The Untold Story Behind the Biggest Cover-Up in Hollywood's History

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The first hurdle was the sheer size of the Hollywood sign itself. Each letter in the sign is 45 feet tall, and anywhere from 31 to 39 feet wide -- similar in surface area to 9 five-story buildings standing side-by-side. While SignQuest had significant experience in creating and installing "wraps" for large vehicles and buildings, they'd certainly never undertaken a project of this magnitude.

L.A.-based companies SignQuest and TheWallSticker provided the ingenuity and manpower needed to completely transform the famous Hollywood sign into an awareness-generating tool for the “Save The Peak” campaign. (Photo: www.TheWallSticker.com)

This unprecedented transformation was designed to draw attention to fund-raising efforts by conservation group 'The Trust for Public Land' to preserve the mountaintop land adjacent to the Hollywood sign from private development.

For generations, millions of Los Angeles residents and visitors have gazed up into the Hollywood Hills at one of the world's most prominent icons -- the famous Hollywood sign. But on Saturday, February 13, all that suddenly changed.

That's because February 13 was the day that crews from local companies SignQuest and TheWallSticker completed a task that had never been legally attempted before -- they completely shrouded the mammoth Hollywood sign with custom-made vinyl mesh coverings emblazoned with bold red letters reading, "SAVE THE PEAK."

This unprecedented transformation was designed to draw attention to fund-raising efforts by conservation group "The Trust for Public Land" to preserve the mountaintop land adjacent to the Hollywood sign from private development.

The story of how The Trust for Public Land secured an option to purchase this prime property at a fraction of its market value is told on their website: http://www.savehollywoodland.org. But the untold story -- how a pair of energetic young L.A. companies defied the odds to successfully produce and install the sign coverings -- is an equally impressive account of American ingenuity.

Creating the ultimate "made you look!"

After The Trust for Public Land acquired the option to purchase the land in April of 2009, they immediately set out to raise money to fund the purchase. To increase the public visibility of their efforts, they decided to seek permission to temporarily cover the Hollywood sign with a promotional message. Finally, after more than six months of applications, engineering studies, and negotiations with various authorities, permission was granted to proceed with the project.

To perform this important, large-scale project, The Trust for Public Land had originally opened negotiations with one of America's most sizable large-format sign production companies. However, after assessing the extreme risk involved with installing the cover-up, this vendor declined the project, prompting the Trust to seek out another vendor with the means and experience to meet the tight deadline and physical demands of the job.

At this point, the Trust was referred to SignQuest (http://www.signquest.com), an L.A.-area sign company owned by Ramy Baramily and Hakop Zhamkochyan. Recognizing the unusual potential for notoriety inherent in the successful completion of a high-profile project of this nature, Baramily and Zhamkochyan eagerly accepted the challenge. To facilitate the job, they brought in Paul Novoa and Ali Moradi of TheWallSticker (http://www.thewallsticker.com), a company with close professional ties to SignQuest. Together this team set out on an odyssey that was destined to stretch their collective skills, capabilities, and courage in ways they could never have imagined.

Every huge project comes with some huge challenges.

The first hurdle was the sheer size of the Hollywood sign itself. Each letter in the sign is 45 feet tall, and anywhere from 31 to 39 feet wide -- similar in surface area to 9 five-story buildings standing side-by-side. While SignQuest had significant experience in creating and installing "wraps" for large vehicles and buildings, they'd certainly never undertaken a project of this magnitude.

To begin the project, special vinyl mesh materials had to be ordered, but not before samples were approved by City engineers, who were understandably concerned about the "windload factor" that could be caused by mountain breezes catching the sign wraps like wind filling a sail. The engineers were particularly worried about the additional stress that windblown vinyl panels could place on the sign's aging 32-year-old concrete foundations.

Once the vinyl mesh material was obtained, Baramily and company needed to print the red letters onto the substrate. But because of the letters' enormous size, it was decided to print only the outlines of the letters using the firm's giant printer and plotters, subsequently filling in the body of the letters by hand with special paint. Naturally, SignQuest didn't have available working space to stretch out 9 vinyl panels each measuring 50 feet by 40 feet -- a total surface area exceeding that of a football field. So the panels were moved outdoors to be painted -- until it started raining.

