Bob Ginn used to get angry every time he drove past the trash dumped next to one of the main gateways to Hollywood.
Old mattresses, broken shopping carts and piles of rubbish were strewn in the weeds alongside the Highland Avenue exit from the Hollywood Freeway. The dumping ground was a no-man's land created by the three-way boundary of city, county and state property, and nobody seemed interested in claiming responsibility for cleaning it.
So the Hollywood Bowl groundskeeper cut through four layers of red tape and built his own do-it-yourself entryway into Hollywood.
He planted native oak saplings and toyon plants where the trash had accumulated. And to make the site more hospitable, he constructed his own 63-square-foot "Welcome to Hollywood" sign in the middle of it all.
"It's our front door. It should be a welcome mat," Ginn said Friday. "I'd be embarrassed every time I got off the Hollywood Freeway. That offramp seemed to catch it."
The site is important because international visitors staying at a nearby Cahuenga Pass youth hostel walk past it on their way into Hollywood. And San Fernando Valley concert-goers headed for the Hollywood Bowl get an eyeful when they pass by in their cars.
Ginn, 57, is grounds maintenance supervisor at the Bowl, where he has worked for 16 years. He enlisted a friend, Sal Barcenas, to help with the cleanup. Barcenas directs a crew of minor offenders who, as part of their sentences, do maintenance work for the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation in the vicinity of the Hollywood Bowl.
A wall that helps form a walkway beneath the offramp was used as the base of Ginn's welcome sign. At first, he considered painting a mural on it. But the 8-foot wall was too small.
Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, agreed to let Ginn use the stylized lettering from the famous Hollywood sign without paying the usual licensing fee.
It took six months after that to get the approval of state, county and city officials for the project. Once those hurdles were cleared, Ginn purchased a postcard of the Hollywood sign and sketched out his welcome sign. He scrounged scrap marble floor tiles and Barcenas helped him form them into the sign's letters.
The white lettering jumps out at passersby from the finished sign's black background. Since being installed two weeks ago, it's gotten rave reviews from offramp motorists.
"It's a good addition to the area," said Wendy Lord, who manages the Hollywood Bungalows youth hostel near the sign. "It's a nice welcome for visitors."
Ginn, who lives in Arcadia, said the landscaping he created in the offramp area may soon spread to some other undeveloped hillside areas near the Hollywood Bowl.
Besides improving the looks, the new vegetation will eventually cut down the brush fire danger, he said.