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Another mystery beneath the Hollywood sign

First it was directional signs for tourists that vanished, and now 1923 bronze 'Hollywoodland' plaques marking the stone gateway to the community have disappeared. Theories abound.

April 27, 2011|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Two historic monument plaques, as shown in a book, are missing from a stone gate in Beachwood Canyon.
Two historic monument plaques, as shown in a book, are missing from a stone… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

Residents living on the narrow lanes beneath the Hollywood sign have quarreled for months over small directional signs pointing tourists to a place where the iconic Tinseltown symbol can be viewed and photographed.

The road signs benefited homeowners on the street that dead-ends at the locked fire road that leads to Mt. Lee and the Hollywood sign. Unfortunately, the signs funneled sightseers and tour buses onto other nearby streets. Then the signs mysteriously disappeared. Whether that's a crime depends on which street you live on.

But now real thieves have stolen two signs that nearly everyone in the hillside neighborhood mourns losing: the historic 1923 "Hollywoodland" bronze plaques that marked the stone gateway to the community.

"I was made aware of them being missing Saturday by a neighbor who wanted to show the plaques to a friend," said Jeff Meyer, owner of the nearby Hollywoodland Antiques shop and the caretaker of the gateway's clock.

On Tuesday, there were plenty of theories circulating at the north end of Beachwood Drive as to who may have taken the pair of 18-by-24-inch commemorative fixtures.

Tourists were at the top of the list, because the popularity of GPS devices has soared and droves of visitors are sent daily into Beachwood Canyon, thinking they can actually walk to the Hollywood sign.

Scrap metal scavengers were next, although many thought them unlikely suspects because lettered bronze markers are becoming harder to sell, despite a booming metals market.

Finally there were whispers that it might be one of the residents living beneath the Hollywood sign who is disgusted with the deluge of tourists that often clogs the neighborhood.

"Maybe it's an odd coincidence, but there's been an internal battle going on up here about signage. Maybe the controversy over that is behind this," Meyer said.

Authorities have no suspects, but people like Meyer are closely watching Craigslist and EBay to see if the two plaques pop up for sale.

Hollywood historian Greg Williams — whose family owns property in the Beachwood Canyon area — said he figures the plaques were swiped to be melted down. He said police would not take a report from residents over the weekend because the gateway is considered city property.

"My best guess is it was taken for salvage. Tourists don't usually go out with crowbars," and the Hollywoodland gate is not a traditional visitor attraction, Williams said.

"All the homeowners are upset," he said. "It's pretty despicable, but in this day and age anything is possible."

Sarajane Schwartz, president of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Assn., said the plaques' theft is only one example of lawlessness the neighborhood has recently experienced.

Anti-Semitic and anti-gay slurs were painted on a wall over the weekend, and the tourists' directional signs were taken. "And our homeowners association email was hijacked and illegal emails sent out," she said.

Schwartz was critical of what she described as efforts by the city "to designate our neighborhood as a tourism area. We're really mystified by that."

While her area has traditionally welcomed tourists, the onslaught of Hollywood sign searchers brought on by GPS devices is something "we can't manage anymore," she said.

The five directional signs pointing tourists away from Deronda Drive and toward another viewpoint were paid for by previous leaders of Schwartz's homeowners association and by another homeowner group: the competing Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood Assn.

Since their disappearance in February, there has been conflicting speculation over who was responsible. Before the $1,500 tourist signs were removed, one was covered over with a plastic bag by a resident disgruntled over traffic in the area.

"These signs literally said, 'Come on in,' " said Schwartz, who has lived in the canyon more than 30 years. "We're not Disneyland. We're not a tourist attraction."

Rival Beachwood Canyon Neighborhood Assn. President Fran Reichenbach speculated that the influx of tourists — "memento seekers" — might be to blame for the theft of the Hollywoodland plaques. She doubts that the plaques' disappearance is tied to the controversy over the directional signs.

Most residents support preservation of Hollywoodland's history, even if they are opposed to the wave of tourists, she said.

But Reichenbach said the tourists aren't going away. "They're here — it's a revenue stream that shouldn't be overlooked" for Los Angeles, she said.

So speculation continues and theories abound in Hollywoodland.

"I personally find it very suspicious the plaques were taken at this time when the two rival factions have taken down signs and are hiding them from each other," 31-year-resident Brian Van Zandt said.

"I miss them. They made you feel good when you walked past them and saw something historical smile back at you."

bob.pool@latimes.com

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