California News

Why a guy who goes by Jesus changed ‘Hollywood’ to ‘Hollyweed’

An artist who calls himself Jesus Hands claimed in an interview that he and his partner were the ones who changed the iconic Hollywood sign to “Hollyweed” early New Year’s Day.

Zach Fernandez and his creative partner/former wife, Sarah Fern told VICE magazine Tuesday that they did a lot of research on the sign and studied its schematics to figure out how to use tarps to turn the two 45-foot-tall “o’s” into “e’s.”

The goal was to create a conversation about marijuana and to pay homage to Danny Finegood, an art student at Cal State Northridge who originally changed the sign to Hollyweed in the 1970s as part of a school art project.

BuzzFeed reports Fernandez is from Pomona.

“I’m very proactive about marijuana,” Fernandez told VICE. “The first time I smoked, I was like 12, and my sister and her boyfriend brought out a bong and got me superhigh. Then we had our own medical-marijuana-delivery service in San Luis Obispo for two years, but we got out of the business. Still, the medical results are clear for people with MS, cancer. It’s just interesting to see where the conversation has gone to at this point.”

Surveillance cameras locked on the world famous sign captured a man dressed in dark clothing as he scaled down the sign and carefully placed tarps on the structure to make it read “Hollyweed” around 3 a.m. Sunday, police have said.

The tarp was taken down about 11:15 a.m. and the sign restored to “Hollywood,” but not before going down in a blaze of glory. Photos and video of the prank were beamed everywhere. The incident was being investigated as misdemeanor trespassing, as opposed to vandalism, because the sign was not damaged in any way, police said.

Officers with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Hollywood division said Tuesday they’re aware of the reports about the possible perpetrator, but no arrests have been made.

Fernandez said it took him two hours to put the tarps in place. The two ladders that he used were about 20 feet off the ground. He used ropes to swing himself around. As for being arrested or cited, he said he was prepared for what was to come.

“Sometimes in order to create that conversation, you have to be OK with the consequences,” he told the magazine.

The sign has had its share of transformations since it was installed in 1923 as Hollywoodland. It was once changed to Holywood for when Pope John Paul II visited Los Angeles, Perotwood in support of presidential hopeful Ross Perot, and was covered up by a banner to read “Save the Peak,” when the land around the structure was under threat of development.

Chris Baumgart, chairman of the Hollywood Sign Trust, said while many people thought the “Hollyweed” stunt was funny, he sees it another way. He spent Tuesday speaking with technicians to understand why the high-tech security system around the sign failed and what would have prevented anyone from climbing the letters. There are 25 cameras installed around the sign. The LAPD monitors two of them.

“Your security system is only as strong as your weakest link,” Baumgart said. “The trespasser exploited the weak link and found it. What is that weak link? I don’t know. I just spent the morning with technicians.”

“On the surface it seems funny, except you have to think of the unintended consequences,” Baumgart said. “As funny as it may seem, it could have resulted in fire or loss of life.”

He said Hollyweed brought a glut of tourists and looky loos clogging up small, residential roads who live near the peak.

“Suppose it was your elderly father living in one of those homes, and there are many looky loos and you can’t get an ambulance there. Then all of a sudden Hollyweed is not so funny,” Baumgart said. “Suppose the prankster fell, became invalid. All of sudden Hollyweed is not so funny. It’s not about the sign. The sign is just metal and concrete. It’s about the lives and safety of residents up there.”

At the Griffith Observatory, tourists lined a railing at a sightseeing spot where they could pose for selfies with the Hollywood sign a short distance behind them.

Locals who had heard about Hollyweed said they thought the prank was harmless.

“It was a joke, I thought it was funny,” said Amber Gibson, 20, of Long Beach. She said she grew up visiting the sign and tried to see the transformed version on Sunday, but the crowds beat her to it.

Will Ramirez, 20, and Ashley Bui, 21, both from Los Angeles, said the prankster meant no harm and thought maybe too much energy and resources were being spent on the issue.

“If anything, it brings more attention to the sign,” Ramirez said. “People will be like, hey, let’s go visit it.”

This story was first published on PressTelegram.com.

City News Service contributed to this report.