When Hollywood became Hollyweed, the result of a practical joke. (Photo courtesy of the Hollywood Sign Trust and HollywoodPhotographs.com. All Rights Reserved)

Hollyweed sign: Remembering a 1976 practical joke in Hollywood, California

Do you remember when a California art major scored an A grade by altering the world-famous Hollywood sign to read “Hollyweed” instead?

The date was Jan. 1, 1976, the same day California’s relaxed marijuana law took effect. Cal State Northridge student Danny Finegood had a plan to alter the sign by using $50 of curtains and a couple friends. And it worked, giving Hollywood a Hollyweed sign for a short time.

Finegood died of multiple myeloma in January 2007 at age 52, and the L.A. Times obituary celebrated him as an artist, a prankster and a husband.

“For a long time, he had this idea that if you just changed the two O’s you could change the whole meaning of the sign,” his wife Bonnie Finegood told the Times in 2007.

Finegood and his colleagues returned to the famous sign a number of times for other art projects and protests. Later in 1976 they had it read “Holywood” on Easter. In 1987, they protested the public perception of Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North amid the Iran-Contra hearings with “Ollywood.” In 1990, it read “Oil War” in a protest of the Persian Gulf War.

This story from Finegood’s Times obit, in particular, says a lot about the artist.

Years later, he protested a characterization of the incident in The Times that referred to “vandals” altering the sign.

“We broke no laws and did no damage to the sign,” Finegood and friends wrote in a 1983 letter to the newspaper.

“An artist’s role throughout history has been to create representations of the culture he exists in. By hanging four relatively small pieces of fabric on the landmark, we were able to change people’s perception of the Hollywood Sign,” they wrote.

Almost no one saw his final sign tampering. After Finegood and cohorts climbed Mt. Lee before dawn and made the sign say Oil War, park rangers and police yanked down the plastic before sunrise.

Tired of what they saw as vandalism — the sign had been altered by others several more times — city officials beefed up security with a fence, alarms and eventually installed a closed-circuit surveillance system.

With the increased security, “it was clear they wanted to keep people away from the sign,” and Finegood decided to respect that, his wife said.

Perhaps in tribute to Finegood’s 39-year-old work, the Hollyweed Cannabis Co-op has been selling medical marijuana at 1607 N. El Centro Ave. #24 in Hollywood since 2006.