WEST HOLLYWOOD LAND
How many of you remember the vintage and long gone West Hollywood Sign? I recently wrote a love letter of sorts to the City of West Hollywood which is centered around that old sign. The story has been published in the latest issue of The Fight Magazine for Pride, so like check it out.
Oh yeah, thanks to Richard E. Settle for donating his image to this article. There would have been no article without the image, so I’m forever grateful.
How the vintage West Hollywood sign (no longer in existence) became a symbol of hope for one gay boy.
BY PAULO MURILLO
I will never forget that old West Hollywood Sign, perched on a small hill in the center of WeHo, with white letters, mocking the original Hollywood symbol.
The year was 1986. Madonna went platinum blonde, Prince could do no wrong, and bands like Genesis sold records; we had Dynasty, Fame, and Remington Steel. And of course, AIDS was winning in those days. I was in the midst of puberty. A sudden growth spurt made me clumsy and painfully awkward in my newly developed twink boy body. I knew I was different in the gay sense and I also knew there were others like me, but I had no idea a city like West Hollywood existed–especially back then when the city of WeHo was 100% grade-A, gay!
It was the year I first became aware of Santa Monica Blvd. I was sitting on the passenger’s side of my stepfather’s Ford truck. We pierced into the heart of Boystown and I felt an immediate quiver in my liver, because I knew this was a sissy town for funny folks who kinda/sorta felt like me.
I remember the rainbow flags and pink triangles, but I mostly recall the cluster of men promenading up and down the street. They were predominantly white men, but a lot of them had orange tanned skin with teased bleach-blond bangs. Some guys were shirtless and reeked of forbidden sex. Some wore hideous getups like tight mesh tank tops with short shorts or tie-dyed Genie pants. I instantly identified.
My step-dad would look around with disapproval and mutter under his breath, “Joto Landia,” which is Spanish for Faggot Land – his term of endearment for this gay neighborhood. I didn’t know right from left in those days. I was just a gay kid breaking child labor laws by helping my father do his gardening route and mowing lawns all over Beverly Hills and in certain parts of WeHo (I’m the real deal). My neck practically did a 360/180 trying to see what I could see on the legendary Boulevard of Broken Queens.
My only association to this free gay lifestyle was that West Hollywood Sign. I would see that sign and then I would see gay men – period. The sign became a symbol of hope for me. Whenever my mother tried to beat the gay out of me, I would think about that sign and fantasize about running away to this almost magical place where it was safe to be gay and guys were free to fry their hair and be all the things that grownups didn’t want me to be.
Then one day-horror of all horrors – my step-dad sensed a change in me when we drove past that sign. We were at the stoplight right in front of the Sports Connection gym, which is where the 24-Hour Fitness now stands. A guy crossing the street caught me looking at him, so he blew me a kiss. I felt a shocking Technicolor blush slap me on the face. My father didn’t say anything, but you best believe I got in trouble that night when he told my mom that maricones (look it up) were blowing me kisses. The things my mother said are not suitable for print.
That gay guy blew me a kiss in the wind and I never saw the West Hollywood Sign again, at least not in person. My father avoided the gay parts of Santa Monica Blvd after that little incident. By the time I came out of the closet in 1991 and I braved the bus ride to Boystown, those West Hollywood letters were gone.
Of course, a lot has changed since 1986. My parents eventually came around. Today they not only accept me for who I am, but they also receive my partner into their home. I have been a resident in my beloved “Joto Landia” for well over 15 years, living only a block away from the Boulevard of Broken Queens. A lot has changed in West Hollywood as well, with baby strollers being the norm in the gay parts of the city. Despite the changes, I never forgot that vintage West Hollywood Sign.
A few weeks ago I found an old photo of the sign by the restrooms at Trader Joes in WeHo. The photo inspired me to contact the photographer, Richard E Settle, who would donate that image for this article.
I also wrote a blog asking my readers if they had any information. Several readers lead me to vimeo.com which hosts old EZTV Museum videos where they have actual footage of the unveiling of the West Hollywood Sign in ’86 (visit vimeo.com/48992786).
It turns out the sign was located on the parking lot by the Ramada Plaza next to the Collar and Leash pet store where EZTV used to be – only a block away from where I now live. Artist Micheal J. Masucci of EZTV created this large scale work of “sculptural graffiti,” which was a send-up to pop, film culture, fame, and monumentality. According to EZTV Museum, the work stood from 1986-1991, which means I came out of the closet as the sign came down. People kept stealing the letters, which EZTV would replace. I’m told at one point the sign read Wet Ho. The letters continued to be stolen. New letters were not made one day and the sign slowly disappeared.
“Do you remember the old West Hollywood Sign?” I asked my friend Judd. “I do,” he responded. “It was a shitty little sign on a dirty little hill.”
It may well have been a shitty little sign, but those old letters saved me in a way and helped me accept myself as gay. That sign also led me to the city where I live today–Hello West Hollywood! Many moons later I still love you. Now bring back the West Hollywood Sign! Kiss, kiss.
Read more commentary by Paulo Murillo at: thehissfit.com
Whenever my mother tried to beat the gay out of me, I would think about that sign and fantasize about running away to this almost magical place where it was safe to be gay.