It’s been painful to watch old Hollywood decay, as talentless opportunists descend in droves, replacing a rich heritage with plastic “reality,” plastering their factory-finished likenesses over the antique architecture, hawking their products and forcing their parts in our faces at every intersection, where each night more illegal billboards sprout like weeds.
The stunning irony of the billboard blight in Hollywood is that in the shadow of this unregulated expansion of artless visual noise, we are about to lose our most famous sign of all. In two weeks, Cahuenga Peak, the land on which the Hollywood sign rests, is poised to turn over for private development, scarring the iconic landscape, despoiling a rare ecosystem, and denying public access to land which by all rights should belong not just to native Angelenos like myself, but to anyone in the world who has ever dreamed of walking the Avenue of Stars and perhaps even seeing their own name in lights.
The argument for allowing development on the peak, as for the unregulated erection of advertising billboards throughout the city, is that people won’t know any better; that it’s already part of the landscape and that adding more will not make a difference. Which people are we talking about? And how do eleven identical signs in a row advertising weight loss surgery in any way enhance a landscape?
If I could only understand what Hollywood means to those who make the pilgrimage here, I might understand how they could not care that what they have come to see is not what they find at all. America, please understand that our own history is suffocating under plastic sheeting, as greedy politicians and property owners sell out our uniquely majestic landscape, turning it into ads for cell phones, toilet paper, and athletic shoes. Is that really what people come here for?
I will confess, I took the sign for granted throughout much of my early life, like I did most of my surroundings. Does a fish in the ocean know it is wet? It was just there. I never really thought about it until I was in college, when a friend took me hiking up in the hills. First we wandered around the walled perimeter of an old Spanish mansion that had been painted in bright orange and red stripes. I found out that it belonged to Madonna, and furthermore that she had really pissed off the neighbors by painting the historic home in such a garish fashion. Leaving the circus behind, we moved out into the brush near the famous sign. Sitting there in silence above the city, I felt a great sense of serenity and was happy to be home.
After that, I always felt affectionate towards the sign. Now each time I catch a glimpse of it, I feel tickled that people come from all over the world just to look at it, and I ponder the meaning of living under such a sign. It hovers over the city like a promise. It would be sad to lose such a hopeful symbol, framed in its island of green – a last remnant of this land’s true ancestry – to yet another housing tract.
While I am terribly unhappy with the way our local politicians have handled this town, which should really be protected as a historical site and one of our country’s most valuable resources, I am grateful that they at least did not fall into a trap laid by the makers of the reviled supergraphic. In a completely transparent bid to claim that iconic space, the graphics company offered to buy off the land, promising not to develop on it, in exchange for having charges dropped against them for uglifying the city with their illegal activities (I can just see the fine print in THAT agreement). I am proud of our city council for not falling for it.
However, I am very disappointed in the city’s other, more prominent elite, the actors and filmmakers who have made their fortunes riding on the coattails of the legends who gave this town its glamorous reputation, in the days when talent preceded fame. I suspect that the group with the most disposable income is in fact the least likely to contribute to the preservation fund because they are the ones standing in line waiting to be the first to snap up that property. Only a scant handful of respectable actors who clearly understand the weight of the situation, most notably Dame Elizabeth Taylor, have stepped up to help preserve the hallowed landmark. Kids, you can’t take more than your fair share. If you have recently made $17,000,000 at the box office selling chips and soda in between fart jokes, you more than anyone, should be concerned with preserving what is left of this city’s iconic vista, for without it, you’d be just another hayseed without a place to go to make a living showing off your titties or your ability to burp on cue.
I have found myself, on more than one occasion, with a cocktail in my hand and two in my belly, standing on the balcony of some swanky house, overlooking a row of equally swanky houses, all perched sexily in precarious rows along the steep hillside. At such times, it never fails that the same thought comes to mind: I am looking at great scabs, waiting to be shed at the slightest tremor. To ourselves we ascribe great importance, but from a great distance, we are just some kind of mite or louse burrowing into the Earth’s very skin, poor mangy beast she’s become. What makes us more than mere parasites? Shall we manage ourselves, or wait for some greater force to put us in check?
To learn more about how you can help save Cahuenga Peak, please visit http://www.savehollywoodland.org/