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Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps

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Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps

The Hollywood Sign might be one of the most recognizable things on Earth. In Los Angeles, it's also one of the most visible. You can see it from a plane as you glide into LAX. You can see it from a car as you drive up the 101 freeway. But a group of people who live near the sign are trying to hide it, even as it looms in the hills, in plain sight. By removing it from Google Maps.

Why hide the Hollywood Sign? It begins with the story of the Hollywood locals vs. the Hollywood tourists. For decades, the people who live below the sign have been battling the constant wave of sightseers who flock to see the nine giant letters as part of an Essential Los Angeles Pilgrimage. Signs (some illegal) have been erected on streets, warning that there is "No access to the Hollywood Sign."

But in the last few years, technology has amplified this battle into an all-out war. Since they can't physically block the streets to stop cars from arriving, residents have spent years working on the next best solution: Make the sign invisible online—so no one can find it.

"How do you get to the Hollywood Sign?"

The sign hangs off the side of Mt. Lee, a peak in the Santa Monica mountain range that runs east to west through Griffith Park, the largest urban park in the U.S. While you're not allowed to scramble right up to the letters and take a seat on the W, you can summit the mountain itself, rewarding yourself with a stunning view of the city, the famous reversed-out letters at your feet (it's where I shot the photo below). The best access is from nearby Beachwood Canyon, home of the original Hollywoodland neighborhood that the sign was erected to advertise in 1923, at the end of a steep but well-maintained trail.

Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps

My photo from behind the Hollywood Sign, taken during the urban hike The Big Parade in 2009

When I first moved to LA 13 years ago, I lived at the base of Bronson Canyon, one canyon over. From our street we had a fairly clear shot of the sign and on the weekends there were often tourists taking what would later be known as selfies with H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D behind them. Whenever I hiked through the neighborhood and up into the park, I'd have at least one carful of visitors stop me to ask for driving directions to the sign.

For starters, the sign is in a park, so you can't really drive there, I'd say watching their faces deflate. Then I'd deliver the second piece of bad news: To actually get to the sign, you have to hike, and even then, you end up above it. When I'd try to explain that where they were at the moment was probably the easiest place to get the best view, they'd often wave me off, determined they could get much closer by feeling it out themselves.

Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps

So close, yet so far away. Photo by Seng Phomphanh

But the sign is both tempting and elusive. That's why you'll find so many tourists taking photos on dead-end streets at the base of the Hollywood Hills. For many years, the urban design of the neighborhood actually served as the sign's best protection: Due to the confusingly named, corkscrewing streets, it's actually not that easy to tell someone how to get to the Hollywood Sign.

That all changed about five years ago, thanks to our suddenly sentient devices. Phones and GPS were now able to aid the tourists immensely in their quests to access the sign, sending them confidently through the neighborhoods, all the way up to the access gate, where they'd park and wander along the narrow residential streets. This, the neighbors complained, created gridlock, but even worse, it represented a fire hazard in the dry hills—fire trucks would not be able to squeeze by the parked cars in case of an emergency.

Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps

Google Maps clearly showing the exact location of the Hollywood Sign, on a trail north of Beachwood Canyon (much to local residents' dismay)

The neighbors pleaded with the city to help. Then the local councilmember, Tom LaBonge, who is known for leading regular hikes through the park and up to the sign itself, proposed something that seemed crazy, if not impossible: He would look into changing the sign's official GPS coordinates, effectively hiding it from tourists forever.

So how doyou get to the Hollywood Sign?

By 2011 the A few years athe anti-tourist rhetoric reached a fever pitch, with homeowners mounting a vicious campaignthreatening visitors, who, unsurprisingly, just kept coming. Some neighbors painted their curbs red (illegally) to discourage parking and tacked up more signs (illegally) warning against trespassing. In a vacant lot, someone took the time to build a full-on piece of land art that seemed to echo the large white letters in the distance: TOURISTS GO AWAY.

In response to the vitriol, and because I myself had witnessed the crowds firsthand, I wrote what I thought was a very helpful bit of service journalism on my blog, "The best way to see the Hollywood sign." In my piece, I argue that driving through the twisty-turny streets of Beachwood Canyon is actually not the best way to snuggle up to the sign. I very clearly direct would-be visitors to the address of a small public park with an excellent view of the famous icon, from which you can hike up to the sign.

Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps

My map of how to see the Hollywood Sign, with directions to a local park and then walking directions the rest of the way

Three years later my story remains one of the top hits if you go searching online for the best way to see the Hollywood Sign, and every few weeks I still get emails from people sharing the photos they took from the location and thanking me profusely for posting the information on my blog.

Why? Because if you try to find out how to actually get to the Hollywood Sign by asking Google Maps, you won't get anywhere near it.

Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps

Even though Google Maps clearly marks the actual location of the sign, something funny happens when you request driving directions from any place in the city. The directions lead you to Griffith Observatory, a beautiful 1920s building located one mountain east from the sign, then—in something I've never seen before, anywhere on Google Maps—a dashed gray line arcs from Griffith Observatory, over Mt. Lee, to the sign's site. Walking directions show the same thing.

Even though you can very clearly walk to the sign via the extensive trail network in Griffith Park, the map won't allow you to try.

Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps

When I tried to get walking directions to the sign from the small park I suggest parking at in my article, Google Maps does an even crazier thing. It tells you to walk an hour and a half out of the way, all the way to Griffith Observatory, and look at the sign from there.

Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps

No matter how you try to get directions—Google Maps, Apple Maps, Bing—they all tell you the same thing. Go to Griffith Observatory. Gaze in the direction of the dashed gray line. Do not proceed to the sign.

Don't get me wrong, the view of the sign from Griffith Observatory is quite nice. And that sure does make it easier to explain to tourists. But how could the private interests of a handful of Angelenos have persuaded mapping services to make it the primary route?

Anyone seen a Hollywood Sign around here?

To find out how this happened, I had a very nice conversation with Betsy Isroelit from the Hollywood Sign Trust, a nonprofit which protects and maintains the sign, and has become in many ways the keeper of the sign's public interests.

She admits that there was once a goal to "hide" the sign online completely, but it was deemed impossible. "At one point we were successful in getting Google to take the address down, but it appears so many other places like the city council offices and the city of LA that they put it back up."

In the end, it was Councilmember LaBonge who found a different solution. Working closely with Google and the GPS company Garmin, he was able to convince them to change the directions to the sign. Google did not respond to my requests for comment, but Carly Hysell from Garmin confirmed to me that the change was made in their the spring 2012 map release.

"The point of interest right at the sign was removed and 'sign view' points of interest on the ground were added, but they aren't at the sign itself." Now there are actually twoplaces that drivers might be directed: Griffith Observatory, and puzzlingly, the viewing platform at the Hollywood & Highland Center, which is about four miles away on busy Hollywood Boulevard.

Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps

The view of the sign from the Hollywood & Highland Center, which is frankly not going to cut it with most tourists. Photo via Hollywood Sign Trust

Now imagine for a second that you've flown all the way here from Istanbul to see the Hollywood Sign. And you end up at a mall.

Although the Hollywood Sign Trust has posted these viewing places on their website, Isroelit says the nonprofit's official position is to remain vague. So the websiteinsists there is no address, devotes an entire page to explaining why you shouldn't hike to the sign. "We're very explicit about not parking in the neighborhood," she says. "But we don't own the land and we don't control the city streets."

Technically, neither do the neighbors, who continue to harass tourists—and residents—who have every right to use the streets, trails, and public parklands to access the sign.

Now, at least two people who live in the neighborhood have now decided to come after me for publishing accurate information about where the Hollywood Sign actually is and how to get there.

Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps

The Hollywood Sign on Google Street View, which lists this address as 6084 Mulholland Hwy

Last week, I received an email from a homeowner who threatened to take legal action against me for posting two separate addresses on my blog (the address of the small public park and another place to find the access gate to the hiking trail—neither of which are residential addresses or actual addresses of the sign):

Please immediately cease and desist from using 3204 Canyon Lake Drive and 6161 Mulholland [Hwy] or any other residence as the address for the Hollywood Sign and change the address to one of the two official viewing spots sanctioned by the Hollywood Sign Trust as shown in their map. The locations are: Griffith Park Observatory and the Hollywood and Highland Center...

Please be advised that up to this point your actions may have simply been due to an oversight of the local situation. However, should the address not be changed going forward, you may named in a lawsuit and be held liable for damages in an accident or due to your knowing and/or negligent continuing direction of visitors to the viewing spot at 3204 Canyon Lake Driveand 6161 Mulholland Hwy.

