Monday, January 7, 2013

Poster War on the Hill

Most people wouldn't call the NE community of Mt. Washington, 10 min. from downtown LA, a suburb, but sometimes it feels like one, where nothing happens all day except people driving down the hill to work, and 9 hrs later, up again, children coming and going from school, dogs being lost and found, red-tailed hawks flying lazily overhead, moles popping through the earth like thumbs. It's quiet most of the days that aren't garbage days, or DWP days, or days gangs from HP drag race around the sharp bends on the hill. Most days nothing happens. Nothing at all.

Looking down from Mt. Washington:
Heidelberg Park, an 18-acre protected black walnut grove,
and Highland Park beyond

But that's not all days. On the leftover days that aren't dull, there's intrigue, which one wouldn't necessarily equate with the area. I'm not talking meth labs, or screaming spouses setting fire to their houses. No I'm talking about a little intrigue that's been going on on top of my hill, of which, ironically, or perhaps not so, I found myself involved.

A green sign for Heidelberg Park sits on top of the hill, and a few yards away, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy display case that once housed an official poster, describing the flora and fauna in the park. After a virulent wind storm a year ago, the sign fell down and the poster was destroyed. The sign was resurrected, but the display case sat empty for almost a year. 

 empty display case

One day, walking by, I noticed a sepia-hued poster with a drawing of a dirt mound, and inside, the history of "Mound Washington." The author, in perfectly articulated seriousness, explained how Mt. Washington (Mound Washington) was built on top of a garbage heap, part of the city's waste disposal system. It was no hack job; indeed, it was very professional. A few months later, the poster was gone. 

Jump 6 months ahead. 

One night, I pried open the empty display case and cleaned out the remains of the "mound" poster and wiped down the plexiglass, and that weekend, I invited some friends over to help me (cover for me) as I placed a new poster inside the display case. 

(click to enlarge)
Inside SMMC display case

My poster (which I replaced soon after with a copy) sat for perhaps a week, when, one morning, I noticed the original text had been pasted over with the "Mound Washington" text. It was again a very professional job. The same font, the same paint job as my poster, only the words were different. I'd touched a nerve when I said, "Contrary to popular belief," Mt. Washington wasn't a garbage heap. The new poster said that, "in complete accordance with popular belief, Mt. Washington is artificially, constructed from discarded materials, thus earning the nickname, Mound Washington." A poster war was on!

Of course, I had to retaliate. What caught my eye, and was most impressive, was the fictitious Hugh Washington the author said was responsible for Heidelberg Park. I responded with an expanded version, which I put in the display case over the weekend, addressing the mound issue, and stating that it was Lillian Washington, not Hugh, that was an early champion of the park, as Hugh had been crushed by a horse and carriage.

And so now I wait patiently to see how and when my opponent will strike again. He/she too has to go into the display case unseen, do the pasting, the painting, the sitting at the computer hammering out his/her cause. I expect surprises from this opponent, as I believe he/she has a superior grasp of the absurd. Naturally, I wish him/her well. If you are out there reading this, may the best Mt. Washingtonian win! 

 Waiting for my opponent

• •• •

Here is full text of posters:

Original Text:

You are looking out over beautiful Heidelberg Park, located in the northeast neighborhood of Mt. Washington. In 2003, Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy dedicated this 18-actre canyon as protected parkland. One of the finest examples of black walnut groves in Southern CA, it supports over 100 bird species, large packs of coyotes, raccoons, possums, lizards, rats, moles and other creatures living underground.

Mt. Washington sits at 940 ft. above sea level and was once part of the Rancho San Rafael, population: 15,000 sheep. Today, the area's diverse population champions natural habitat over urban expansion, protecting countless acres from futhur development. Contrary to popular belief, Mt. Washington does not sit on a mound of garbage (Mound Washington), but atop a complex geological system known as the Puente Formation of Rocks, dating back millions of years. 

Replaced "mound" text: 

Mt. Washington sits at 940 ft. above sea level and was once part of the flat, tarry expanse that divided east Los Angeles. The landscape began to transform in 1913, when scrap from the city's overburdened waste and septic disposal systems was used to stabilize the tarry surface into earth suitable for construction. And so, in complete accordance with popular belief, Mt. Washington is artificially, constructed from discarded materials, thus earning the nickname, "Mound Washington."

You are now looking over beautiful Heidelberg Park. When Construction of Mt. Washington was completed in 1917, the park was opened to much fanfare and ceremony, in hopes of convincing naysayers that the mound was now indeed suitable for residential use. In the words of the mound's original visionary Hugh Washington, "To foster their dreams, it is crucial to give children a special place; [the park] serves that purpose."

New text (inserted over weekend):

You are looking out over beautiful Heidelberg Park, which was designated a significant Juglans californica var californica (native black walnut) woodlands and protected parkland by the Santa Monica Mts Conservancy in 2003. One of the park's earliest champions, Miss Lillian Washington [1895-1977] said of the area, "[it is] the finest example of urban wildlife found anywhere west of the Arroyo Secco basin." Enjoy!

At 940 ft. above sea leavel, Mt. Washington is part of the Puente Formation, composed of plutonic, volcanic and metamorphic rocks that make up the slopes of northeast Los Angeles. Contrary to popular opinion, it was Lillian, not her husband, Gen. Hugh Washington, who laid by hand the narrow highways and byways, which brought accessibility to the area after Hugh was crushed by a horse and carriage on the dirt road known as present-day San Rafael Ave.


  1. oh, this is brilliant. you are brilliant!

    1. Yikes, i mean, thanks, I had fun doing the poster, although it didn't look at all like the official flora and fauna poster. Now, waiting for the next round...

  2. Now THIS gives new meaning to the concept of interpretive signage!

    1. Well thank you for visiting, Mr. Craig; interpretive signage, I like that!

  3. I was fascinated by the earlier hoax sign about Mt. Washington. I did a lot of research into trying to figure out what creative pranksters put it up.

    Joe Walker

    1. Joe, thanks for stopping by. The more i think about this, the more I believe I know who the prankster is, and although I'm not in touch with that person I may have ways to reach him/her (not giving anything away here). I'll let you know!