I recently joined KPCC’s Take Two for a walk to the now-closed Hollyridge Trailhead in Beachwood Canyon. Long story short, the folks at Sunset Ranch asked for help with the crowds at their sole access point, and the city decided to lock the pedestrian gate that had afforded the easiest access to front-views of the Hollywood Sign since the 1920s. Unfortunately, the ruling in that court case expressly states Sunset Ranch does not have exclusive access to that trailhead or the fire road that leads to its stables — which was likely closed because someone saw that the Bronson Canyon trailhead is about 1500 feet away by the crow’s wing without realizing it’s more than 2.5 miles by the walker’s foot. 

In response to the ongoing conflict between residents in the Beachwood Canyon area and members of the public who would like to use public streets to access a public park, L.A.’s mayor Eric Garcetti suggested — perhaps flippantly — that a gondola from Universal Studios might be “a better way” for people to enjoy the world-famous Hollywood Sign without clogging streets and angering residents.

It isn’t.

The comment has been picked up by blogs and news outlets all over Southern California – who all seem to be excited that L.A. might get a shiny new toy without realizing that a gondola does nothing to solve the issue in Beachwood Canyon while also creating a slew of new problems for the Park and its surrounding neighborhoods.

People who are trying to access the Hollyridge Trailhead in Beachwood Canyon — in general — are not interested in hiking to the top of Mount Lee. They are only interested in getting to a place where they can see the front of the Hollywood Sign to snap a photo or selfie with the minimum amount of effort. Building a gondola to the top of Mount Lee would not only add hundreds if not thousands of people to an area of the park that is relatively lightly visited, but it would also require a large build-out of infrastructure at the top of Mount Lee and ultimately disappoint everyone who was trying to snag a Sign Selfie but who now found themselves staring at the backside of the giant letters.

what people want


what people get on Mount Lee

A new ‘viewing platform’ built below and in front of the park would add even more of a construction footprint in an area of the park that has remained relatively unscathed by development since its founding in 1896.

Either location would require invasive construction in the mostly undeveloped and undisturbed western regions of Griffith Park (where P-22 likes to hang out), towers and cable cars that would mar the experience of hiking popular routes like the Eileen Getty Ridge Trail to the Wisdom Tree and Cahuenga Peak, cable car operations over residential neighborhoods, and buildings that would likely adversely affect the views and ‘neighborhood character’ of the neighborhoods to the south of the Park — which have not been shy about filing lawsuits to preserve those things in the past.

So, Mayor Garcetti,here are 4 Ideas for Griffith Park that are Better than a Gondola — and none of them require massive construction efforts inside one of L.A.’s precious few urban green spaces:

Better Directions Everywhere

L.A. is a world-class city and the Hollywood Sign is a world-famous landmark, so why do I keep running into European tourists near the Griffith Park Composting Facility asking how they can get to the Sign? Because there is no coherent and comprehensive way for people looking to see the Sign to find out the best way to do that.

The official Griffith Park web site. In 2017. hollywoodsign.org is much better, though.

It took more than a hundred years for Griffith Park to get trail signs and maps installed — which is its own separate embarrassment — but why aren’t there any signs directing tourists and visitors to places where they can see the Sign? Why isn’t there a modern website for Griffith Park with information on viewpoints and foot access? Why aren’t there uniformly branded information stations at places like Hollywood and Highland or Union Station, street signs in the surrounding neighborhoods or information kiosks at nearby Metro Red Line stops? The main reason people are still driving up Beachwood Drive is because it’s too difficult to find the better places to go.

Utilize Existing Viewpoints

There are already a number of places where people can easily and reliably view the Hollywood Sign with or without a hike, including:

  • Hollywood and Highland shopping complex
  • Griffith Park Observatory
  • The Hollywood Reservoir
  • Hollyridge Trail
  • Bottom of Beachwood Drive
  • The Tiffany Comfort Foundation Overlook en route to Mount Hollywood
  • Three Mile Tree
  • Lake Hollywood Park
  • Hollywood Boulevard off-ramp of the 101 (seriously, I’ve seen double decker busses stop here for photos)

The Tiffany and Co Viewpoint

Why not spread the crowds out to all of these places to avoid congestion and overcrowding? A few of these viewpoints could be slightly developed or improved with minimal additional footprints, and would definitely cost less and be less invasive than a giant viewing platform and network of cable cars. Some of these places are in residential neighborhoods, so let’s also make sure to …

Use and Extend Existing Metro and Shuttle Routes

Beachwood Drive already has a DASH shuttle that ends just 0.7 mile from the Hollyridge Trail. If cars on Beachwood Drive are the problem, why not extend the DASH shuttle to the trailhead and make the upper portion of that road for residential use only (with better signs and directions at the bottom of the canyon making it clear, of course)? 

