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Posts Tagged ‘traffic sign’

Photo: Richard Ankrom/Brewery Art Colony.
The Freeway sign with Richard Ankrom’s correction — a stealth project to warn drivers they had to get left fast if they wanted to go north on route 5.

It may go back to leaving May Day baskets for neighbors as a child — ringing the doorbell and hiding — but I do like stealth projects. For example, when I was working on PR for a production of the musical Sunday in the Park with George about Impressionist Georges Seurat, I placed greeting cards with his famous painting around a bookshop for customers to notice or buy. I have no idea what the salespeople did when they couldn’t find a shop code.

Today’s story is about a professional sign painter and artist who saw a highway sign that badly needed fixing. He didn’t call the highway department.

As Nate Rogers writes at theLAnd magazine, “In 2001, Richard Ankrom installed a fake freeway sign in downtown L.A. in order to fix a real problem for commuters. The sign is now long gone, but 20 years later, the stunt remains etched into the soul of the city.

“In the pre-dawn hours of August 5, 2001,” Rogers reports, “Richard Ankrom got in his pick-up truck and drove out to a downtown L.A. freeway sign. He parked along an off-ramp near 4th and Beaudry Streets, stashed two large sheets of aluminum in the bushes, and took a deep breath. …

‘I was scared,’ he recalled recently, perched on an overpass, staring down at the area where this occurred two decades earlier. ‘I stood there, just to kind of calm down, you know.’

“There was no turning back now, he remembered thinking. He’d already spent the time and money to manufacture a near-undetectable replica of two pieces of freeway signage to exact industry specification. And in advance of their installation, he’d prepared a decal for his truck that read ‘Aesthetic De Construction,’ created a phony work order in case anyone approached him, and cut his shaggy blond hair to a city-worker-appropriate length. 

“He’d also already enlisted his friends from the Brewery Art Colony … to get up at the crack of dawn to document what would later become known as his infamous ‘Guerrilla Public Service’ project. … And anyway, after the signage — an Interstate 5 emblem and an accompanying green placard reading ‘NORTH’ — had been made, it had to be put up. Otherwise, what was the point? …

“For many years, if you were traveling north on the 110 in downtown Los Angeles and were intending to go north on the 5, there was no easily visible signage to prepare you for the sudden interchange. And it’s not just any interchange, either — it’s a strange corkscrew of an exit on the left side of the freeway, sneaking up on you at the end of a tunnel. Without a decent amount of warning, you would very likely miss it. …

“A sign artist by trade, Ankrom wasn’t fazed by the initial part of his project. He downloaded a Caltrans manual, cross-checking the information by assessing an easily accessible freeway sign in person. He then cut the aluminum and painted the shield and placard, essentially by hand. On the back of the shield, he signed his name. … 

“There was one part he couldn’t make himself, however, which was the circular reflectors that had to sit on top. But he was able to convince the company that made them that he needed the reflectors for a film project — which was not untrue … ‘It had to be documented,’ he said.

“Just after the sun came up on installation day, with video cameras rolling from various vantage points, Ankrom put on a hardhat and safety vest, hoisted a ladder up to the larger freeway sign apparatus, and climbed up to the plank with his work. …

“There happened to be a Caltrans crew working nearby when Ankrom was up there [but] no one questioned him. ‘They say if you’re dressed correctly and carry a clipboard around, you can get away with a lot of stuff,’ he put it. …

“Some nine months later, after he posted [the footage] on a pre-YouTube video hosting site, the story was broken simultaneously by LA Weekly and the Downtown News. (The video — a bizarre and hypnotizing behind-the-scenes look at every step of the process — is its own work of art.) Almost immediately, he had a line of media teams waiting outside his studio to set up interviews for national news programs. …

“Caltrans also weighed in after it was reached for comment by various media organizations. In a shocking moment of humility, they noted that, while they didn’t approve of Ankrom’s methods, they couldn’t deny the quality of his work. Not only would they not be pressing charges — they were going to leave his handiwork up. One Caltrans representative jokingly told ABC that they had a job application for Ankrom to fill out. …

“These days, Caltrans is less amused by Ankrom’s story than it was in 2001. When reached for comment, a representative didn’t want to talk about the specifics — instead preferring to state that they ‘very strongly discourage unauthorized persons from trespassing onto Caltrans right of way,’ and that there are ‘legal penalties and serious personal liability’ for doing so. Should you have an issue with something like signage, the representative recommends you ‘simply submit a Customer Service Request.’ ” 

More at the LAnd Magazine, here.

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