As I was still trying to process how I might be held liable for making a map, the initial email was followed by eight separate emails from the same resident with photos of how my writing was encouraging people to park illegally.

Within a few hours, another resident emailed me:

[W]hy are you referring people to the Hollywood sign, using addresses that are not sanctioned by Recreation & Parks or by Hollywoodsign.org?

That is because you are referring people to a death trap. You are actually not advocating for "safe" or "fun" walking.

We do not have the infrastructure to handle all these extra cars. There is nowhere for them to park. There are no LA Park Rangers in these areas. There are no bathrooms, no drinking fountains, no sidewalks. You CANNOT hike to the sign, yet you are encouraging a volatile situation.

This email was accompanied by photos of a small fire and a burst fire hydrant, both of which my writing had caused. Also, the email mentions that a dog was run over by a car in the area, which was apparently also my fault.

It gets worse than simply firing off a few emails. Earlier this year, these Beachwood Canyon residents successfully petitioned the city to close a public trail to the sign to keep tourists at bay, erecting a giant fence and hiring security guards. The trail has been closed since late March. Now no one, even residents, can use one of the most popular trails to access one of the country's largest urban parks, in the middle of our public space-deprived city.

I saw the sign

When I spoke to Councilmember LaBonge he emphasized that his job was to protectpotential environmental and safety concerns. "There are impacts to the canyon that we are trying to resolve," he said. But on the other hand, he said, nothing has actually been restricted in the area as far as parking or roadblocks. "It's very important to have access at all time to that mountain." The trail that's been closed—ostensibly for repairs—is being reopened soon, he told me.

The solution going forward likely won't involve more mapping tweaks. LaBonge's next project will be a shuttle thatwould take people from a location in Hollywood to a place where they could easily access the park and the trail to the sign—without bringing their cars.

But healso agreed that the online battle had been tough for the city to win. "The internet is like a wild river," he said. "It allows anything and everything and you hate to see anybody drown."

When that wild river is tamed, it's usually in our best interest. Mapping companies might blur satellite imagery in the name of public safety, like certain international borders and government buildings. But the fact that cartographers are publishing false information about public lands in the middle of Los Angeles is quite worrying.

Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps

An art installation by On The Road in May addressed access to the sign by making it appear that the Hollywood Sign had been dismantled

Over at Garmin, Hysell noted that their cartographers do, in fact, take input outside of their own experiences driving the routes. "They do receive data on a regular basis from city officials, county officials, DOT websites, and so on, and of course, make updates and adjustments to the mapping accordingly," she says. "They also take reports from users, too, and apply changes as deemed worthy and verifiable."

So what's happening in Hollywood is a disturbing peek into the future of digital cartography. A few dozen homeowners in one of the city's wealthiest zip codes—who bought their homes knowing (I assume) about the letters hanging just outside their bedroom windows—have found a way to keep people out of their neighborhood by manipulating technology.

This is the next iteration of a gated community.

It doesn't seem like it could happen just anywhere; Hysell agrees that the Hollywood Sign was a special exception. But where do the exceptions end? A group of homeowners petitions Zillow to hide specific property information and prevent certain populations from buying homes? A group of well-to-do Yelpers deliberately scramble the addresses of their favorite restaurants, so undesirables can't "discover" them?

Why People Keep Trying to Erase the Hollywood Sign From Google Maps

Another Google Street View shot from behind the Hollywood Sign, which homeowners claim you cannot hike to

Thanks to the duplicitous nature of NIMBYs, now we have three levels of censorship happening here in Hollywood: Organizations erecting digital walls around our most famous landmarks, technology companies lying to tourists about our geography, and a faction of vigilante residents cracking down on bloggers who are trying to disseminate accurate information about our city.

Because our mapping services are now subject to the whims of angry, powerful residents, we have to rely on other sources to give us accurate directions. In a way, the post on my blog is almost like passing out hand-drawn paper cartography from person to person, a map to buried treasure that hangs in plain sight. Until the online maps are updated properly, I'm here to help anyone—tourist or resident—who wants to experience all LA has to offer. Just let me know if you need directions.

