Hidden Hollywood sign uncovers history

Article sourced from the February 17, 2008 edition of the Los Angeles Times

There’s the Hollywood sign everyone knows — white letters 50 feet high, recognized the world over as the landmark of Tinseltown.

And then there’s the other Hollywood sign, the hidden one, whose red neon letters were once as familiar as the larger sign just across the canyon.

The sign that read “Outpost” in neon letters 30 feet high was, like the original “Hollywoodland” sign, raised to publicize a new housing development, Hillside Homes of Happiness.

It went up on the hilly terrain above Hollywood Boulevard’s Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in the late 1920s, designed to outshine the “Hollywoodland” competition. But by the beginning of World War II, it had vanished from sight and memory — until the winter of 2002.

That’s when Outpost Estates residents and Runyon Canyon hikers Bob Eicholz and Steve Scott discovered the twisted wreckage of the rust-scarred steel letters and girders, covered by overgrown brush, and recognized it for what it was.

It was like archaeology come to life.

“We walked past the pile of steel every weekend, and all of a sudden a light bulb went off in my head,” Eicholz said in a recent interview. “I had heard of the Outpost sign, which according to folklore was one of the biggest neon signs in the world, and finally put two and two together, feeling like we had uncovered a secret.”

Some residents tried to find out whether the sign could qualify as a city historical-cultural monument but learned it wasn’t eligible because it was no longer standing. So it lies where Eicholz and Scott found it.

Outpost Estates is a pristine hillside community of roughly 450 homes. There were buildings on the land as far back as 1853, when Don Tomas Urquidez built Hollywood’s first adobe

“His house was smack dab in the middle of a sycamore grove near what is now Outpost Drive and Hillside Avenue,” Scott said.

Urquidez’s three-room adobe and the land, a former Indian burial ground, was the original birthplace of Hollywood as a performers’ town, where, more than 130 years ago, locals annually staged Los Pastores, or The Shepherds, a Mexican Nativity play. One of the now long-gone sycamore trees played a role in history here, too — from its branches, at least 13 alleged horse thieves and bandits were hanged in acts of rough justice, according to Times archives.

Like many Spanish and Mexican landowners here, Urquidez failed to record his property title, and the land passed through a succession of owners. In the late 19th century, Gen. Harrison Gray Otis, a veteran of the Civil and Spanish-American wars and the first publisher of the Los Angeles Times, bought the otherwise undeveloped property and referred to the adobe as his retreat — the Outpost. The Times building he called his Fortress, his staff the Phalanx, and his Wilshire Boulevard home the Bivouac. He soon built a more modern vacation home and clubhouse near the adobe as a retreat for his military friends and nature lovers. Los Angeles Arbor Day festivals and picnics for newsboys were held on the site.

Read the full article at the Los Angeles Times