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The mysterious mannequins of North Hollywood Toyota

by Collin Friesen and Maya Sugarman | Off-Ramp

Mannequins greet drivers from the car garage at North Hollywood Toyota. The dealership has come to be known for the mannequins along Lankershim Boulevard. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Off-Ramp contributor Collin Friesen looks into the backstory of the mannequins that greet you from the parking garage for a NoHo Toyota dealership.

In Los Angeles, there are landmarks and then there are… well, those things that just make you say “huh?”

One that falls into the latter category is in North Hollywood, just when the 134 turns into the 101. On your right, lining the rails of the four-story Toyota dealership, frozen in place, looking blankly towards Griffith Park. Male and female, a few kids. Their arms raised in what I’ve always assumed is some kind of automotive-related salute.

Two dozen in all, frozen in time like a plastic Pompei. These are the mannequins of North Hollywood Toyota

They’re fun to drive by occasionally, but Sara Logan is the receptionist at DDO Artists Agency, a neighbor of the dealership, and for her, they’re practically in the next cubicle.

“The arms will move when the wind picks up, especially at night," she said. "Someone looks out and someone’s arms are moving, it’s a little creepy.”

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“I’ve come out here late at night and been startled," said Noel Graham, North Hollywood Toyota’s Internet director, "but I can assure you, none of our mannequins has caused any harm.” 

He's also the dealership's mannequin history expert.

“Chris Ashworth is our owner and GM, he’s British and has a very interesting sense of humor, and at some point we had a vehicle on a ramp with its nose in the air, and he thought it would be fun to put a body in there waving at people, so he put a body in there,” said Graham.  

So how did that lead to all of this? I ask.

“Addiction is a very serious thing in L.A.," said Graham. "Yeah, it blossomed, when he went to buy the first mannequin he got a group deal so next thing we had a whole family.”

I have to admit, I was kind of hoping there was something more nefarious or sales-oriented to the mannequins. Like the dealership wanted drivers to think there were just a ton of people buying cars that day and so they’d want to check it out. Think Don Draper pitching the client… “Mannequins, they bring us home, they are home.”

But the dealership says these “people of plastic descent” do help the bottom line. You may not know the name of the dealership, but you know it’s the one with the mannequins.

The cops know them, too, says Noel Graham: “At one point we got fined, one of our pranksters thought it would be funny to have a man hanging from the railing by the Freeway… it was a joke that went bad when people thought it was a real person. We paid a fine and have kept them in line ever since.”

As I walked among the mannequins, I could see how the constant exposure has taken its toll. Some paint is a little chipped, a wig not hanging right. But they do get a change of clothing every few months, with outfits donated by staff members. A few have been replaced over the years, and yes, sometimes a mannequin, or a just a body part, will go missing.

It puts me in mind of the last line of the poem "Mannequins of 7th Street" by Tamar Yoseloff:

We, merely flesh, race past, hail cabs, jump buses, never to strike their timeless pose.

They keep watch from their temple of glass, stranded in silence, all dressed up and nowhere to go.

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