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The Hollywood sign's unwelcome mat

September 19, 2011 |  2:04 pm

Hollywood sign

Hey, L.A., what's your sign?

Answer: Gemini. 

Why? Because Los Angeles is of two minds about signs.

Take that famous symbol of L.A., the Hollywood sign. It's our Eiffel Tower, our Empire State Building, our Sphinx. People come from all over the world to see it, to get near it, to photograph it.

And how do welcome them?

As The Times reported Sunday, with other signs that read "Warning -- Tourist-Free Zone -- All Tourists Leave the Area" and "Tourists Go Away."  


Even City Councilman Tom LaBonge, who represents part of Hollywood and has worked to clean up one viewing site of the sign, says:

"I wish tourists wouldn't drive up there. But GPS has put people from around the world at the doorstep of people who live up there."

All this fuss, of course, comes only a year after LaBonge and many others rallied the community to purchase land near the sign from developers so that the view of L.A.'s icon wouldn't be marred by new homes. 

So we want to be able see the sign, but we don't want too many people to see the sign, or get too close to the sign, or, as LaBonge also complained about a prime viewing spot:

"A lot of tourists smoke -- we picked up 100 cigarette butts up there. Our office was working with recreation and parks, which is short-staffed. We want to maintain that spot for fire-safety reasons."

Aha! We also don't want to burn down the sign.

Of course, the Hollywood sign's neighbors aren't the only Angelenos troubled by signs.

There's also City Atty. Carmen Trutanich. As The Times reported Monday:  

The city of Los Angeles has filed a lawsuit demanding millions of dollars from a Beverly Hills-based outdoor advertising company, saying it illegally wrapped 17 buildings with towering "supergraphic" advertisements.

In court documents filed Friday, City Atty. Carmen Trutanich said SkyTag and its president, Michael McNeilly, deprived the city of permitting fees, created traffic hazards and endangered the lives of people who were inside buildings whose windows were covered by the multistory vinyl ads.

Trutanich said he wants $2,500 for each day that a violation was committed by SkyTag, which has been at odds with the city for roughly a decade. Given the number of signs that are at issue, potential penalties in the case are "in the tens of millions of dollars," said William Carter, Trutanich’s chief deputy.

Now, I can buy the "deprived the city of permitting fees" argument. But somehow, I get the feeling that the "created traffic hazards" and the "endangered the lives of people who were inside buildings whose windows were covered" complaints are, shall we say, window dressing?

Thousands of people driving in L.A., texting or talking on their cellphones, putting on makeup or rockin' to the beat, and these big signs are traffic hazards? 

And don't quote me, but the last big -– in fact, the only -– L.A. high-rise office building fire I can remember was in 1988.  And as I recall, the firefighters' ladders weren’t tall enough to reach the windows where the fire was burning.

Really, I think this fight is about "Blade Runner."

Remember how that movie offered a disturbing picture of a future Los Angeles overrun by garish advertising signs, including blimps that float over the city?

It's not a pretty picture. It's not a Los Angeles most of us would want to live in.

So perhaps Trutanich is simply drawing a line in the sand. Perhaps he's trying to halt our slide down that slippery slope.

Because, in "Blade Runner," I don’t think you could see the Hollywood sign any more.


L.A. bans new supergraphics in Hollywood

 Overfilled Hollywood tour buses feel the weight of the law

CBS Outdoor agrees to pay L.A. $4 million in supergraphics settlement

-- Paul Whitefield

Photo:  Tourists often ignore signs posted by area residents so they can capture photos of themselves and the Hollywood sign. Credit: Christina House / For The Times

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