtained a copy from a committee member.

Welsh said in an interview that the chamber would later make available its own three-page proposal that is being prepared for distribution to members of the Hollywoodland and Lake Hollywood Estates homeowners associations. According to the chamber’s executive vice president, Edward N. Lewis, that proposal will address the security concerns of the neighborhood adjacent to the sign.

After the homeowners have received the proposal, the associations will meet and recommend action to the advisory committee, which, in turn, will meet and make its own recommendation to the parks commissioners, who will vote on the proposal.

No dates have been set for the meetings, but Richard Ginevan, the city’s chief parks supervisor, said that he expected the advisory committee to convene in four to six weeks.

Council Approval

Pete Echeverria, the city attorney’s principal adviser to the parks department, said the matter ultimately may reach beyond the parks department. Echeverria, who had not yet seen the proposal, said that the provision for emergency services to the communications center could be considered a gift to the city and therefore would have to be approved by the City Council.

Terry Canfield, vice president of the Lake Hollywood Estates Homeowners Assn., said that her group would wait to get further information, especially about security considerations, before taking a position.

The lighting plan already has drawn stiff opposition from members of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Assn., who say that their neighborhood suffered disruptions in the past when the sign was lighted for special events.

Christine O’Brien, the group’s president, said that at a general meeting on Feb. 9, members voted unanimously, and paradoxically, both to oppose any lighting of the sign and to listen objectively to any proposals brought forward.

A member of the association, Edward M. Cohan, an attorney who has lived in the Hollywoodland neighborhood for 10 years, said: “Serious issues concerning the safety and security of this community have not been reasonably addressed by this proposal.”

He said that lighting the sign always draws visitors to the neighborhood. “We get a massive increase of helicopter flights in here when the sign is lit. It really disrupts a (residential) neighborhood,” he said.

Cohan said that when the sign was lighted and letters were cloaked so that they read “FOX” for the 1987 premiere of the Fox Broadcasting Co., it was disastrous for the neighborhood. “(The sign) was set on fire when there were allegedly three guards protecting the area,” he said.

Los Angeles Fire Department Capt. Ralph Ramirez said there was an arson incident during the Fox promotion and that there might be a slight additional fire hazard if increased traffic were drawn to the area. However, Ramirez said the risk was not extraordinary. Police Cmdr. Bob Taylor said: “I am aware that the homeowners are not delighted” at the proposal. He disputed claims that crime had increased during previous lightings, but said that the homeowners “should be in a position to decide” the issue.

A field deputy for Councilman Michael Woo, Janedra Sykes, said: “Based on previous meetings, we support the residents, and at this point, they are opposed.”

Fair Hearing

Councilman John Ferraro’s deputy, Tom LaBonge, said that he hopes that the proposal will receive a fair hearing. “If the security system can be devised to satisfy the neighbors, they might support the proposal,” he said.

Almost as troubling as security concerns, said Hollywoodland homeowner Cohan, is the failure of the Hollywood Sign Advisory Committee, on which he sits, to develop a policy for appropriate use of the sign.

“The whole community was outraged after the Fox fiasco,” he said. “It’s sort of like the French using the Eiffel Tower (as) a Perrier ad.”

Nicolle Moizel, a Hollywoodland resident, said that, unlike many of her neighbors, she is not unconditionally opposed to lighting the sign. But she does oppose its commercialization.

“City Hall is illuminated,” she said. “It doesn’t mean someone has to get credit. We would like to see the sign respected as a landmark.”

Richard Adkins, chairman of the board of Hollywood Heritage Inc., a nonprofit historical society, said that, although his board hasn’t yet taken a position on the Arco proposal, Hollywood Heritage does not necessarily oppose commercial use of the sign--even though it opposed the Fox promotion.

“It is one thing to commercialize the sign without altering it, which could be acceptable, versus changing it entirely. Then it’s no longer the landmark we’re so fond of promoting,” he said.

Lewis emphasized that a powerful argument in favor of the Arco Solar proposal was the strength of Atlantic Richfield as a prospective “corporate partner” in fund-raising ventures that would be necessary to provide security for the sign and the adjacent neighborhood.

In addition, Lewis said, “we would be doing some things with Arco, like selling (souvenir promotional) cups in all the AM-PM Mini-Marts. Our understanding is that Arco and AM-PM, which is part of Arco, is going to assist us in satisfying the community (in funding security needs connected with lighting the sign).”

He added that he had discussed with Reznick the possibility of a 6-cent-per-cup fee to the chamber.

“I have every reason to believe that . . . if this is a ‘go’ situation, all the resources of Arco would be put toward making (the project) successful,” Lewis said.

Reznick said: “I’ve met with AM-PM representatives and mentioned that we may become involved with lighting the Hollywood sign” but “nothing in any manner has been acted upon.”