Welcome to Hollywood!
Updated: Mar 8
Date: March 2, 2021
Distance: 7.68 miles
Total Elapsed Time: 2h 55m
Total Moving Time: 2h 36m
Summit Elevation: 1,709 feet
Elevation Gain: 1,298 feet
Trailhead: Brush Canyon Trail
Previous Ascents: N/A
Notes: Peakbagger Summits - 1, Survey Markers - 2
I headed up the 5 Freeway this morning to visit my daughter and drop off some books and gifts for my grandkids, since I was already going to be in Los Angeles, last night I had scouted out a potential hike, peaks to bag, and survey markers to recover. In addition to plotting the location of a few REI stores to visit along the way (part of my "REI-Bagging" project), I thought it would be cool to visit the singularly most recognizable sign in Southern California (and probably the whole United States!) The iconic Hollywood Sign.
Located in Giffith Park, on a hillside overlooking LA, it sits just below the peak of Mount Lee. Originally erected in 1923 as a promotion for a new housing development in the Hollywood Hills, the sign started out as "HOLLYWOODLAND" which was shortened in 1949 after a successful battle was waged to save the (then) dilapidated sign. According to The Saga of the Sign, the original sign was outlined with 3,700 incandescent light bulbs which were maintained and changed by a single caretaker.
In September 1932, 24-year old actress Millicent "Peg" Entwistle committed suicide by jumping off the letter "H". The victim of an abusive marriage and a theatrical acting career gamble that backfired leaving her blacklisted and broke, she becomes known as "The Hollywood Sign Girl".
Save the Sign
In 1978 a structural engineering company inspected the sign and found that it was termite infested, un-repairable, and needed to be completely replaced. In May of that year, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce started a "Save the Sign" campaign to raise the $250,000 ($27,000 per letter) to build a more permanent version of the sign. Hugh Hefner hosted a fund-raising campaign at the Playboy Mansion West raising $45,000 for the cause. As a nod to Hef for his fund-raising efforts, the Chamber of Commerce dedicated the letter "Y" to him.
Save The Sign Donors (source: Wikipedia) H: Terrence Donnelly (publisher of the Hollywood Independent Newspaper) O: Giovanni Mazza (Italian movie producer) L: Les Kelley (founder of the Kelley Blue Book) L: Gene Autry (actor) Y: Hugh Hefner (founder of Playboy) W: Andy Williams (singer) O: Alice Cooper (singer), who donated in memory of comedian Groucho Marx O: Warner Bros. Records D: Dennis Lidtke (businessman), donated in the name of Matthew Williams
I won't recount the full history of the sign here, but I do recommend reading The Saga of the Sign online (or downloading the PDF), as with most things Hollywood-related, it has a pretty colorful history, both real and imagined.
There are a few different trails that lead to the sign, and a few noted viewpoints for the best pictures. I hiked up the Brush Canyon Trail and took a couple of detours to get picture from these spots along the way.
The first one was on the Hollyridge Trail that was just above Sunset Ranch, a horse ranch that offers trail rides (I saw 4 or 5 riders returning to the ranch while I was taking pictures) Supposedly you can exit the trail here, but there are parking and access restrictions in the neighborhood below and around the Ranch.
The second, and in my opinion better spot was the Tyrolean Tank Viewpoint, it's along a paved road, Mount Lee Drive, and you follow the road around a big water tank on the hillside to get a very good view of the sign from below. This spot is also just above the "Last House on Mulholland" another good vantage point.
Of course, if you want the behind the sign shot, you need to continue up to the Mount Lee summit, and yes, this was a Peakbagger Summit. Yay!
Mount Lee was named after California entrepreneur Don Lee, a car salesman and radio station owner who was the first of three Los Angeles television pioneers. Lee purchased 20-acres of mountaintop land in Griffith Park near Cahuenga and Burbank peaks (more on those peaks below) where he built a transmission tower to broadcast his station under call sign W6XAO. He died a few years after beginning his television endeavor, but his station lives on as the present-day KCBS-TV and the peak still bears his name.
The Television transmission towers eventually moved to a higher elevation for broader reach (Mt. Wilson) and the Lee tower ceased all TV broadcasting in 1951. It is, however, one of two permanent survey markers on the Mount Lee summit.
There are two survey marks on Mount Lee that are assigned a Permanent ID (PID) in the National Geodetic Survey database, one is an inactive CORS station (Continuously Operating Reference Station) and the other is the old television transmission tower, now referred to as the Hollywood Civil Defense Radar Tower.
According to the National Geodetic Survey, the NOAA Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS) Network (NCN), managed by NOAA/National Geodetic Survey, provide Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) data, supporting three-dimensional positioning, meteorology, space weather, and geophysical applications throughout the United States. The CORS network is a multi-purpose, multi-agency cooperative endeavor, combining the efforts of hundreds of government, academic, and private organizations. The stations are independently owned and operated.
The Mount Lee CORS station was part of the SOPAC or Scripps Orbit and Permanent Array Center when it was active.
Peakbagging and the Pandemic
My plan for the day had included three peaks, Mount Lee, Cahuenga Peak, and Burbank Peak. Cahuenga and Burbank were just a little further down the Aileen Getty Ridge Trail and boasted a few more cool survey discs to recover. Burbank Peak is also the site of the Wisdom Tree, a lone tree that stands sentinel above Los Angeles, supposedly the only one to survive in that area after the devastating wildfire of 2007 that burned over 800 acres of Griffith Park.
I was more than a little bummed when I reached the turnoff for the Aileen Getty Ridge Trail only to find the area closed. I hadn't looked at the Park's website prior to heading out, so I imagined the closure was related to recent rains and that the trail was considered unsafe (it's a short, but epic .3-mile hike from Mount Lee to Cahuenga Peak)
From Cahuenga Peak (pictured below) the trail continues on another .4-mile to Burbank Peak. Upon checking the Griffith Park website when I got home, these, and a few other trails, were closed due to the Pandemic. It makes sense, they are challenging single-track without many places to step off the trail to allow safe passage of other hikers. I've put it on my list of places to revisit when they reopen.
Another installation at this entrance to the Aileen Getty Ridge Trail is a commemorative plaque recognizing the people and agencies that were instrumental in saving Cahuenga Peak from becoming yet another site of 'Mansions for the Rich and Famous'. It's a pretty impressive list, and pretty cool that Hugh Hefner was as active in saving this peak as he was in saving the Hollywood Sign.
Relive® 3D Video of Today's Summit
It ended up being a pretty full day, but one thing's for sure, I'll definitely be back to Griffith Park to explore more trails and peaks!