Last Thursday, the Brighton Grammar student said to his dad: Why don’t we build it?
“And he said yes, so we went to Bunnings, we had a $50 budget and we went right on that. Then we went to my dad’s warehouse.”
“I got him on the tools,” confirms Ian. “He doesn’t mind a jigsaw. He’s still got all his fingers.”
Letters cut, they treated the business of erecting the sign as an undercover operation, mostly because it made it more fun but, Ian admits, also because in the back of his mind was – still is – the fear the council might fine them.
“But if they do, I’ve told Charlie that as the supposedly responsible adult, I’ll pay the fine.”
But stealth is hard to come by on an exposed hill on a busy foreshore, and someone snapped them in the middle of their nefarious act. And as soon as the sign was erected, says Charlie, “lots of people started taking photos of it”.
How did that feel? “Good.”
Mission accomplished? “Definitely.”
Each of the letters in the famous sign in Los Angeles – which was erected in 1923 to advertise a real-estate subdivision, and originally spelled out Hollywoodland – stands 13.7 metres tall. The letters in the Elwood version measure a far more modest 90cm tall and 60cm wide, their scale dictated by the size of pre-cut 3mm melamine-fronted MDF sheets.
And this pop-up landmark is unlikely to stand the test of time: “When it rains really heavy next it’s probably going to disintegrate,” concedes Charlie.
If that happens, what will you do?
“Build another one!”
When The Age visited on Monday, the joy the sign has sparked in people was obvious. Now Ian is hoping to talk to the City of Port Phillip (and preferably not when they come to fine him) about the possibility of making the landmark a little more permanent.
“I’d like to see it in powder-coated white steel, 100mm thick, double-sided and welded in,” he says, the industrial designer in him stepping up to the plate. “Part of the attraction would be to allow people to climb on it, sit inside the Os and get their photos taken. That would just add another dimension to it.”
It wouldn’t need to be much bigger than the prototype, he says – “certainly not as big as the Hollywood sign” – and at a guess it could be done for somewhere between $10,000 and $30,000, depending on council regulations.
The industrial designer stepping aside for the audio-visual guy, he adds: “It would probably need some lighting from the bottom, to enhance its appeal and make it a 24-hour attraction. Green grass, white letters, blue sky, or even black sky: it would look great.
“Once you see it there you can’t help but like it,” he adds. “It’s not political, it’s just fun.”
Karl Quinn is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.