Updated: | Originally published:

When the Hollywood Sign was built in 1923, there was little hint that it would become an iconic emblem. In fact, the sign didn’t even say “Hollywood.”

The 50-ft.-tall lettering, which was lit by thousands of flashing light bulbs, was erected as an advertisement not for the movie-making mecca, but for a housing development called Hollywoodland.

The development was complete by the end of 1923, according to the Hollywood Sign Trust. And the Hollywoodland developers figured it would about a year to sell the remaining plots, at which point the billboard would be dismantled, according to Gerald Schiller’s It Happened in Hollywood.

So much for that. The temporary advertisement became a permanent landmark, playing roles large and small in all sorts of Hollywood stories (including that of the actress Peg Entwhistle, who committed suicide by jumping from the sign). By 1949, with the bulbs long since burned out and the sign battered by weather, the city decided to replace the original with a new sign that was four letters shorter, advertising not housing but the California silver-screen dream.

In the early 1970s, it was declared a city monument.

Correction, Jan. 24, 2019

The original version of this post mistakenly stated that the Hollywood Sign was dedicated on July 13, 1923. The Hollywood Sign Trust says the exact timing of the sign’s construction in 1923 cannot be verified, and there would have been no unveiling.

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Write to Lily Rothman at lily.rothman@time.com.

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