Sign of the times as GPS irks Hollywood

IT is one of the world’s most iconic sights. But for local residents, the huge “Hollywood” sign on their hillside overlooking Los Angeles is a source of growing anger.

Travellers have long flocked to have their pictures taken with the vast sign behind them – but with the advent of satellite navigation and Google Earth, they have begun to invade the Hollywood Hills neighborhood like never before.

Locals complain that tourists leave litter and cigarette butts – a mortal hazard on tinder-dry hillsides in summer – to say nothing of bringing traffic chaos to the narrow, winding, pot-holed roads snaking up to the sign.

“Warning: Tourist Free Zone. All Tourists Leave the Area,” says one apparently home-made sign near the edge of the final slope of brush leading up to the 13m-high letters, set atop Mount Lee.

The instantly-recognisable sign – which started as a real estate billboard for Hollywoodland, before losing its last four letters and becoming an icon for the film industry – can be seen from miles away in Los Angeles.

For many tourists, the closest they come to it is down on Hollywood Boulevard, a mile or two away where it can be seen from the Hollywood and Highland Center next to Graumann’s Chinese Theatre, and the Walk of Fame. But the advent of GPS technology, allowing people easily to find a route up into the hills, has changed all that. In recent weeks the anger has even begun generating tensions between different neighborhoods in the labyrinth of roads leading into the hills, around Lake Hollywood and the canyons of Griffith Park on LA’s northern rim.

There have been reports of unofficial signs cropping up, either warning tourists away or suggesting alternative routes – one even suggesting sweaty tourists can get free lemonade if they go a particular way.

“Nobody in this room is against tourists,” said local city councilor Tom LaBonge, at a public meeting this week where emotions ran high over the growing tourist influx.

“But some people did put some nasty ugly signs up that were very offensive,” he added.

The packed meeting at Hollywood City Hall heard a raft of ideas to resolve the problem: including multilanguage warning signs, asking GPS makers to omit the local road maps, charging tour buses or even building a tram to the top.

Building a viewing platform to give a focus for tourists away from local streets was another idea, although critics said it would never work; people really just want to get as clo somewhere else,” says Australian Jason Gobus, visiting from Cairns with his girlfriend Nicole.

“It’s a tourist attraction, that’s what people come here to see. I have no sympathy whatsoever.” Polish tourist Jerry Stepien, 45, said he had not heard about locals’ anger – expressed in a large “Tourists Go Away” written in large chalk letters on the hillside near where he parked.

“Of course I’m sure it should be possible to go here and to see this sign,” he said, accompanied by his wife Maria and son Pavel, 18, and 11-year-old Kasia.

“My daughter… was so emotional about seeing these letters. She was really happy that we came,” he added.

Back down in town, Hank Pinczower, past president of the Hollywoodland Homeowners’ Association, said critics needed to understand that the sign – which is still not illuminated at night – was not always a tourist attraction.

“I’ve lived in my house for over 50 years, and I’m sick and tired of hearing, ‘Oh you shouldn’t have moved there. You knew the sign was up,”‘ said the 79-year-old. “The sign was a wreck, and we hoped it would stay that way. We’re stuck with it. So the question is what can we do?” he asked.

But for relative newcomer Rob Sorcher said the hillside residents simply need to get real, and provide a better way to manage the tourist influx.

“I don’t think you’re going to stop people from coming,” he said. “I’ve never seen a city that would take an object like that and not treat it as a tourist destination,” he said, noting the relative lack of facilities at the two or three spots favored as ad hoc viewing spots.

“It’s akin to the Empire State Building, just telling people, put two wheels up on the curb and let people climb up and do what they want.

And he added: “The roads, that’s crazy, it’s like war-torn Beirut up there. I’ve never seen anything like that. At least fix the roads.”

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