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Local artists claim responsibility for Hollyweed prank, say the message is to ‘stay youthful’

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The group that maintains the Hollywood sign says the artists were reckless. It’s beefing up security

The Iconic Hollywood Sign Gets Changed To Read 'Hollyweed' Photo by Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images

Zach Fernandez hoped for rain New Year’s morning. To pull off a prank that would ultimately make national news headlines, the Los Angeles artist had to illegally scale the Hollywood sign under the watch of more than two dozen security cameras.

He was already pretty well concealed; it was dark and he was dressed in camouflage. But with rain, “the chances of interruption were slimmer,” Fernandez told Vice News today in an interview in which he claims responsibility for altering the sign to read “Hollyweed” with the help of his creative partner Sarah Fern. (She says she helped with the preparations.)

The rain came, and Fernandez succeeded, and at worst, he faces a misdemeanor trespassing charge. Fernandez and Fern say he used clamps to affix white and black tarps to the second of the two “O’s,” making them look like lowercase “E’s.” The Los Angeles Times says the sign was not damaged.

Fernandez tells Vice he was inspired by the November elections and by Daniel Finegood, who first played the trick in 1976. The message of “Hollyweed,” Fernandez says, is to “not take life so seriously.”

Any way I can bring positivity into the world, or guide or steer people away from the negativity or bad parts of life, even if it's a little bit risky, I'm down. I just want to make sure the message is clear. It's about being and staying youthful and living in the purest form. I think this project really allowed me to express that.

But Chris Baumgart, chairman of the Hollywood Sign Trust, the nonprofit that maintains the LA icon, tells Curbed that whoever altered the sign was reckless, and he wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“This is not about the sign. This is about the neighborhood. This is about their health and safety,” he said. “I went to high school in the 60s. You wake up in the morning and you see ‘Hollyweed,’ and, on the surface it seems funny. What people miss is the unintended consequences of that sophomoric act.”

Baumgart says enough visitors clogged residential streets on New Year’s morning trying to view the sign they could have prevented fire and police access in an emergency.

At least one Beachwood Canyon resident says he didn’t notice a difference in traffic. The sign was returned to its original state by noon, “and then it was the normal ‘kick the New Year off with a hike gang,’ including us, many of our canyon neighbors, Angelenos and the normal influx of people in town due to the Rose Bowl,” architect Brian Lane told Curbed. “As always, it depends on who you talk to as to whether it’s ‘dangerous’ or merely annoying.”

Either way, the trust’s security contractor is reviewing camera footage to make suggestions to tighten up security, Baumgart says. That could mean adding more fencing or improving software. It’s possible the cameras, which are monitored live, can’t see though the fog, he said.

“With any surveillance or security system, it’s only as good as the weakest link. Obviously we have a link that was exploited. We’ll assess what that link was and improve upon it,” he said.

Watch: Famous architecture destroyed in movies