Guerrilla Artist Forged L.A. Freeway Sign to Help People From Getting Lost

Richard Ankrom took two years to design an exact replica of the California 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.

In the early morning of Aug. 5, 2001, the artist and a group of friends assembled on the Fourth Street bridge over the 110 freeway in Los Angeles. They had gathered to commit a crime—one Ankrom had plotted for years.

Twenty years earlier while living in Orange County, Ankrom found himself driving north on the 110 freeway. As he passed through downtown Los Angeles, he was going to merge onto another freeway, Interstate 5 North. But he missed the exit and got lost. And for some reason, this stuck with him.

Years later, when Ankrom moved to downtown Los Angeles, he was driving on the same stretch of freeway where he’d gotten lost before. He looked up at the big green rectangular sign suspended above and realized why he missed the exit all those years ago: The sign was not adequately marked.

Ankrom consulted the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which provides “uniform standards and specifications for all official traffic control devices in California.”

Ankrom wanted his sign to be built to Caltrans’ exact specifications, which included designs able to be read by motorists traveling at high speeds. He copied the height and thickness of existing interstate shields, copied their exact typeface, and even sprayed his sign with a thin glaze overspray of gray house paint so that it wouldn’t look too new.

If he was successful, no one would know that the signs weren’t put up by Caltrans. And he was successful. Caltrans only discovered it when a friend leaked the story to the press. But Caltran left up his sign for over nine years – it was that good a sign! – and when they replaced it, followed his lead and put clear directions to North 5.