Top art by Michael Hession

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sarcozona
1 day ago
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Buying expensive houses makes people unreasonable, selfish assholes/ unreasonable, selfish assholes buy expensive houses
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3 public comments
JayM
1 day ago
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Perhaps it is time for the rest of the Internet to email these homeowners. I really loved this part: "There are no bathrooms, no drinking fountains, no sidewalks. You CANNOT hike to the sign, yet you are encouraging a volatile situation." OH NO! No bathrooms, drinking fountains, or sidewalks?!? How would one possibly survive for a couple hours outside?!?
Boston Metro Area
fxer
2 days ago
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Why the world needs openstreetmap
Bend, Oregon
HarlandCorbin
1 day ago
Just added these two addresses into my phone contact list under "Hollywood Sign". If I ever go to LA, I'll make sure to go here to sightsee. And I'll plan to try the trail to hike up the mountain.
mareino
2 days ago
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Good Lord those homeowners are crazy.
Washington, District of Columbia

Page 64

SFP
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pfctdayelise
2 days ago
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Lovely graphic today
Melbourne, Australia
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There Are No Moderates in #GamerGate

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I found this subreddit about leaving (or rejecting) #GamerGate absolutely fascinating. The upshot is that there are no moderates left in GG, which is why it’s becoming increasingly harder to pretend that this is anything more than just a reactionary anti-woman movement.

 








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smadin
3 days ago
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"no moderates left in GG" there never were any to start with.
Boston
zwol
3 days ago
There may have been some people who were honestly deluded about the movement's goals, and the wire brush of enlightenment has since descended.

Cyclic fractions

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Somewhere along the way you may have noticed that the digits in the decimal expansion of multiples of 1/7 are all rotations of the same digits:

1/7 = 0.142857142857…
2/7 = 0.285714285714…
3/7 = 0.428571428571…
4/7 = 0.571428571428…
5/7 = 0.714285714285…
6/7 = 0.857142857142…

We can make the pattern more clear by vertically aligning the sequences of digits: repeating numbers:

1/7 = 0.142857142857…
2/7 =   0.2857142857…
3/7 =  0.42857142857…
4/7 =     0.57142857…
5/7 =      0.7142857…
6/7 =    0.857142857…

Are there more cyclic fractions like that? Indeed there are. Another example is 1/17. The following shows that 1/17 how 1/7 is cyclic:

1/17 = 0.05882352941176470588235294117647…
 2/17 =           0.1176470588235294117647…
 3/17 =            0.176470588235294117647…
 4/17 =     0.2352941176470588235294117647…
 5/17 =        0.2941176470588235294117647…
 6/17 =      0.352941176470588235294117647…
 7/17 =          0.41176470588235294117647…
 8/17 =               0.470588235294117647…
 9/17 =       0.52941176470588235294117647…
10/17 =  0.5882352941176470588235294117647…
11/17 =              0.6470588235294117647…
12/17 =                0.70588235294117647…
13/17 =             0.76470588235294117647…
14/17 =    0.82352941176470588235294117647…
15/17 =   0.882352941176470588235294117647…
16/17 =         0.941176470588235294117647…

The next denominator to exhibit this pattern is 19. After finding 17 and 19 by hand, I typed “7, “7., 17, 19″ into the Online Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences found a list of denominators of cyclic fractions: OEIS A001913. These numbers are called “full reptend primes” and according to MathWorld “No general method is known for finding full reptend primes.”

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Let's Encrypt

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can't wait for this free, dead simple certificate authority from the EFF, Mozilla, and more  
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pfctdayelise
4 days ago
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Seems too good to be true, really
Melbourne, Australia
senorbacon
3 days ago
phishing just got a lot easier
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Actually, I Didn’t Ask For Your Advice

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Say you’re practicing piano. You’ve been playing since you were a teen, mostly for fun. You’re working on a new, difficult piece. Also, you’re kind of hungry and distracted and you just gave yourself a manicure that’s still kind of wet. A raccoon comes to the window.

When that raccoon opens the window with his knobbly little thumb and says, “That song is actually supposed to be played in C minor, and you need to curl your fingers more. Humans never curl their fingers enough.” Do you think “Oh, maybe he has a point”? No. You think, “Why the fuck is this raccoon talking to me? What the fuck does this raccoon know about piano? Why is he telling me some piano 101 shit? I know I have to curl my fingers, but I’m not trying to ruin my ombré right now. I’m just killing time before I meet Lucy for dinner.”

