Hollywood Sign Neighbors Wary of Warner Bros. Tramway Plan

Courtesy of Warner Bros.
An artist's rendering of the tramway

Local residents are bracing for even more tourist influx, despite the studio promising a reduction in traffic.

Warner Bros.' next planned blockbuster is no superhero movie — it's a $100 million aerial tram that would whisk visitors from its Burbank studios to the famed Hollywood sign. 

But the proposed Hollywood Skyway is drawing mixed reviews from locals, many of whom are not convinced the project will make good on its promise to alleviate the chaotic foot and car traffic the landmark regularly attracts.

"This project is only half of what has to be done," says Sarajane Schwartz, a former president of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Association who has lived in the shadow of the sign for over 40 years. The other half, Schwartz says, is to shut down "illegal tourism magnets" that have cropped up in the area — from makeshift entrances to Griffith Park to clearings that offer vantage points for selfie-taking tourists. 

"It’s like a tent in a circus," she says. "If you have the front door and are charging people to see the attraction, you have to close the back door — or they’ll sneak in to see it for free."

Like Schwartz, Tony Fisch, a political consultant who lives in neighboring Lake Hollywood, is concerned about the added attention the Warner Bros. project will bring to the area. But he predicts the project will "probably will be dead on arrival," failing to secure the necessary permits to get past the planning stages.

To do so, the project will have to pass a thorough environmental impact investigation. Schwartz points out that P22, a popular mountain lion, was first sighted in her area, and she worries about what effects the construction of Warner Bros.' skyway and a proposed visitor center would have on wildlife in the region.

There would also be an intense geology review. "I was warned that the area has major faults running through it," says Fisch. "If we have a 7.0 earthquake, I don't see how there won't be an incredible loss of life."

A fault does indeed run through the north side of the Santa Monica Mountains near Burbank. But according to Jonathan Stewart, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at UCLA, the proposed people mover would be fairly forgiving during an earthquake. 

"As long as the towers aren't situated over a fault, it's really not that big of a deal," Stewart says. "You'd be more concerned about things like landslides and the structural failure of the towers themselves. But those things could be overcome."

Not everyone living near the Hollywood sign is anti-skyway. Local resident Crosby Doe, CEO of high-end real estate firm Crosby Doe Associates, thinks the idea — which has been floated before by the likes of media mogul Barry Diller — is a feasible one. But Doe thinks it should not be co-opted by a private entity like Warner Bros.

"Just last week I suggested to city officials that they do it themselves," says Doe, who finds the $100 million price tag unreasonably high — especially when Diller's plan cost just $25 million. "Unless Warner Bros. plans to buy a lot of land," he notes, "which the city wouldn't have to do."

"It’s the closest thing we have to the Statue of Liberty or Eiffel Tower, even though its just an advertising sign," Doe says of the landmark. "If they really want this to happen within Griffith Park, the city should be the ones to control this."

Chris Baumgart, chair of the Hollywood Sign Trust, the non-profit that oversees sign maintenance, sees the Warner Bros. proposal as just that — a proposal. "There is no one solution to complexities of this issue," Baumgart says. "The scope of the Warner Bros. project will have a long road of vetting with community groups and local governments involved."

But the town's top official, Mayor Eric Garcetti, remains sunny about a future in which starry-eyed tourists gaze out of glass-walled gondolas as they approach the 44-foot-tall white letters that have beckoned for nearly 100 years. A spokesman for the mayor tells The Hollywood Reporter that Garcetti "welcomes the discussion of any idea that can ease traffic congestion and make our most iconic sights and landmarks more accessible to everyone."