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Stand on the corner of Marathon Street and Western Avenue, a few miles west of downtown Los Angeles, and you'll see two signs. The second, bolted just out of reach on a street lamp, reads: The former is iconic, a shorthand for strangled ambition as much as wild fame; the latter is the manifestation of an obscure local traffic law. But the story of that traffic sign—the only one of its kind in the country—is as dark and seedy as anything dreamed up by Otto Preminger or Billy Wilder.
The northern end of Western Avenue, one of roughly a billion streets in LA's concrete quilt, runs just five miles, from I up to the wrinkled edge of the Hollywood Hills, crossing Koreatown and East Hollywood in between. By day it's a working roadway lined with anonymous strip malls and auto body shops. But at night, even in our on-demand age of hookup apps and "Uber for escorts" start-ups, Western is home to one of the biggest street-prostitution corridors in the country.
This is where Los Angeles is trying to fight back in a unique and bizarre way: Perhaps it's no surprise that streetwalking persists here.
The city's proximity to the border makes it a major hub for human trafficking, the city's inexorable relationship with the car means most Johns have a means of conveyance, and even though it's the most populous county in America, its endless street grid offers countless dark alleys and unwatched corners. Add in the same housing crisis that has decimated many other metropolises—plus Hollywood's appetite for dashing dreams and stranding the dreamers—and you're left with a perfect storm of desperation and predation.
But the situation here is remarkably bad. The corner of Marathon and Western is just a 20 minute-drive to downtown and thirty to the beach on a good day, and just ten minutes from the artisanal boutiques and yoga studios in pricey neighborhoods like Los Feliz and Silver Lake. It's also where, in October, police made five separate arrests of men attempting to solicit a prostitute in a single night.