Saturday, November 28, 2009

Caltrans Changes Signs on 110 North; Richard Ankrom's Famed "5 North" Installation Feared Lost

The new sign, heading north on the 110.

If you're driving north on the 110 past downtown Los Angeles this weekend, you'll notice the brand-spanking new freeway signs installed by California's Department of Transportation.

The new signs are much more reflective, and also for the first time give equal weight to both the 5 and 110 freeways. The new signs designate the 5 North for drivers in the left two lanes, and the 110 North for the right two lanes.

Quite a difference from a few years ago, when the signs didn't mention the 5 North at all. Back then, motorists were left scrambling to figure out on their own how to find the 5 North turnoff from the 110 North (if you knew it was there at all).

That is, until artist Richard Ankrom's infamous August 2001 installation "Guerilla Public Service."

(Pic: Gary Leonard/Downtown News)

Ankrom took two years to design an exact replica of the Interstate 5 logo, as well as the word "NORTH" in an identical font to Caltrans signs. Then, in the middle of a sunny day, Ankrom -- dressed as a Caltrans worker -- installed the markers on an existing "110 North" sign.

And then... nobody noticed! The helpful signs finally directed 110 drivers to the 5, and yet Caltrans didn't have any idea. Nine months later, the Los Angeles Downtown News finally broke the story.

Caltrans, amazingly, agreed that the new signs were helpful -- and kept them up! The agency even installed a similar marker on another 110 North sign.

Sadly, these brand new freeway signs installed this weekend -- while even helpful than the old ones -- mean that Ankrom's work has now disappeared. I emailed Ankrom on Friday, and he hadn't heard the news:

Missed the change on the freeway signs until you pointed it out. Immediately went to look, hopefully I can recover the sign.

A little disappointed that it's down, but the new signs are a big improvement. After being up for 9 years and three months it was a good run. It helped my career in a subtle way. Still get surprised when it comes up.

Here's hoping the sign is somewhere in storage and can be saved. I'm a bit sad to see it go -- I often think of Ankrom's installation when I pass under the "5 North" marker on the 110.

Photo composite of Ankrom's installation, by Jim Payne.

Here's how Ankrom described "Guerilla Public Service":
The installation and documentation of missing information on the freeway sign system, guerrilla public service. Exact reproduction of guide signs (Caltrans part numbers G-27, G-47) placed on existing structure (gantry 23100) to aid motorists to their destination and ease traffic congestion.
To prove the integrity of the arts, its place in culture and why civilization needs it. The benefits of the artistic endeavor in everyday life, what we see, don’t see, and take for granted.
For the hundreds of millions of motorists in their commute, in which they use the freeway sign system.

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