Locals Mixed on New Hollywood Sign Ideas

Community leaders and affected homeowners have mixed reactions regarding a consultant’s recently released recommendations on how to best provide relief for residential communities besieged with Hollywood Sign tourists.

The recommendations, released in January and commissioned by Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu, ranged in impact from the jaw-dropping, like the idea of installing a second Hollywood sign, to the mundane, like improving signage for lost tourists.

With the city recently reporting tourism figures broke another record in 2017 and the 2028 Olympics on the way, Ryu seems determined that something has to give.

The Hollywood Sign, “is a world-renowned icon and possibly the only one without proper access to it,” he said in a statement when the recommendations were released January 17th. “It’s like having the Statue of Liberty without a visitor’s center, viewing platform, or even a sign telling you how to get to it. It is unsustainable and unsafe.”

One of nearly 30 recommendations San Diego based Dixon Resources Unlimited made in its 65-page report, was for an aerial tramway on the Burbank facing side of the park that would ferry tourists to a viewing platform for a photo-worthy view of the sign.

It’s not the first time an aerial tram has been recommended for Griffith Park. According to city officials, that recommendation has been made at least four times previously, including as recently as 2005.

But those proposals were made in a different climate before smartphones with GPS became ubiquitous, providing tourists detailed directions to the Hollywood Sign through once quiet residential communities.

According to the report, one way to relocate such tourists is to direct them instead to an aerial tram station, possibly on the northern side of Griffith Park at the currently empty “Headworks” site, owned by the Los Angeles Dept. of Water and Power and just off the 134 Freeway near Forest Lawn.

The location, according to the recommendations, could also include a Hollywood Sign “visitor’s center” and serve as a “transit hub” for buses and bike and ride share programs, according to the consultant.

Depending on whom you ask, you’ll get a different take on this recommendation.

“I am very much in favor of this idea as it will give Hollywood Sign tourists an alternative to get close to the Hollywood Sign without going through the Hollywood Hills neighborhoods, which disrupt residents,” said Jeff Zarrinnam, chair of the board for the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. “It will also give close up access to individuals who are disabled to visit the sign.”

Local affected resident Sheila Irani, who worked for Ryu’s predecessor Tom LaBonge and who has a portfolio including consulting on transportation issues for other cities, said such could create a new iconic tourist destination for Los Angeles while simultaneously helping alleviate tourism influx in residential areas.

“There just isn’t enough room on our streets for 50 million tourists, parking, commuters and freight. It’s clear how much time is already wasted from congestion,” she said. “What will we be facing during the Olympics in 2028? Therefore, an aerial tram has to be seriously vetted and hopefully adopted to direct tourists to a convenient photography vantage point.”

Others, however, said the idea was “troubling,” “pie in the sky,” “faulty,” and “not possible” due to Griffith Park’s designation as a historic monument and guidelines under the “Griffith Park Vision Plan,” completed in 2013 as an advisory to keep Griffith Park an “urban wilderness,” protected from development.

“What about that the north side has some of the wildest sections of [Griffith Park]? How would [such an idea] affect our diminishing urban wilderness?” said Kris Sullivan of the Griffith Park Advisory Board.

The report’s idea of creating a second Hollywood Sign on its north side facing the San Fernando Valley, also received mixed opinions.

Some said that it was an interesting, out-of-the-box idea that could satiate at least some tourists’ desire to see the sign, albeit a replica, and would therefore lessen traffic in Los Feliz and the Hollywood Hills.

Others however, said they did not see a duplicate’s sign value.

But nearly everyone approached for this story said some sort of meaningful Hollywood visitors center—detailing Los Angeles’s history becoming the entertainment industry’s capitol of the world and the origins of the Hollywood Sign, a billboard erected in 1923 by then Los Angeles Times Publisher Harry Chandler to advertise his Hollywoodland residential housing development—was a no-brainer, as none currently exists.

But some had different ideas where such a center could be located.

“The logical place for a visitor’s center is on Hollywood Boulevard,” between Gower Street and Bronson Avenue in a currently nondescript area of Hollywood, said Erik Sanjurjo, formerly of the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council. “Hollywood also needs a convention center … This could be two birds, one stone.”

But a good portion of the consultant’s recommendations were less sexy and dealt with nuts and bolts ideas to hopefully help residential communities bearing the brunt of so many tourists.

One of the most recently impacted areas of tourism is Beachwood Canyon.

The area has one main street, Beachwood Canyon Drive, which winds, narrows, lacks sidewalks and dead-ends at Griffith Park’s Hollyridge Trailhead, leading hikers and tourists alike to one of the most striking up close views of the sign.

Due to a court order, the city shut down pedestrian access at the Hollyridge Trailhead last year. That decision is now being tested, legally, by park access proponents demanding the gate be re-opened.

In what seems to be an effort to appease both deluged residents and all-access park activists, Dixon recommended organizing tourists on electric shuttle buses that could run on Beachwood Canyon Drive beyond the now closed access point to drop tourists close to the sign.

Like the other recommendations, such an idea was polarizing.

“Love the Beachwood shuttle idea,” said Chris Laib, who serves on various advisory committees related to Griffith Park. “That area, like it or not, owes its existence to the sign and it lies on top of that canyon.”

But such a notion outraged long time Beachwood Canyon resident Sarajane Schwartz.

“I am against anything that is for transporting our fragile neighborhood into a tourist destination,” she said. “I recommend [Beachwood Canyon Drive] be closed as a tourist destination, because it is unsafe.”

Schwartz wondered aloud how many shuttle buses would be needed to meet demand.

Theorizing that there would never be enough, she said: “Do you really think [electric shuttle buses] would make this area less congested?”

Additionally, Schwartz said the Dixon report overly accommodated tourist’s needs at the expense of area homeowners.

“The word ‘resident’ is barely mentioned in [the report],” she said.

Likewise, Lake Hollywood Estates resident Tony Fisch said both the aerial tram and shuttle bus ideas would only exacerbate issues for locals.

These recommendations would “do more to grow tourism and traffic on sign-adjacent, substandard streets than mitigate traffic, reduce parking nightmares and assure public safety,” Fisch said.

Fisch also said the recent recommendations only feed into Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s plan to attract more visitors to Los Angeles.

According to the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board, Los Angeles County had 48.3 million visitors last year, a seventh straight record, up 2.2% from 2016. Officials say, the city’s goal is to reach 50 million tourists by 2020 and that’s years before Los Angeles hosts the 2028 Olympics.

Another area affected by sign tourism is the residential area located near another park entrance to the also popular “Wisdom Tree” trail.

Daniel Savage, who represents the area as president of the Hollywood Knolls Community Club, said the report was a great first step.

“I commend [David] Ryu for actively trying to figure this out in a holistic fashion,” he said, “rather than the patchwork things that have been done in the past.”

But, he added, time is of the essence.

“Summer is four months away. We can’t go through another summer like last year’s,” he said.

Similar to problems at the Beachwood Canyon entrance to the park, Savage said thousands of pedestrians every day walk though the residential area on narrow Wonder View Drive to get near the sign, along with cars and buses, he said, “dropping off 50 people at a time.”

“This street has become the beginning of the trail,” Savage said.

The report recommended closing that access and instead having the city create an alternative entrance, away from homes, that would ultimately connect hikers and tourists too the Wisdom Tree trailhead.

“We feel very positively about that,” he said. “We want that gate closed.”

Editor’s note: Since no such rendering exists, we decided to take a quick stab at having our illustrator, Howard Gindoff, help us visualize what an aerial tramway in Griffith Park could look like. Let us know what you think of such an idea by taking our survey here.

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