Wed, Apr

Gondolas, Buses, Trains? Visitors Need a Safe and Fun Way to Reach Hollywood’s Iconic Sign


PILGRIMS’ PROGRESS?-The Hollywood sign has taken on significant cultural, economic (tourism) and even mythical properties. People from around the world want their selfies with the sign in the background. I find this quite curious. In my sixty years as a Los Angeles native the sign has always been there, and it was not a big deal. It was there like the mountains, and the ocean, and palm trees. The sign was there, but it didn’t hold the mystique it does today.

As a young man exploring the Los Angeles region and taking trip to Hollywood, friends and I never thought of hiking up a canyon to get close to the sign. We would hike canyons like Topanga, Malibu, Corral Peak or Tuna. But hike to the Hollywood sign?

The sign was always there in the background. In the 1960s through the 1980s it was too many times hidden behind a blanket of smog, lessening its significance even more.

The sign did and does hold social connotations. In my youth Hollywood was going through transformations from the so-called Golden Age to a more cynical age of excess that included drink, drugs and sex parties. It was not a magnet of attraction.

Over the years the sign went into disrepair, symbolizing the disrepair and sloughing of the Hollywood image. Its most famous moments came when letters began to crumble and its name was changed by vandals. This act was a further blurring of the essence of the sign.

But now the sign is made anew and pilgrims worldwide, along with some locals, hike to the sign. Maybe some of these locals are new transplants who find a uniqueness to the sign which for us natives is just another part of growing up and living in Los Angeles, similar to the Coliseum, Dodger Stadium, freeways and Pink’s Hotdogs. They are there, it is part of the city. Yes, I see the sign, so what?

Now, with its newfound mystique, the arrival of these pilgrims overwhelmed the area. Locals living near the sign were invaded by throngs who left trash, blocked the streets with their cars, defecated and what not. That is not neighborly behavior, so they objected, understandably.

A horse stable was losing business because the pilgrims were restricting traffic.

Due to the crush of too many visitors, their disturbances and the waste and litter they left behind, the main trail for pilgrims to the sign is now gated close. They’ve been moved further away and the sign is no longer being venerated as it was. The city fathers need to find a solution to allow the pilgrims back to the sign.

The solution could be a gondola. Why a gondola?

A gondola could be shut down for safety during heavy winds, which seem to be more prevalent these days. Part of the scientific predictions concerning the consequences of global warming is more wind, so we can expect more wind storms of greater intensity.

High above the bone-dry brush, how far would ashes from a cigarette or vapor pipe fly from inside a gondola car? And once they fall to the ground how quickly would they set the land ablaze?

I’ve been to Disneyland when its gondola has broken down leaving cars stranded between stations. But Disneyland is flat, with a predictable landscape and a reliable service team always on standby.

These canyon areas do not have predictable terrain. Good luck trying to get a large ladder truck up a canyon to rescue stranded gondoliers if they are within a few feet of the road. If the stranded gondola is over open terrain away from a road, perhaps over a ravine or the cliff side of the canyon, how would they be reached? How tall would a ladder need to be to get to a gondola from the bottom of a ravine? And how quickly could rescue and repair teams get to the passengers?

Perhaps the less glamorous choice of a bus or rail would work. Why is there not now a daily service of multiple buses to take visitors up to the sign? They could start from the flatlands of Hollywood and this would save the sign’s neighbors from the crush of parked cars along the canyon. There could be a bus station with restrooms to help the keep the hillside clean. This might drive traffic to local restaurants and shops, increasing business.

These buses could be smaller in size like the DASH buses to save space on the narrow roads. There could be an environmentally sensitive, architecturally respectful bus station at the top to further aid the pilgrims.

Charging a nice fee would partially offset the costs of the buses. Have them run on clean burning natural gas, or go electric and then use these buses as prototypes to jump start a conversion of city buses to electric. 

Or go with a train. Griffith Park has the wonderfully idiosyncratic Travel Town which is an outdoor museum of sorts featuring old train locomotives, cars, and a fantastic small gauge open car train. The tracks are narrow, and they carry joyous kids and adults in a loop around the trains. Use natural gas engines or battery electric motors since electric tracks and overhead power lines could pose a danger.

The steepness of the grade of the ascent may be too great for a train, and rail beds may have to be built away from the existing road to make sure there is enough room for emergency vehicles. But it would be fun to ride a slow ascent on a little train up the canyon through the chaparral, taking in the sights and views on the way to the sign.
The train would be so much fun that I, a native Los Angeleno who is able to walk from my house and down the block about fifty yards to glimpse the Hollywood sign, would venture a train ride to take the pilgrimage up to see the sign myself.


(Matthew Hetz is a Los Angeles native. He is a transit rider and advocate, a composer, music instructor, and member and president and executive director of the Culver City Symphony Orchestra.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.


Get The News In Your Email Inbox Mondays & Thursdays