'Save the Peak' covers Hollywood sign for conservation campaign atop Cahuenga

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Visitors to the Hollywood and Highland complex view the iconic 450-foot-long Hollywood sign after activists covered it with banners during an effort to prevent the building of houses there on February 13, 2010.

A conservation group has reached a tentative deal to preserve 138 acres of land – and a panoramic view - near the landmark Hollywood sign.

A failed Hollywood romance left Cahuenga Peak undeveloped as the neighborhood below filled in around it. Sam Hodder heads Trust for Public Land in California. He says the peak has always maintained a certain mystique. "When Howard Hughes first bought the property for his then-girlfriend Ginger Rogers, he was going to build the ultimate Hollywood mansion at the 2,000-foot peak of Cahuenga Peak, looking at the city," Hodder says with a smile.

Eight years ago developers who bought the land called it a diamond in the rough. They planned four houses where Howard Hughes had dreamed of one. Now Hodder says the Trust for Public Land has an option on the site. "We have the property under agreement and we're more than halfway to our goal."

The trust has $6 million so far – some from city and state funds for parkland, some from private foundations. It'll need another $6 million to buy the land. May not sound like it, but Hodder says that's a steal – when Cahuenga Peak went on the market last year, the asking price was $22 million. "The economic challenges we're all facing have in some ways created this opportunity. And allowed us to have a seat at the table," he said.

Hodder says that preserving the property also preserves native plant and animal species long thought extinct in these parts."Because of the unfragmented habitat and the remarkable lack of invasive species on the property, the habitat is quite incredible," he says. "This is a once in a lifetime opportunity."

The peak could link to Griffith Park and expand public access in the area. L.A. lags behind major American cities in per-capita open space. Hodder says he believes that every shared bit of land helps. "No matter who you are or where you live or what your zip code is, you can go to the top of this mountain when all is said and done, and you can say, this is my city, and this is my park, and this is my mountain. And that's a remarkable thing to be able to bring to the people of Los Angeles," he says.

The Trust for Public Land has until mid-April to raise the purchase price for Cahuenga Peak. If it doesn't, the property goes back on the open market.

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