America closes doors to architectural expression

A look at how the trend evolved

Suppose a developer wanted to advertise the name of his/her subdivision by building a sign 500 feet long on a prominent hillside that was visible for miles. Suppose each letter was going to be 50 feet high and built out of telephone poles, pipes and sheet metal. And suppose the whole thing was going to be lit up by 10,000 or so unshaded 40-watt bulbs, so it couldn't be overlooked even at night. A design review board's nightmare? Not really. In 1923, a pair of developers named S.H. Woodruff and Tracy Shoults proposed -- and built -- just such a sign in a sleepy hamlet near Los Angeles. It advertised their 500-acre housing development, which was called Hollywoodland. In 1949, the sign's last four letters were removed by the local chamber of commerce, leaving a landmark now famed the world over: the giant hillside sign reading HOLLYWOOD. The point is that our ideas of what's aesthetically right or wrong can change drastically over time. During the 1920s, no one gave a second thought to o...