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Just a week after local pop music star, Ke$ha, released a viral YouTube video, which portrayed the singer and her friends remodeling the Hollywood sign at night with flashlights, gigantic white sheets, and spray paint, Southern California’s most recognizable landmark will get a makeover today, when the Hollywood Sign is covered over with a fabric sign reading, “Save the Peak.”
The sign’s new look was orchestrated by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national land conservation organization, in an effort to raise money to buy a nearby plot of land called Cahuenga Peak, which sits just west of the sign. A year ago, TPL negotiated an exclusive option to buy the plot for $12.5 million, and has already raised about $7.5 million, but will need to come up with the additional money by April 14, when the deal expires, and the property will return to the market.
The TPL planned to unveil the reason for the sign’s new look at a press conference today, but the Los Angeles Police Department blew their cover on Monday, sending out an announcement about the plan to local residents so no one would be alarmed.
City Councilmember Tom LaBonge, 4th District, spoke about the importance of acquiring the property, which falls within his council district.
“More than one hundred acres of open land and the view of the one of the world’s most famous landmarks, the Hollywood Sign, are threatened with development,” LaBonge said. “It is absolutely critical that we preserve the view of the famous landmark and open the land to hiking and other recreational uses for future generations of Angelenos.”
If TPL purchases the land, the trust plans to turn it over the City of Los Angeles, where it would be integrated with Griffith Park.
In addition to its proximity to the famous sign, the plot at Cahuenga Peak has its own Hollywood history. In the 1930’s, Howard Hughes bought the plot, where he planned to build a hideaway for girlfriend Ginger Rogers. But the couple broke up and the land remained undeveloped. After Hughes’ death, the land remained in his trust, until the plot was sold to a group of Chicago investors, known as Fox River Financial Resources Inc., for less than $2 million.
Then, in 2008, the investors put the land on the market with an asking price of $22 million, which TPL was able to bargain down to $12.5 million in 2009.
Joe Edminston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which offered $850,000 in funding for the purchase of Cahuenga Peak, said the urgency to make the purchase is palpable.
“We have the opportunity to buy the land, and we have to buy it now because it’s going to be developed openly,” Edminston said. “We’re getting a reasonable price. It’s not cheap, but the last thing we want is an iconic mountain that you can see from all over L.A. to have a bunch of huge ugly mansions on top.”
However, Earnie Carswell, a real estate agent with Teles Properties who has been handling the Cahuenga Peak plot for Fox River, said the land will not be developed, even if TPL fails to purchase it.
“No one is looking to put condos on the ridge,” Carswell said. “With one exception, everyone we’ve talked to about buying the land has wanted to conserve it. There’s no road, no plumbing. Donalds Trump’s partner came to look at it and only made it 20 steps up the ridge. Someone is going to buy it and make it like the Will Rogers reserve and get a big tax break, and eventually give it to the city anyway.”
Still, on the Teles Properties website, the property is being marketed as, “Truly one of the most unique residential locations anywhere.”
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the Hollywood Sign Trust does not often give clearance for anyone to modify the sign. The remodeling in Ke$sha’s video was produced with video editing, not tampering with the real sign. In decades past, vandals and activists used to change the letters of the sign illegally, until an security system was installed in 1999.
“How are you going to guarantee it won’t be for residential use?” said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber. “The TPL campaign is designed to draw attention to the very short window to raise the money that they need. We allowed them to cover the sign because it’s in the public interest to preserve the viewshed, the beautiful space, and the beautiful views. I think everyone would want it to be public land. Most people probably thought it was already.”
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