February 28, 2024

Usually I begin these columns by casting a look backward over our civic shoulder.

This time, I’m turning face-forward, to this New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles, and every one thereafter.

Because, boy, are we missing out.

How a city that built itself on imagination and self-promotion could miss an opportunity right in front of us — something the world would pay attention to — simply flummoxes me. And even leaves me a little mortified.

For almost 120 years, New York City has seduced the world into believing that the new year cannot truly begin unless we’ve watched a large lighted ball positioned at a neck-spraining altitude make a midnight descent of 70 feet in 60 seconds. People are so eager to stand there in the New York cold to witness this extraordinary thing that they are known to wear adult diapers so they can arrive early enough to hold onto a good spot. Super fun!

What began on New Year’s Eve in 1907 as a promotional stunt for the New York Times has multiplied and regionalized. Mt. Olive, N.C., stages a giant illuminated pickle drop. Prescott, Ariz., sends a neon cowboy boot down a 40-foot flagpole. Hershey, Penn., sends up — not down — a 300-pound, foil-swaddled chocolate Hershey’s kiss.

Here in L.A., we drop nothing — not even a giant, shimmering Oscar. Nothing, except the metaphorical ball.

The Hollywood sign just turned 100 years old. It is famous like the Eiffel tower is famous, like the Statue of Liberty, or the Coca-Cola bottle.

Why let it just sit there on the Mt. Lee hillside on the biggest night of the year?

Now, we do stage a nice, jolly music and dance party for the new year, at the Gloria Molina Grand Park downtown. Fun, zany, inventive images and the new year’s countdown are projected on the side of our iconic City Hall. It’s nifty and all, but the networks are not gonna cut away for that. It won’t birth a million TikTok videos.

It’s all about the sign. The sign! Other cities have to manage with pickles and cowboy boots and chocolate — we have the globally renowned Hollywood sign. Make it work.

One of the last things former Mayor Eric Garcetti did as he left office was to give a green light to light up the sign. And one of the first things Mayor Karen Bass did when she took office was to rescind it.

Garcetti had put his name to a pilot program with “new technology that allows the sign to be seen on special occasions at night,” no more than three days at a time, no more than a half-dozen times a year.

I’ll take once. Once would be great — on Dec. 31.

The sign was originally a garish flashing lighted ad for a real estate development called HOLLYWOODLAND.

A sign reading “Hollywoodland” was first illuminated in late 1923.

(Photo Courtesy of the Hollywood Sign Trust and HollywoodPhotographs.com. All Rights Reserved.)

Well, that part’s long gone, and it’s not coming back. But that sign needs to get sent into the game.

Mayor Bass’s objections were about the “legality” of the Garcetti order.

People who live around the sign are understandably wary and weary when it comes to anything that would bring yet more fame pilgrims to their skinny, scary streets, people questing to reach a talismanic sign that is fiercely and firmly locked away from them.

But for goodness’ sake: West Pasadena residents suck it up once a year for the Tournament of Roses parade and Rose Bowl game. Beach city neighborhoods put up with Christmas boat parade crowds. Christmas Tree Lane in Altadena, on the National Register of Historic Places, has been staging a light show for the public for about 100 years.

A vintage postcard, bearing a 1947 postmark, from Patt Morrison’s collection tells the story of Altadena’s Christmas Tree Lane. If that year was the 22nd lighting, we’re fast approaching the 100-year anniversary in 2025.

So for one night out of 365, the mayor and the Hollywood Sign Trust should be able to work out security and safety matters to keep people at a distance, and light this candle. It’s ridiculous that our chiefest, most visible civic icon and landmark shouldn’t serve the city’s interest better.

As I imagine it would happen, beginning at 90 seconds to midnight on Dec. 31, at every 10-second interval, one letter after another gets lighted up until, at the stroke of midnight, the whole sign — H O L L Y W O O D — is illuminated. Maybe it stays on for a minute or so, maybe it flashes again, but that’s it, bada boom — one and done. It’s not like living under an airport flight path.

Can we make this a civic New Year’s resolution?

As for the rest of a Los Angeles New Year’s Eve, here’s more about the big free Grand Park music fest, which has acquired a joyous following of its own.

Children in polka-dot outfits on a postcard that says "A Happy New Year."

A vintage postcard from Patt Morrison’s collection, with a 1910 postmark, was mailed to Duluth, Minn.

As usual, law enforcement is braced for the gunfire barrage that usually starts at nightfall.

Some Angelenos labor under the misapprehension that on New Year’s Eve you can legally shoot a gun in the air. Delete that urban myth right now.

More than 30 years ago, an LAPD homicide detective named Dave Grabelski had gone to a South L.A. home looking into a burglary. The thieves hadn’t stolen the woman’s practically new handgun, which she showed to the detective. She assured Grabelski confidently, “The only time I use it is on New Year’s Eve, when it’s legal to do it.”

Not then, not now, not ever.

Bullets shot into the air can fly two miles up and come back down at 300 to 700 feet per second, more than enough to blast a killing hole in a human skull, as has happened over the years. The cops call it murder.

The shooting alone, though, is a felony that could send you to prison for a year — prison, not jail.

Making noise to drive away malevolent spirits is a thousands-of-years-old tradition, but stick to banging saucepans, blowing whistles and popping corks.

Every household, every culture has some new year’s practices, like cleaning the house beforehand so you don’t sweep out the new year’s luck with the trash after Jan. 1.

Your last big chow-down before your new year’s diet resolutions kick in may run to the traditional: black-eyed peas, or lentils, cornbread, a dozen grapes — one for each month of the new year — or scrapple, a kind of Dutch-German pork and cornmeal loaf.

And if we do this right for next year, we can add this to our New Year’s Eve traditions: setting your phone alert to 11:58 p.m., in time to watch the TV countdown coverage of the Hollywood sign’s glittering and sparkling welcome to 2025.

And we’d better do it quick, before that damn Las Vegas builds a half-size replica the way it did for the Eiffel Tower and steals all of our thunder.

Text: "New Year's Greetings. To ye future." A girl blows a horn and carries a "Jan. 1" newspaper.

Happy new year (from this vintage postcard from Patt Morrison’s collection)!