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Hollywood sign could get extra security after New Year's Day 'Hollyweed' prank

Since the sign was erected in 1923, it has been modified by protesters and pranksters. In fact, this is not the first time the sign has read “HOLLYWeeD.”

The iconic Hollywood sign could see added security after a prankster modified the sign on New Year's Day to read "HOLLYWeeD."

The agency that maintains and secures the sign said Monday that it will explore boosting security to better protect the landmark and the neighbors who live near it.

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"The surveillance system is like a chain," Chris Baumgart, chairman of the Hollywood Sign Trust, said Monday. "The chain is only as good as its weakest link, so as we study this — the prankster coming in, how he [or] she slipped through — we will determine this week where the link was that was weak, then we will upgrade there."

Baumgart said he plans to meet with the Los Angeles Police Department this week to be debriefed on the matter and to explore ways to prevent similar acts.

Since the sign was erected in 1923, it has been modified by protesters and pranksters. In fact, this is not the first time the sign has read "HOLLYWeeD."

On New Year's Day in 1976, Cal State Northridge student Daniel Finegood scaled Mt. Lee with $50 worth of curtains and changed the sign. His change coincided with the first day that California classified possession of up to one ounce of marijuana as a misdemeanor, rather than a felony.

Some said this latest change is a nod to California's recent vote to legalize recreational marijuana.

Artistic and political expression aside, Baumgart said there are dangers when it comes to making a statement on the sign.

"Because the sign is 45 feet high, it's extremely easy to slip and fall," he said. "It could've been a tragedy for that prankster. And that hillside is extremely treacherous.  So you're protecting the homeowners, you're protecting the pranksters from themselves by keeping them out of there. The sign is just metal and concrete. The lives are more important."

In 2014, the city replaced an old T-bar gate with a wrought-iron fence to keep trespassers out of the park and away from the Hollywood sign at night.

In recent years, residents in Beachwood Canyon have pushed to close access to the Hollywood sign. They complain that tourists, hikers and motorist clog the narrow, winding road leading to the sign, posing danger to the residents.

About 35 cameras are stationed on the Mt. Lee hillside to monitor the sign and surrounding areas, and a police officer sits in a guard house around the clock, Baumgart said.

Security footage recorded at 3 a.m. Sunday showed a "lone individual" climbing the mountain, scaling the sign's ladders and hanging tarpaulins over the O's to change them to E's, said Sgt. Guy Juneau of the LAPD's Security Services division.

It could have been a New Year's prank, Juneau said, or the work of "a thrill seeker."

The surveillance footage showed a man dressed in black, tactical-style gear. One of the tarps was decorated with a peace sign, and another with a heart.

Officials still are not sure how he evaded cameras and security, but they believe the rain and clouds provided cover.

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Authorities said they dropped the vandalism charges after finding no damage to the sign. The search for suspects has been called off, LAPD spokesman Sal Ramirez said.

Any suspect who steps forward would face a misdemeanor trespassing charge —  a penalty equivalent to "a slap on the hand," Ramirez said.

For more California breaking news, follow @AngelJennings.  She can also be reached at angel.jennings@latimes.com.

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