Hollywood Lacks a Proper Visitors Center
A Hollywood visitors center for the estimated 45 million tourists that visit Los Angeles annually has seemed like a no-brainer for years to most of the residents who live below the Hollywood Sign in Beachwood Canyon.
Los Angeles city officials, however, while open to the idea, have not yet taken any tangible steps to build such a visitors center.
“We’ve just about had it,” said Christine O’Brien, a 35-year resident of Beachwood Canyon and an outspoken critic of how the city has handled Hollywood Sign tourist traffic. “They don’t really want to solve the problem. They don’t care.”
In conversations with residents, a visitors center comes up frequently as a crucial step in alleviating the confusion, public safety issues and day-to-day mayhem created by the hordes of tourists who, guided by GPS on cell phones, venture into the Beachwood Canyon neighborhood as they search for iconic views of—and a possible “selfie” with—the sign.
“You have to do something with the people who are coming here,” said Sheila Irani, a former city official, who ran, unsuccessfully, in 2015 to represent the area on the Los Angeles City Council.
Irani’s city council campaign included building an official Hollywood visitors center. Many have said Irani has proposed the clearest vision to do so, and she continues to press the city for its construction.
“The parcel I am fond of is on Hollywood Boulevard between Gower and Bronson,” said Irani, referring to three adjacent commercial lots—all with the same owner—that sit between the Museum of Death and the Salvation Army. “It is probably the largest property on Hollywood Boulevard that has a straight-on view of the Hollywood Sign.”
If the city were to purchase the land and build such a center, Irani said she envisions a facility that could be privately managed for profit, but its management would have city oversight.
She said it’s possible that such a center could satisfy all tourists’ basic needs “under one roof,” and help alleviate Beachwood issues as well, by diverting thousands of tourists each year from encroaching on the small neighborhood.
Irani’s vision includes an origination point for tour vans, a Hollywood Sign viewing area, a theater showing an orientation video and rentable “booths” offering visitors everything from Star Tours packages to bus and train passes and even Los Angeles Lakers tickets.
Allowing the visitor center to be managed for profit with commercial opportunities—like rentable booths—Irani said, is crucial to its potential success because “very few nonprofits can” get funding to build a facility of this size.
“We’ve left it to the nonprofit world to deal with this, and they haven’t,” said Irani, referring to the current official Hollywood visitors center, run by the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, which she said is “tucked away” in a small “hut” located at the back of the Hollywood and Highland Center.
That board—a private nonprofit organization that officially promotes Los Angeles as a travel and leisure destination and is partially funded by the city—would be a crucial player in any decision to construct a new visitor center, according to Irani.
Representatives from the board did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The Tourism and Convention board’s current, kiosk-sized visitors center appears similar to tourist information centers in other major international destination cities like New York, Paris, London and Berlin.
However, in each of these cities, there are many kiosks scattered across tourist hotspots, while here in Los Angeles, the Tourism and Convention Board only manages two such kiosks—one at Hollywood and Highland Center and one at Union Station.
Furthermore, the kiosk model may not be best suited to dealing with Hollywood Sign tourist traffic. Instead, building one larger visitor’s center—in the model of the National Parks system—may make more sense.
“We have always said that the solution to the problem in the [Hollywood] Hills is to create a visitor center,” said Leron Gubler, president and chief executive officer of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which also holds partial ownership over the Hollywood Sign. “The reason the tourists are crawling all over the Hills is because there is no central place to go.”
According to Gubler, such a center modeled after the county’s national parks system would be ideal.
“I think the best example is our national parks,” Gubler said. “Every national park has a visitors center. The majority of the tourists will stop [there] before seeing the attractions because it saves them time and gives them…a much more positive experience.”
The Hollywood Sign is located in Griffith Park, the largest municipal park with urban wilderness in the country, and can only be accessed on foot after either an hour-long hike from the base of Beachwood Canyon or an hour and half long hike from Griffith Observatory.
According to Gubler, the Hollywood Chamber brought up the idea for a visitor center in a recent meeting with Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu.
The sign sits in Ryu’s district and Ryu represents many of the residents most dramatically impacted by its tourist traffic.
“The councilmember is very, very supportive of a visitor’s center and it’s a part of our long term plan to have a [Hollywood Sign] viewing location in the Hollywood area,” said Estevan Montemayor, Ryu’s spokesperson.
According to Montemayor, next steps include “having conversations” with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce in order to get “buy in from everybody involved.”
“This is a long term goal. It’s not something that will happen overnight, but it’s something we’ll continue to work on to achieve over time,” Montemayor said.
O’Farrell represents the portion of Hollywood where the visitor’s center could possibly be located, but O’Farrell has not taken a position either for or against a center.
O’Farrell spokesperson, Tony Arranga, said they were, however, open to consideration.
“We welcome the opportunity to discuss [the idea] further with Councilmember Ryu’s office or members of the community if there is, in fact, an effort underway to bring something like this to fruition,” Arranaga said in an email.