As the sun set over Los Angeles today, millions of local residents looked to the north and wondered, "Who's Sally?"
The nine letters marking the world's most famous neighborhood--and possibly one of the planet's most effective billboards--had been planned to be altered to read SAVE THE PEAK. But a late start, light breeze and difficulties working with a delicate historic monument proved slow going for the team, who had to work entirely by hand securing 45-foot mesh fabric banners along the backs of the letters. By 5:00 only the S and the A had been covered. Tonight, it would be a Sallywood Night.
The sign's transformation hoped to draw attention to the fact that the peak nearby--some 138 acres seen to the left of the then-Sollywood sign here--needs to be purchased from developer Fox River Financial Resources to prevent a hypothetical four mansions from being built along the ridge. A movement was launched by the Trust for Public Land named Save Cahuenga Peak  and has already raised $6.3 million dollars from celebrities (Tiffany & Co. chipped in another million in time for the press conference today). The campaign needs to double that amount by April 14 in order for the sale to go through.
Although he can't be blamed for the disconnect between launching a campaign to protect the view of the Hollywood sign and transforming it into an eyesore for a few days, the creative execution for the piece fell on Ramy Baramily from Signquest . His company got the call a few weeks ago to start designing the banners, and only received official permission to install them yesterday. Standing on a hill below the sign as the first banner began to be hoisted up over the H, I asked him if they considered using the Hollywood sign typeface (they did) and why they chose red (it's what the city wanted). I then asked him how they planned to solve a looming logistical problem: SAVE THE PEAK has two more characters than HOLLYWOOD. "You're the first person to ask me that," he said, amazed. The "THE" will be squeezed onto the space of the Y, he told me. I think we're about to witness a typographic disaster of landmark proportions.
Not to mention a sustainability one: thousands of yards of mesh fabric, used for five days, and at a cost of "in the high five figures" (although the Trust for Public Land says it was all donated). Baramily didn't have plans to recycle the fabric, but instead, said it would all go back to the city. One can only hope the mesh fabric can be sewn into tote bags and sold for more SAVE THE PEAK cash.
The irony in all this--besides the fact that Sally's Beauty Supply got a lovely boost of free advertising today--is that the sign itself once advertised another real estate development: Hollywoodland. (In 1943 , the "LAND" was subsequently removed to reflect the name of the entire neighborhood, not just the subdivision.) Starting in 1923, the entire peak was in fact once divided up into tracts for homeowners to purchase. But the investment by former Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler didn't fare too well after the Depression, and that's the reason most of the land remains wilderness today. (See, economic downturns can be good!)
The undeveloped land near the sign was eventually purchased by Howard Hughes, whose palatial Lago Vista home you can see here, in the Sallywood Hills (it was later owned by Madonna). The Cahuenga Peak land was purchased from Hughes' estate by Chicago-based Fox River in 2002, and all public use of the hiking trails, which thread into Griffith Park, the largest urban park in the country at 4,200 acres, as well as nearby Lake Hollywood, ceased immediately.
But this idyllic view has been in danger before. Back in 1978, the sign itself had become pitted and decayed and the "O" was long gone, looking more like "HUILYWC D ." Then, like now, Hollywood itself rallied to protect its iconic label. Celebrities like Hugh Hefner, Alice Cooper and Gene Autry pitched in that time around. There was an auction at the Playboy Mansion : Alice Cooper bought an O! Now that's creative. So why didn't we take this opportunity to tap a local artist or designer to highlight the true value of the peak in question--the fact that it's not covered in bad advertising! Sussman/Prejza, the designers behind the 1984 Olympics--who designed the stunning, glittery characters at the newly-opened W Hollywood --could have wowed us with some temporary signage installation that was beautiful and readable from more than a few miles away.
Or how about this? Since its lights were removed in 1943, the sign has only been lit on special occasions like the turn of the millennium. We could have simply turned on the Hollywood sign's lights for a few nights--wind or solar-powered, of course--to bring awe and attention to this part of the city. An environmentally-conscious event for all of L.A. to enjoy.
Danny Finegood had a message he wanted to get out to the city when he altered the sign on July 1, 1976. It was the day that relaxed marijuana laws went into effect in California, and he wanted everyone in L.A. to know it. He considered changing the sign to read HOLLYWEED his lifetime achievement, according to High Times . And he should have been proud. It was a powerful message, simple, beautifully executed, and there was no doubt to anyone within viewing distance what it meant. Besides, if they had hired someone like Finegood to do it, the sign would have been finished by morning.
Like a painful 36-hour game of Wheel of Fortune, the Hollywood sign reluctantly revealed its new message over the sunny Presidents' Day weekend, while coining other important phrases like SAVE THE POOD and SAVE THE PEOK along the way. We can only guess what new fun sayings will be revealed as the letters come down (we're pulling for HOLLYWEAK). That's scheduled to begin tomorrow. You can watch the progress on the Web cam at HollywoodSign.org 
SAVE THE PEAK still means very little to the city's open space movement, but now SALLYWOOD and SAVE THE POOD will go down in history as Hollywood's great missed opportunity to do something truly positive for preservation. At this point, they might as well change it to SORRYWOOD.
[Additional photos, HollywoodSign.org ]
[Save Cahuenga Peak ]