Picture perfect - Issue 171 - Magazine | Monocle
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The Hollywood Sign Trust’s mission is to keep Los Angeles’s legendary letters looking their best. “One of the hardest messages to convey to people is that this is a restricted area,” says Jeff Zarrinnam, chairman of the trust. 

The Hollywood sign is perhaps the most conspicuous yet least-accessible landmark in the world. It is monitored 24 hours a day by motion sensors, high-definition cameras and the Los Angeles Police Department, which keeps watch from a TV tower on the hilltop. The public is only allowed to view the letters from nearby trails, though some people still try to scramble up the hill to reach them.

After unlocking a gate at the summit of Mount Lee, Zarrinnam hands us a rope and we shimmy down the hillside to the more than 13-metre-high, corrugated-iron letters. A disembodied voice comes from a nearby loudspeaker. “This is the lapd. You are hiking in a restricted area. You must leave, now.” “A misunderstanding,” says Zarrinnam, before a quick call is put in to reassure the cops. “But it shows that the system is working.”

The original sign was erected in 1923 to advertise a new residential community called Hollywoodland. The last part was removed when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce purchased the sign in 1949. “It went from being a real-estate billboard to a representation of the film industry,” says Zarrinnam. 

The sign has always attracted drama, from the struggling actress who hurled herself from the “H” in 1932 to the vandals who draped it in fabric and changed it to read “Hollyweed” (twice). By the 1970s, however, the wooden structure had dilapidated and illustrious locals stepped in to raise money for the metal letters. In 2023, to celebrate the sign’s 100th anniversary, the trust partnered with a land surveyor to digitally map the letters so that they could be reproduced in case of damage. Dana Pesce, the newest trustee, heads up Netflix’s global real estate and strategic planning and can see the sign from her office. “It’s a reminder of our mission,” she says. “Hollywood is about inspiring the world.”


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Middle-right:

Jeff Zarrinnam
Chairman of the Hollywood Sign Trust
Born in Hollywood, Zarrinnam is the owner of two hotels and a distillery. He spent almost 40 years as a member of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce before heading up the trust in 2019. For him the sign is a symbol of enduring power, esepcially after the 2023 Hollywood actors’ strikes. “This city is known for reinventing itself,” he says. “Hollywood will figure it out.” Here, he tells us about the trust’s volunteer team.


From left to right:

1. Ed Tom
New trustee
“Was operations director for the Hollywood Bowl for 40 years. He has a wide range of expertise, including in traffic control.”

2. Darnell Tyler
Trustee
“An NBC executive engaged with many communities nearby the sign.”

3. Jerry Neuman
Trustee and treasurer
“A lawyer and our liaison with the Chamber of Commerce. We can ask him for legal advice without paying for it.”

4. Brian Lane
Secretary
“Lives in Hollywoodland. As an architect, he has great knowledge of topography and seismology.” 

5. Dana Pesce
New trustee
“Joined the trust recently. We’ll call on her to help as we hope to create a visitors centre for the sign.”

6. Marty Shelton
Vice-chairman
“A real estate broker and a great asset to the trust because he knows how this city works.”

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