“I’m a part of the transit network, too!”
DASH Bus photo by Frederick Dennstedt, used via Creative Commons license.

Recently, the parking nightmare near the Griffith Park Observatory has been significantly improved with the addition of paid parking and an increased DASH shuttle schedule that connects to the Metro Red Line stop at Hollywood and Vine. It’s a good start, but it’s not enough. 

Griffith Park needs and deserves a park-wide shuttle that services the entire park and connects with major transportation hubs. It could meet up with the Red Line stops at Sunset / Vermont and Hollywood / Western, stop near Hollywood and Highland and Universal Studios for the tourists (and the parking), then hit the north part of the park near Travel Town, the east at the Autry / L.A. Zoo and the Merry-go-Round, the south at the Pony Rides, the Greek Theatre, the Observatory, and Fern Dell. That route hits all the major entry points and attractions in the park, gets people close to Sign viewpoints, and will reduce the need for a private auto inside the park or on residential streets nearby. Heck, I bet you could even add the Beachwood route to this. Brand the entire system as the Griffith Park Line and use the driving time to play videos that answer common questions about the park and lay out the park’s rules and restrictions, and you can even make Griffith Park visitors less likely to get lost, hurt, or break rules.

Keep the Touristy Stuff to the Touristy Areas

Griffith Park is a unique, delicate balance of developed areas and rugged wilderness regions. Yes, the park has a carousel and zoo and several museums, but it is also home to endemic species and maybe the most urban mountain lion who ever roamed the hills. So if we’re trying to capture tourist dollars, maybe we can try to keep all that kitschy infrastructure to places that are already high on the kitsch factor?

Universal Citywalk. Let’s keep this out of Griffith Park, OK? Photo by Dave Herholz, used by Creative Commons.

If we must establish some visitor center / tourist museum places, let’s at least do it where there’s already developed space and infrastructure for it. There’s no reason an off-site exhibit couldn’t be housed at Hollywood and Highland or Universal Citywalk. Buy all your souvenirs and take a guaranteed-clear-sky green screen photo there — and maybe admission gets you an exclusive, direct shuttle ride to the Lake Hollywood viewpoint or the Griffith Park Observatory? If the Lake Hollywood Park area is limited to these shuttles (and DASH) only — and restricted by time or number of rides — that might be able to convince some of the residents there.

Also, I hear the Target Husk has a pretty sweet view of the Sign — maybe we could get a variance for a rooftop observation deck and then finally get that thing built?

In 2005, the Griffith Park Master Plan included two proposed aerial tramways — one from the Autry to a viewpoint atop the Toyon Canyon landfill area and one that would travel from the Greek Theatre to the Observatory. Backlash from park users was so strong that both proposals were scrapped.

And — proving once again that everything new is actually old — back in 1905 the guy who built the Angel’s Landing funicular in downtown Los Angeles formed the Mount Hollywood Scenic Railway Company with plans to build a similar railway to the top of Mount Hollywood. On the summit, he planned to build a large assembly hall, bandstand, pavilion, and observatory.

image from Los Angeles Herald, Aug. 27 1905. Photo from Cable Car Guy.

The plans languished for two years before being abandoned. I don’t think it will be long before this gondola plan meets a similar fate, so let’s get cracking on some of these real-world solutions instead and leave the gondola idea to the dustbin of history, ok?

The Tram That Won’t Die (UPDATE)

After being bought by AT&T, now Warner Brothers Studios is offering to build a tram to the top of Mount Lee from their backlot for $100 million. The idea was dumb in 1905, it was dumb in 2017, and it’s still dumb in 2018. It solves none of the many issues currently facing Griffith Park and only adds more. Dumping thousands of tourists per day deep into the middle of the park — tourists who are not likely to even be aware of Leave No Trace principles or have any long-term attachment to the park or the city and are much likelier to cause damage and overuse in their wake — is a recipe for disaster. As if it were weighing in itself, a small section of Griffith Park burst into flame on the same day this news was announced. The Friends of Griffith Park issued a statement against the idea.

Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu’s Council District 4 includes the entirety of Griffith Park and many of its surrounding neighborhoods. Even if you don’t live in his District, if you recreate in Griffith Park, you should let his office know how you feel about this – or any – gondola to Mount Lee.

Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Modern Hiker, Author of "Day Hiking Los Angeles" and "Discovering Griffith Park." Walking Meditator, Native Plant Enthusiast.


A New Trail for the Hollywood Sign – M'Online Nov 15, 2018 16:11

[…] new trail in Los Angeles is a reason for celebration but a trail in the crowded Cahuenga Pass that, unlike the flurry of ill-conceived gondola proposals, could actually alleviate foot and automobile traffic pressure on the Lake Hollywood and Beachwood […]

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Los Angeles Links – Planeta.com Jul 17, 2018 10:07

[…] Park / Hollywood Sign Hikes to the Hollywood sign have left a trail of lawsuits @modernhiker @KPCC https://modernhiker.com/4-ideas-for-griffith-park-that-are-better-than-a-gondola-editorial-hollywood… […]

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Alan Starbuck Jul 14, 2018 09:07

Great article. I don't think many of the politicians appreciate or understand what we have on those mountain ridges above the Hollywood Sign. I published an article a month ago about Cahuenga Peak and Mt. Lee and some of the native flora and fauna that can be found there (See https://concretechaparral.com/2018/06/20/to-wonder-view-and-beyond/). A tramway would destroy this unique urban wilderness.

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Born in LA May 13, 2017 09:05

Dear Gary - you're reverting to the twisted half-truths currently spread by selfish "open the gate" peeps. I too live in the area and, yes, have hiked both trails many times. On a personal side note, kindly refrain from asserting your assumptions about me until you know actual facts :)

Regarding your post, make up your mind - are you arguing on behalf of photo-only minded tourists? In which case there are many better view spots than the Hollyridge plateau. Please re-read the article above for more photogenic alternatives.

If you want to defend the hike-to-the-sign tourists, then the Canyon Dr entrance offers a comparable hike, many more amenities, and much less inconvenience to neighbors. I observe most tourists without water bottles and wearing street shoes that suggest they don't want to hike at all.

But I suspect that both these arguments are merely a pretense for inconsiderate Hollywoodland residents who simply don't want to drive 6 minutes to hike from Canyon Drive. Instead, a few folks like you would callously impose an unfair burden on those homeowners who live just south of the gate. Do you live on Upper Beachwood? Do you experience the noise, trash, and traffic first hand? Until you've spent a year dealing with the daily hassles of the tourist onslaught, diminished property value, and inability to park near your own home... your eagerness to open the gate lacks credibility. Thankfully I live far enough from that gate that the tourists are just a mild inconvenience, but I see the impact on Beachwood Dr homeowners and am sympathetic. Perhaps you could have some compassion for your neighbors!

Regarding the judge's ruling, as you know, since you read it too, there are TWO determinations. First, the Ranch doesn't have exclusive access and that Park personnel, LAFD, and hikers may also use their driveway. This point was largely moot, since the second ruling makes clear that such usage may not interfere with the Ranch's business operations. Opening the gate clearly and significantly diminishes the Ranch's legal rights. Separately, I think it's sad that the homeowners' right to peaceful enjoyment of their property has not been prioritized, since both are important.

Ironically, the very same selfish "open gaters" who attended the protest last month boo'd and jeered cars that passed en route to the Ranch, thereby demonstrating the exact harassment of Ranch clientele that the judge sought to prevent. Just sayin'

The City Attorney didn't "decide to simply close the trail" as you again assert baselessly - in fact, under the law, the City had to comply with the ruling, which it did. Why try to spin this as some grand conspiracy? It's not. Nobody cares that much.

Your house did not come with a guarantee that you'd have walk-in access to the Park. Not even the original Hollywoodland promotional materials guaranteed hiker access to the Park. There has never been a proper Park entrance in Hollywoodland and as a resident who enjoys the tranquility of nature, I'm happier with the gate closed. It's amazing to hear birds again, and to talk with dog-walking neighbors who are also enjoying our newly peaceful streets. Hollywoodland feels again like a neighborhood instead of tourist roadkill.

