In the latest escalation of Los Angeles’s Hollywood Sign wars, Warner Brothers has announced something of a truce: a plan to build a $100 million gondola system that would connect the entertainment company’s studio backlot in Burbank, California with the iconic sign. The plan was announced via The Los Angeles Times earlier this week and comes as Los Angeles works to assuage concerns of the wealthy homeowners who live near and around access points to the sign. Those homeowners complain that increased public desire to visit and see the landmark has created gridlock and unsafe conditions in their neighborhoods as tourists peer out from their cars and stop in the middle of the street to take photos of and selfies with the sign. Though world famous as an iconic symbol of L.A., the Hollywood sign has never functioned as a traditional monument that people can freely visit. Instead, intrepid hikers and explorers must traverse a series of canyon trails, including the Beachwood Canyon access point, which the city closed in 2017, to get close to the sign. The super-adventurous have long illicitly hiked to the site of the sign itself, where the 40-foot-tall letters are simply and unceremoniously affixed to the hillside with poured concrete footings. But in recent years, as athleisure activities and Instagram have taken off, interest in visiting and seeing the sign has blossomed, presenting headaches for neighbors and questions of safety for visitors alike. After a recent trail closure, local city councilperson David Ryu commissioned a study aimed at finding ways to increase public access to the sign without impacting neighborhood residents. The wide-ranging recommendations included punitive measures like planting new trees and shrubbery to obscure views of the sign from the circuitous Mulholland Drive as well as visionary fixes, like potentially building a gondola system and visitors center along south-facing slopes of the Hollywood Hills. The most outlandish recommendation called for erecting a replica sign on the opposing side of the mountain that faces the San Fernando Valley. Warner Brothers’ plan represents a strange hybrid of the latter approaches. The company has large studio and production facilities in the San Fernando Valley that are a tourist draw in their own right. The proposed plan—an architect or design team has not been announced—would essentially expand those facilities to include access to the Hollywood sign by spanning over nearby Griffith Park and other adjoining hillsides. The scheme is in the very early phases of planning and study and will require many agency and local approvals, but the studio has offered to pay for the gondola, so at least funding is secured. Chris Baumgart, chair of the Hollywood Sign Trust said via email, “The Warner Brothers proposal is just one of many solutions that added together will help ease the burden of over-tourism faced by the neighborhoods.” Baumgart added, “There is no one solution to the complexities of this issue. The scope of the Warner Brother’s project will have a long road of vetting with community groups and local governments involved. The Environmental Impact Report for construction in an open space is just one of the challenges that will have to be navigated if this intriguing idea is to come to fruition.” The gondola proposal comes weeks after Aerial Rapid Transit Technologies, LLC announced its own plan to construct a gondola system that would take passengers from the Los Angeles Union Station to Dodger Stadium. That $150 million proposal is also under development, has support from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, and is projecting a 2022 opening date. A timeline for the Hollywood Sign gondola has not been announced.
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New York and London-based firms Davis Brody Bond and Marks Barfield have put together the initial plans of a gondola network that would run through Chicago's city center. Called the "Chicago Skyline," the idea is the brainchild of businessmen, Lou Raizin, founder of Broadway in Chicago and Laurence Geller, chairman and CEO of Geller Capital Partners. The gondolas would serve as a major tourist attraction, showcasing Chicago's architectural splendor while also establishing a link, unhindered by traffic, to major sight-seeing locations and areas of interest such as the lakefront, downtown, riverwalk, Millennium Park, and the Navy pier. https://vimeo.com/165363195 Aside from shuttling tourist's across the city, the system would offer a unique view of Chicago's famed high-rise cityscape. Previously unobtainable views over trees and across the river would cast the city in a new light and no doubt become a must-do for visitors. "The Skyline is a prime example of how we can move Chicago from old guard to vanguard," said Lou Raizin in the Chicago Tribune. "We kept coming back to the same question: What's our unique feature? Where's our Eiffel Tower? Where's our Big Ben? These ideas are our attempt to answer this question and are intended to start a conversation in the city about what we would like our reputation to be in the future." "If the will of the people is there, this project flies literally," he added. "This is iconic," said Geller meanwhile, going onto add that "the world requests iconic destinations." As for capacity, designers have so far catered for up to 3,000 riders an hour with journeys lasting around 30 minutes. The cable-cars would travel at just under 9 miles per hour at 800 feet above street level, operating year-round. Fare prices meanwhile, are yet to be determined, however, the Tribune reports they are likely fall within the range of other ticketed vantage points like the observation decks at the Willis Tower and John Hancock Center, at around $20. The project would cost $250 million, and while Geller believes it could be paid for privately, he and Raizin are currently seeking public comments on the idea. A statement from the Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office said: "These investments, which don't require taxpayer dollars, create good-paying jobs, pump money into our neighborhood economies, and increase educational and cultural opportunities for city youth. The Mayor welcomes a dialogue about any proposals that meet these goals." "We believe the way forward is by showcasing Chicago as a city of neighborhoods and building projects that capture the mind and inspire the soul of both residents and visitors alike," said Geller in a press release. Of the two design firms on the project, both can boast an established pedigree in observation and cable-based projects. David Marks of Marks Barfield for example, worked on the London Eye, which has subsequently become Britain's most lucrative tourist attraction. Davis Brody Bond on the other hand, was the architect behind the September 11 Memorial Museum in New York while also being a cable lift manufacturer and of Walsh Construction, the company that built the Riverwalk and Maggie Daley Park.
Seattle’s monorail was unveiled in 1962 and it now carries 7,000 passengers per day on a one-mile track between the Space Needle just north of downtown and the center of the city. While plans were first proposed in 1997 to extend the monorail, they were scratched. But now another way to travel and see Seattle from the sky is being offered by Kyle Griffith, the owner and developer of the Seattle Great Wheel (that rests on Pier 57 on the waterfront): an urban gondola. Cities like Rio de Janeiro and Singapore have installed gondolas to great success, providing a more exciting way to commute and an unusual way to view the urban landscape below. The gondola would travel along Union Street from the Convention Center—four blocks from the monorail stop at Westlake Center—to the waterfront, with an additional stop in between at Pike Place Market. The gondolas would carry at total of 1,800 people per hour or the equivalent of 50 packed Metro buses. The project would be privately financed. Right now, Griffith is seeking permits and putting together an environmental review. If successfully backed and approved, construction would start after the Alaska Way Viaduct is dismantled. Check out this website devoted to urban gondola projects, and see more of them below.