The millions of motorists who have passed the Interstate 5 sign on the 110 Pasadena Freeway in Los Angeles likely never noticed anything amiss. After all, it was designed specifically to California’s DOT specifications, and it looked official. But it wasn’t just a sign — it was a work of art, a guerilla public service installation by artist Richard Ankrom — and now it’s a pile of scrap metal, according to LA Weekly.
Like many other L.A. drivers, Ankrom was frustrated by the existing poorly marked signage, which was barely noticeable when careening down the six-lane highway amidst chaotic urban traffic. The hairpin exit appeared with no warning at all.
"I remember getting lost in the '80s on that part of the freeway," Ankrom told LA Downtown News when he outed the project in 2003. "And when I moved downtown 10 years later, I figured out why."
Ankrom, who had experience as a sign maker, took matters into his own hands — painstakingly cutting and painting the sign out of just the right aluminum in just the right colors, shapes and sizes. He even artificially aged it so it wouldn’t look too new amid L.A.’s smog-dulled scenery.
Then, he put on a reflective vest and hardhat and scrambled onto an overpass in broad daylight, installing the sign with friends who captured the whole process on camera.
Even after Ankrom admitted the stunt to the media, the sign remained in place for another seven years. Many wondered whether the DOT simply realized that there was a genuine need for the sign, and that it stood in quite well for the real thing.
But last December, Ankrom’s modified sign was finally removed to little fanfare.
The artist discovered the removal online and spent many frantic hours trying to locate it. He had hoped that if it were ever removed, the fact that it was signed and dated might help it make its way back to him.
“I ended up tracking down one of the employees who was actually aware of the work and who thought he had stashed it, only it wasn’t the right sign,” Ankrom told LA Weekly.
“He wasn’t aware that the authentic sign had my signature on the back, and didn’t check it. I then found out that my sign had been given to a Garcia Recycling, who had crushed it into a block.”
The sign may be unable to escape its inevitable voyage to China, where it will get new life as one metal doodad or another, but at least Ankrom can take comfort in the fact that it prevented so many hapless drivers from taking an unintended tour of L.A.’s freeway system.