Hastily locating a large vacant building, Baramily, Novoa, Moradi and crew finally completed the task of painting the letters on the huge vinyl panels. Next came the finishing operations of sewing, hemming, welding and grommeting the panels to prepare them for installation. The finished sign panels were then bundled for transfer to their famous destination.

In this case, the road to success was a rugged trail.

The job site itself presented numerous challenges. To begin with, there's no road directly to the Hollywood sign. So all the necessary tools, ladders, and materials -- including the bundled sign panels, which weighed as much as 200 lbs. per bundle -- had to be transported via a restricted-access service road to the peak above the sign, then hand-carried down steep hills along a rugged, rocky trail to reach the sign.

Plus, the fact that there's no road access meant it was impossible to position a crane to assist with lifting, positioning, and holding the vinyl panels in place for installation. Instead, the entire project would need to depend on raw manpower. And, despite threatening weather conditions, the job had to be finished in two days. And work was only allowed during daylight hours, leaving zero margin for error.

So Baramily, Zhamkochyan, Novoa, and Moradi and their crew started the arduous process of dragging heavy vinyl panels up service ladders and unfurling them over each of the legendary Hollywood letters. Their task was further complicated by strict instructions that the sign itself was not to be impacted in any way -- no holes, no nails, no screws. The crew methodically and carefully affixed the vinyl panels using special framing techniques and oversized nylon wire ties.

Up there on 'the sign,' you feel like you're on top of the world.

Each crew member recounts the exhilaration they experienced clinging to the top of a national landmark, 50 feet off the ground, perched high above the City of Los Angeles on the edge of a cliff. As they worked, the breeze gently moved the sign beneath them -- a sensation that was more than a little intimidating at first.

"It's hard to describe. You're hanging on to this giant steel structure, 5 stories off the ground, looking a thousand feet down a cliff," Ali Moradi explained. "Meanwhile, the wind is moving the sign back and forth, there are news helicopters buzzing the peak, and you're trying to fasten down a humongous vinyl panel with wire ties...all while being extremely careful not to damage the sign or fall to your death. It was a totally amazing experience!"

Ramy Baramily, owner of SignQuest, noted, "I always knew the Hollywood sign was big, but until you get right up next to it, you really can't get an appreciation for how truly gigantic it is! But we enjoy a big challenge, so this was a perfect job for us. I'm really pleased that we've had this chance to be a part of something so significant. It's a good feeling to be involved in preserving such a highly-visible part of the culture of Los Angeles."

At last, on Saturday, February 13, the workers finished securing the last of the nine vinyl panels, and the city below beheld the message, "SAVE THE PEAK" where the Hollywood sign had been days before. It marked the first time, and quite possibly the last, that the legendary sign has been completely covered since its initial installation in 1923.

One of history's most high-profile cover-ups.

Meanwhile, the efforts of SignQuest and TheWallSticker had already started paying off. Network news organizations carried stories about the sign transformation, sending the "SAVE THE PEAK" message around the world. Almost immediately, traffic spiked at "savehollywoodland.org," the special website launched by The Trust for Public Land to disseminate information about the fundraising effort and accept donations. In addition, within a few days, over 6,000 people had joined a special Facebook page set up to support the project.

Jay Dean, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer for The Trust for Public Land, stated, "These guys are heroes! I sincerely doubt that this project would have happened without them. They were totally dedicated to getting this done. Whenever an obstacle came up -- and there were many -- they just kicked it out of the way. They did awesome work for us."

On Tuesday, February 16, SignQuest and TheWallSticker took down the SAVE THE PEAK sign panels, revealing the iconic Hollywood sign once again. Their work had helped initiate the flow of private funding to preserve the scenic backdrop that has become part of the unmistakable image of the Hollywood sign. And the fundraising goes on -- The Trust for Public Land has until April 14, 2010 to raise a total of $12.5 million.

Paul Novoa of TheWallSticker summarized the team's view of the project, "This was more than a job to us...we really believe in the cause, and we feel honored to have contributed to the preservation of a national landmark. It's something none of us will ever forget."

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Ramy Baramily, co-owner

Paul Novos & Ali Moradi, co-owners
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