You want to hike Gary? Go for a hike. Walk up Linforth to Deronda. Pop over Graciosa to Canyon. Enjoy the Park and the beautiful neighborhood. Perhaps with a clear mind we can all focus on a Park-wide solutions. Behaviors may need to change a little, but in the end, there is a better answer to be found. It's hard for me to get excited defending your desire to avoid driving 6 minutes, when it comes at at the expense of your neighbors' happiness and home values. Oh yes, opening the gate again would also be illegal.

Them is the facts.

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Gary Simon May 10, 2017 19:05

I would hate for everyone to read the comments from "Born In LA" as completely factual regarding the Beachwood Trail Head closure.
First, I have read the judges ruling, which states that the Sunset Ranch does not have exclusive access to the road leading up to its private business, which is on public land. It was indeed the city attorney who decided to simply close the trail head, not the judge. Also, the city spent $260,000 of tax payer money, to build the gate between the end of Beachwood and the Trailhead. For that private business that sits on public land.
Second, Born In LA clearly has not hiked from the parking at Bronson Canyon to the plateau photo spot that is only a few hundred feet from the Beachwood trailhead parking area. The hike from Bronson is mostly up hill, far more strenuous, and takes over and hour to an hour and a half, one way. Though the Hollywood sign can be seen, mostly from the side, at areas along the Bronson trail. No where inside the park offers the same heads on view of the sign so close.
Third, as one who lives in the neighborhood, it is indeed a huge inconvenience to have to drive to the Bronson entrance, rather than just hike a few blocks to the Beachwood entrance. Adding to more cars driving through the neighborhood, more pollution, and more danger to foot traffic on these roads, which have almost no sidewalks.

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Born in LA May 10, 2017 14:05

Casey! I applaud you for your level-headed clearness and for proposing constructive solutions! Your approach is too rare in the current rancorous climate of NIMBY neighbor infighting.

It is worth correcting three facts in your introduction:
1) the judge closed the gate atop Beachwood Dr, not the City (which merely complied with her order ). The ruling is clear that public use of that road directly violates the legal rights of the Ranch. The ruling is publicly available and more people should actually read it
2) since most visitors drive to snap their selfies, what matters is not the pedestrian distance between Beachwood and the Canyon Dr trailhead, but rather the relative difference from each to the sign - turns out that the hike from the Canyon Dr parking lot to the top is just 15 minutes longer than if you start from Beachwood Cafe (where parking permits stop tourist parking). Not a significant extension for those who seek a hike
3) you cite Beachwood Dr access since 1920, but in fact there have only been a series of unofficial (and illegal) paths into Griffith Park from Hollywoodland, NEVER an official entrance. It's easy to see the complete lack of infrastructure in Beachwood Dr relative to the parking, toilets, and trashcans that accompany the Park's real entrances.

Nonetheless, your alternatives are good and you make a compelling case for the community to think about this in terms of a broad solution that respects tourists, residents, hikers, and the fauna that make Griffith Park so special. See you on the trails!

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Skyhiker May 10, 2017 13:05

Generally, good ideas, several of which (park-wide shuttle, for example) are already under study. Small thing: it's "Griffith Observatory," not "Griffith Park Observatory." The Observatory is named after the man who made it possible, and not the park in which it is located. It's a common error, sort of like people who talk about "the Gene Autry Museum," rather than "the Autry" or the "Autry Museum." In that case, the Autry wants to emphasize that it's a museum that's named after its founding family and not a museum about Gene Autry.

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Doug May 10, 2017 09:05

There is already a nice view from the roof top parking lot over the Home Depot just west of the Target husk. Free to drive up there and always parking. The roof top parking of the Arclight Cinemas on Sunset probably also has good views. Definitely great views of downtown LA on a clear day.

There are plans for a trail from the Ford Theater to the ridge above that will have a great view of the Hollywood Reservoir and the sign and they are planning on promoting it that way.

Like this article points out, there needs to be more places for people to see the sign, not fewer. Spread the impact over a broader area so the impact isn't so great on any one place.

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Vigoosh Badalian May 10, 2017 06:05

I totally agree with you. I hope the Mayor will read this and take action ! Thank you so much!

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Lindee Levicke May 10, 2017 00:05

I agree 100% that this entire problem could be solved with a dedicated Griffith Park shuttle bus system to locations that already have great views of the sign. There is no need for an expensive and invasive gondola system being built in the park. Why is Garcetti making this so complicated and expensive?

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