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Arts & Life


'History Detectives' Investigates Hollywood Sign

History Detectives History Lesson

“For me, the real thrill is meeting other people that have this passion about the past and giving them a chance, for just a few moments, to share that passion with the rest of America,” says Eduardo Pagán, professor of history and American Studies at Arizona State University and part of the team of sleuths on History Detectives, which is about to celebrate its tenth season and 100th episode.

Pagán was here at OPB’s most recent Open House talking with local fans and sharing more stories about his experience with the long-running television series, which is co-produced by OPB and Lion Television. Pagán and the rest of the History Detectives hosts use investigative techniques, modern technologies and plenty of plain old-fashioned legwork to find out if objects submitted by viewers may have played a starring role in history.

And this season, one of Pagán’s favorite mysteries involves the iconic Hollywood sign. Pagán helped a viewer learn whether or not he had found a piece of the original Hollywood sign while hiking with his kids in the 1970s.

Although many people associate the Hollywood sign with the glitz and glamor of the movie industry, during his investigation Pagán learned that the sign predates the rise of American film and television. In fact, the sign originally advertised the development of a new housing subdivision in Los Angeles called “Hollywoodland.”


Celebrating 10 Seasons

  • New Season starts on July 17 at 9 pm on OPB TV
  • Hollywood Sign episode airs on July 24 at 9 pm on OPB TV

“The land is actually Mount Lee, which we refer to as the Hollywood Hills. The land in that area was being developed in the 1920s and one of the marketing campaigns was just to put a sign up,” says Pagán.

For the filming of the Hollywood episode, Pagán was escorted down the steep hills where the sign is situated, accompanied by the head of the Hollywood Sign Trust, Chris Baumgart.

Citing the sign’s need for constant and costly repairs, the city of Hollywood wanted to tear the sign down in 1949.

“But by this time, the sign [had] become ‘something.’ [It had] become a landmark,” explains Pagán. “After the city’s chamber of commerce recognized the status the sign had achieved, they decided to keep the sign… By 1949, the film industry itself becomes firmly entrenched as a part of the economy itself and the city transformed significantly.”

Efforts to maintain the sign continued until 1978 when it had fallen deeply into disrepair. The fate of the sign was uncertain until a number of notable Hollywood celebrities took it upon themselves to invest in its future. Led by Playboy Magazine mogul Hugh Hefner and shock rocker Alice Cooper, the effort to find sponsors garnered huge support. Eventually each of the letters that make up the sign was adopted by celebrities and private citizens.  

To learn more about Eduardo Pagán’s investigation of the Hollywood sign — and to find out if our viewer does have a piece of the original sign — tune in to OPB TV on July 24 at 9 pm.



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