The famed Hollywood sign isn't the only message looming high in the Hollywood Hills. For decades, the 50-foot-high letters have been defaced by graffiti scrawled by a steady onslaught of lovers, gang members and adventurers.
But the sign will soon return to its once-unblemished state with the help of a Los Angeles firm that manufactures an anti-graffiti chemical coating. Stuart Haines, president of Textured Coatings of America Inc., said his company will donate its services, repainting the sign and then applying a layer of its graffiti shield.
"What we hope to do is discourage the graffiti artists from climbing up on the letters," Haines said. "If they know that their artwork won't last very long, maybe they'll all give up and leave the sign alone."
Ways of protecting the corrugated-metal and steel-beam landmark have been sought for years. Bill Welsh, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which maintains the sign, has wanted to enclose the sign inside a high fence topped with razor-sharp concertina wire.
"One of these days someone's going to fall off and then the lawsuits are going to start," Welsh said. "That's what I'd like to prevent."
City park rangers said the climbers are usually intent on leaving their names and messages for posterity. "Seems like everyone wants to leave their mark," said one Griffith Park ranger. "We get lovers, gang members, car clubs, colleges, fraternities. A lot of them have a drink or two before they start climbing up the letters, so they can feel extra brave."
After a repainting--the most recent was just before the Olympics--the graffiti often appears first on the rear of the sign, the ranger said. "I don't think they want to ruin the sign," he said. "But when they run out of space on the back, they start to work on the front part."
The ranger said park officials and Los Angeles police respond frequently to complaints from Hollywood Hills homeowners angered by the sign climbers. "We must get a half-dozen calls a month," the ranger said. "Then we've got to go up there and haul these people back down."
On Jan. 1, neighbors near the sign awoke to find the letters shrouded in bed sheets so that the letters appeared to read "RAFFEYSOD." Several days later, members of a New Orleans rock group known as the Raffeys owned up to the stunt, saying they were trying to land club dates and a recording concert.
Welsh filed a vandalism complaint against the group, but said that since then, police investigators from the Hollywood Division "haven't been able to find them."
In the past, as Welsh has feared, several climbers have fallen while scaling the Hollywood sign, occasionally requiring medical attention. But most climb up, leave their names and messages and then disappear.
Despite its concern, the chamber has never been able to raise enough money to protect the sign. "We've always had to depend on people's donations," Welsh said.
During the Olympics, the situation came to attention of Haines, who had applied his chemical invention, Tex-Cote Graffiti Gard, to Olympic murals and the statue at the entrance to the Coliseum.
"I heard the chamber didn't have any funds, so I thought we could help," Haines said. "I was born here and the sign's always been a part of the Los Angeles I love."
Haines estimated that the work, which will cost his firm about $25,000, would be finished in a week. A work crew will set up scaffolding around the sign--near the summit of Mt. Lee--and repaint the letters one by one. Then each letter will be covered with the firm's polyurethane-based coating.
"It's an invisible shield," Haines said. "When the sign gets graffiti on it, all the park rangers will have to do is apply an anti-graffiti cleanser we make and wash it all off with a high-pressure hose."
Haines said the anti-graffiti coating should last for "at least 10 years, maybe more." His firm will provide enough anti-graffiti cleanser to last for a year, and will then decide whether to continue donating the cleanser or sell it to the city.