It doesn’t matter if you find out later that the raccoon is a famous racoon pianist, renowned across the forest for his delicate sonatas. He came into your space and offered you unsolicited criticism without context. He is a douche.

This happened to me the other day, except instead of piano it was ultimate frisbee, and instead of a raccoon it was some fucking guy.

I’ve played ultimate for almost 10 years, but I’m not an elite player. I used to play competitively, but now I play for fun. If I wanted to play for glory and trophies, I would try out for a team whose goal is glory and trophies. Instead, I pick up on rec teams and play the odd tournament. Going from university women’s varsity to mixed rec has been a gross reminder that playing sports with dudes involves a constant stream of gentle derision. It’s not worth recounting everything this raccoon said to me, but basically he critiqued my form when I was warming up (with an injury, no less), then asked my name, then insinuated I was overreacting when I told him what he was doing was rude. (He’s, of course, not the first dude to assume he knows what’s best for me in ultimate. When I started showing up at pickup games, dudes would routinely explain the force to me, tell me I should be handler/cutter instead of what I was doing. Or lecture me on cutting from the stack, then dance around in the lane after getting looked off like 5 times.)

Stuff like this used to happen when I was a kid. I stopped playing playground soccer when boys got mad that I wasn’t good and wouldn’t pass to me. I stopped playing playground basketball when boys got mad I was good and wouldn’t pass to me. Six of one, you know? I spent a decade or so playing on all-girls teams, cultivating the unique rivalries of traveling Vs. school season and making sure to eat enough protein on game days. But when the ships have come in and those choice few have gone off to play in the majors and D1, you know what’s left? Social and recreational sports. It’s a fucking schoolyard all over again.

Sports ladies of the world, when you start playing organized, low-level sports (or really any sports) out in the adult sphere, you are gonna meet a raccoon. Probably more than one. You’re gonna think what he said maybe wasn’t such a big deal, he was just trying to be nice, actually he has a point… No, girl. No. Raccoons are grimy, entitled little hairsacs. They are saying so many shitty things when they offer you unsolicited advice on your game.

 

They are saying:

I am more skilled than you. (Without demonstrating this and without a comprehensive knowledge of your skill level.)

I know more than you. (Again, without demonstrating this and without a comprehensive knowledge of your skill level.)

You have to listen to me. (Without asking if you want to hear him.)

 

WHY WOULD YOU LISTEN TO A FUCKING RACCOON? I want you to overreact. I want you to say “Dude, shut up. Your advice means dick-all to me because I don’t know who you are and I don’t give a shit what you think about how I play,” and then shoo him out of your space with a broom. If he turns out to be the King of Sports, well, bro knows now to maybe introduce himself before shooting his fucking mouth off, doesn’t he? These off-brand weasels are not gonna stop until we make it clear that shit is unacceptable.

Three people have the right to criticize your play: coaches, captains, and trusted mentors. Even if you are a novice. No, actually, especially if you are a novice. You’re doing mad work trying to remember rules and create some muscle memory. You agree to a dialogue when you enter into a coach/player or captain/player relationship or when you ask your pals for advice. Rando Raccoon on the sideline? He can fuck right off. Even if he’s Joel fucking Silver, I don’t wanna hear his comments unless I ask for them.

A moral for dudes who play mixed sports: don’t offer women advice. If you just can’t bear watching someone fail at something you could so clearly help them with, that’s your fucking problem. Deal with that. Don’t put your saviour complex onto someone else. She’s getting there. She’s doing it her way. She’s practicing how she’s practicing. You don’t know why she’s there. Maybe she just wants a chill environment to run around in. If you want to play on a team whose goal is glory and trophies, go try out for that team. Hate to break it to you, but you might not make it. If you’re a better player than she is, she knows. She might ask you for advice once she can tell you’re not a total jackass.

A moral for ladies who play mixed sports: Go get your sweat on. If some raccoon tries to chatter at you, tell him all the fucks you have to give about his unsolicited opinion are in the bottom of a compost bin.

 


Zoe Daniels is a writer and comedian who lives in Toronto. Her day job is code. (She sometimes makes jokes with that, too.)

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