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Hollywood Sign Gets New Look--Briefly : Landmark: Artists' predawn OIL WAR effort is yanked down before sun's first rays. Officials say they are not amused by the prank.

September 22, 1990|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's a sign that the community is still just as HOLLY WEIRD as ever.

Ten self-proclaimed artists who stealthily crept to the HOLLYWOOD sign before dawn Friday to protest the continuing crisis in the Middle East slipped away after delivering a message that almost no one saw.

They no sooner had draped black plastic sheeting over the 400-foot-long letters to make them spell out OIL WAR and then hiked to the bottom of the hill to admire their handiwork when Los Angeles officials delivered a message to them.

It's HOLLY WRONG to tamper with a city landmark, said park rangers and police who rushed from the top of Mt. Lee to yank down the plastic covering before sunrise--and before nearly anyone except Park Ranger Matt Perez on patrol could notice it.

The hillside skirmish was the latest in an escalating war between pranksters and officials over the 68-year-old sign, which in recent years has been changed to read HOLLY WEED in celebration of a new marijuana law, HOLY WOOD (twice) in honor of Easter and visiting Pope John Paul II, OLLY WOOD for Iran-Contra's Oliver L. North, CALTECH for the school, GO NAVY for a football game, JOLLY WOOD for an airline, FOX for the television network and RAFFEYSOD for an obscure rock band.

In the past, the altered sign has been left in place long enough to be seen and snickered at by passersby.

But this time unamused officials were downright HOLLY RUDE , according to the leader of the band that spent several hours draping plastic sheeting over the 50-foot-tall letters during their ill-fated raid.

"This was supposed to be something that would bring a question to people's minds as to whether or not it's really worth it to fight a battle to maintain inexpensive gasoline in the United States," said Danny Finegood, who organized Friday's sign-altering attack.

The sign is easy to tamper with because its nine letters are enough to spell out plenty of other words, said Finegood, 36, a furniture maker who lives in Los Feliz.

Griffith Park Chief Ranger Hector Hernandez said late Friday he would like to spell an end to what he sees as vandalism. He said intruders have to trespass on posted property to reach the sign; those climbing up the steep hillside risk falling and hurting themselves.

Park employees sent to clean up the sign must climb onto the giant letters, Hernandez said. "I don't think it's funny for my men to risk their lives for what is supposed to be a joke," he said.

Shel Jensen, assistant general manager of the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, said the city plans to fight back by installing a fence, a burglar alarm and television surveillance cameras around the sign. Among his many complaints, Jensen said, is that the occasional pranks draw unwanted sightseers into the neighborhood.

Funding for the extensive security plan will come from a trust fund organized by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The account is financed by fees paid by movie studios to film the famous sign and companies using it in advertising and on souvenir items, said chamber President Larry Kaplan.

The total now ranges somewhere between $177,000 and $277,000--although the exact amount will be determined by state auditors called in to mediate a dispute over the cash, Kaplan said.

In the meantime, the landmark sign looms like a beacon to Finegood and his friends, who claim responsibility for HOLLY WEED , one of the two HOLY WOODs and OLLY WOOD.

Hollywood hasn't seen its last HOLLY RUSE , Finegood said. "We have more ideas. We'll be back. I suggest people keep their eye on the sign."

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