Fight to save Hollywood sign and surrounding area nears end

The historic landmark, the Hollywood Sign, may be in danger if the public can't raise nearly $13 million by noon Wednesday.
The historic landmark, the Hollywood Sign, may be in danger if the public can't raise nearly $13 million by noon Wednesday. David McNew/Getty Images

Tomorrow the opportunity for the public to buy back the land around the famed Hollywood sign will expire, sending those leading the fundraising effort into crunch time.

A Chicago-based company that owns the 138-acre chunk of land surrounding the Hollywood sign intends on selling it for development, which would potentially cut off public access to the area famed for hiking trails, the Ginger Rogers tree and gorgeous views of Los Angeles.

The development company originally listed the property's sale price at $22 million but dropped the price to $12.5 million after the Trust for Public Land lobbied for a chance to buy back the property to add it to Griffith Park.

Sam Hodder, California director for the Trust for Public Land – the group behind www.savehollywoodland.org – spoke to Patt Morrison today about where the campaign stands at this point.

According to Hodder, the story starts back in 1940 when Howard Hughes bought the land to build a mansion on for then girlfriend Ginger Rogers.

“When the house was never built and the relationship ended, the property basically went onto mothballs for the next 60 or so years until the city of Los Angeles built up around it,” Hodder said.

Then the development company swooped in from Chicago and purchased the land for the steal price of $1.7 million. “The buyers at the time referenced that sale as feeling like they got a Van Gogh at a garage sale,” Hodder said.

The Trust for Public Land and savehollywoodland.org have been working with major donors (such as Tiffany and Co. and Aileen Getty) to raise the required funds. Hodder says the public support has been overwhelming, but they still need nearly $3 million as of Tuesday evening. The deadline is April 14 at noon.

“That’s one thing for certain that we’ve learned through this campaign is that the Hollywood sign, Griffith Park, means a lot to a lot of people around the globe,” Hodder said.

Many callers contributed their ideas to raise the last bit of money, but the general consensus was that celebrities and other high-rollers should feel obligated to step in.

One caller suggested that Jay Leno contribute the last bit as a way of salvaging his currently bruised reputation. Another suggested that this could be a great way for gubernatorial candidates to collect some votes before the election in November.

Hodder acknowledged support from a lot of Hollywood studios and icons, including Steven Spielberg.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for someone to come in and save the day for an icon that symbolizes the dreams of the free world,” he said.

There's still a way to go before the deadline expires tomorrow.

"We’ve done projects like this around the country and they always turn out to be nail-biters. We find a way to get it done," Hodder said.

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