From the archives: Students caught trying to alter Hollywood sign

Original Date of Publication: Nov. 20, 1987

Some Trojans will do anything to get the USC name around before the big game against UCLA. Ken Domer and 13 of his friends did — or at least they tried early Thursday morning when they attempted to change the landmark HOLLYWOOD sign to read “USC! WOOD.”

Unfortunately for the 14 freshmen, their Trojan message was never seen because police spotted them just as they had finished transforming the sign and made them change it back to its original condition.

Domer said he thought of changing the sign for Troy Week several weeks ago and then told his buddies, who live with him on the sixth floor of Birnkrant Residence Hall, about it. They began plotting three weeks ago. They climbed up to the HOLLYWOOD sign and took its measurements.

Joel Zink | Daily Trojan

They purchased more than $200 worth of black and white fabric in the garment district. They spent several nights sewing pieces together until 3 or 4 a.m. to create their message, Domer said.

The group left campus at 1:30 a.m. Thursday, excited and ready for its caper.

Two students stayed at the bottom of the hill to take pictures of their accomplishment; the other 12 climbed up to the sign and busily draped the fabric over the 55-foot high letters. At 4:10, after spending an hour and a half perfecting their message, the conspirators were spotted by police helicopters circling overhead.

The helicopter hovered over the sign for about 15 minutes. Officers inside threatened the students, Domer said. The students then saw two police cars coming and knew it was all over.

Ten police officers made the students “line up with our hands behind our back” and took their names and drivers license numbers, Domer said.

The officers also made them remove the fabric.

One of the officers had attended UCLA, so the officers made a “hell of a lot” of jokes about USC, Domer said.

The students tried to respond with as many jokes about UCLA as possible — without getting themselves in any more trouble, Domer said. Although the police lectured the freshmen about their prank, “they were having a good time busting us,” he said.

The officers said that the students could either walk the two to three miles down the hill or run. But they added that “if you walk, we’ll book you,” Domer said.

The students ran shouting SoCal spell-outs and singing a parody version of the UCLA fight song.

Police turned the students’ names over to a city attorney and said charges would be pressed only if there was damage to the sign.

“One of our goals was not to damage the sign,” said Mike McManus, one of the pranksters.

Even though their message did not stay in place very long, Domer said they made their point, took their pictures and had a lot of fun. Changing the sign was something “I’ve always wanted to do,” Domer said.

“My mom called me saying she had heard that some USC students changed the sign and just asked me, ‘Why did you do it?’ She then said, ‘We’ll talk over Thanksgiving.’”

Domer, undaunted, said he has “got another plan for next year.” He wouldn’t elaborate.

The other students involved were: Rick Johnson, Greg Lucas, Jim Spizzeri, Steve Semon, Greg Jackson, Jim Lindley, Pat Conway, Chip Daniels, Tim Rosenfield, Ting Sing, Brian Daniel, Eddie Lee and Mike Marko.