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From Hollywood to Sunset Strip, Signs Define L.A.


How does the Los Angeles environmental graphics landscape stack up with other major cities?

We have great signage, but like the city itself, it has to be sought out, says Wayne Hunt.

He ticked off a litany of his favorite L.A. urban design statements, starting with the Hollywood sign.

"It started out as a tacky real estate promotion--the kind of thing that would not be allowed today--and now is probably the most famous sign in the world. It's recognized and emulated everywhere. It's place-making at its best."

And for practical "way finding," he cites the California freeway system signage as offering some of the most disciplined, organized design in any public environment. "With its minimalist, clear directions, it is probably the best example I can cite of pure, graphics problem-solving."

For signage that is spectacular rather than practical, he admires the Sunset Strip as "one of the few places where billboards play a [positive] role in place-making." Rather than an example of visual clutter, he sees the Strip as an entertainment zone where large, over-the-top, colorful advertising is appropriate. "Like New York's Times Square for walkers, ours offers the same kind of storytelling for drivers."

He also gives high praise to:

* The Santa Monica Pier archway, with its blue background and elegant typography. "I don't think the pier would have its cachet without the arch--it has come to symbolize the city."

* The "neon corridor," the stretch of Wilshire Boulevard between Alvarado and Vermont whose hotels were built during the 1920s. "The lettering was mounted on tiny, delicate frames, which you can't see at night. The [neon] script just seems to be floating above the building, which is very romantic."

* The Hollywood Walk of Fame and Mann's Chinese Theatre, outstanding examples of "transforming functional sidewalks into a historical experience."

* Street banners, which are "too small to put messages on, so they have to be image-driven, more like a classic poster than a billboard." He has particular praise for the Getty Center and Hollywood Bowl banners. "Even if you don't go to the concerts, you get the sense that something is happening. It energizes the city."

* Disneyland, which, he says, does "the best job of totally integrating all design disciplines into a seamless environment. If you go to Tomorrowland, you will see that every piece of graphics, every restaurant sign, every logo, shares a comic-book view of the future. And the same thematic coordination is true of every section."

What he doesn't like are the three pylons looming over Staples Center. "They are oversized and commercial, with no redeeming features. I like the building itself but not the signs. They are totally intrusive."

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