McMansions Endanger Native Species and Hollywood Icon

sign wrappers photo

Alice Cooper paid about $28,000 to replace an O in the Hollywood sign back in 1978 when it was restored after years of deterioration. Since then, the famed sign has become legendary. Now Mad Men's John Slattery, Old Christine's Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Virginia Madsen, Tippi Hedren, and Aisha Tyler are trying to save the landmark from encroachment by a nearby development of gigantic estates. To get the message across, the nonprofit Trust for Public Land covered up the 45-foot tall letters to spell out SAVE THE PEAK. Is this campaign a symbol about saving the sign or saving the land?

wrapped sign photo

The Hollywood Sign's environmental facelift.

The TPL doesn't take up frivolous causes. The idea is to buy back the adjacent 138 acres on Cahuenga Peak in this section of the Santa Monica Mountains. With million of tourists taking photos of the iconic Hollywood sign, imagining the clunky block letters with giant estates next to it does seem all wrong. But a wistful wish for an unobstructed view of the famous attraction isn't the real issue. The current effort is about stopping building on land next to a public park that should be conserved. There's good reason this hillside has remained untouched, including issues of erosion, fires, and mudslides.

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Now and...

It's called a "green facelift." The surrounding chaparral natural landscape, up 1,820 feet, contains a series of trails filled with native species of flora and fauna, such as horned lizards, mariposa lilies, and several kind of butterflies. The ridgeline also boasts a much-coveted expansive view of the Los Angeles basin.

The TPL, a national land conservation organization, which saves natural spaces "for livable communities for generations to come," has raised $6.3 million toward buying back the parcel but another $6.2 million is needed to cover the costs - and by April 14. Then the Trust plans to donate the land to the city of Los Angeles to extend Griffith Park.

Worst Case image

...and then - an image of the worst-case-scenario.

City Councilmember Tom LaBonge has been working to set aside public park funds to acquire the peak threatened by luxury housing. "The City of Los Angeles wants to acquire this land, not only to maintain the view of the Hollywood Sign, but also to preserve open space, hiking trails and wildlife corridors," he said. But the city caught, in the grips of the recession, is poised to lay off 1,000 employees. Urban blight and the landmark isn't a priority for the parks department.

So LA partnered with the Trust for Public Land and is reaching out to concerned citizens and its celebrities to rally for the cause, not unlike the 1978 renovation of the illustrious sign, now protected by a nonprofit that maintains it and "educates the world about its historical and cultural importance." He's asking everyone to be a star and save this land from development.

Speaking of history, this property was purchased by Howard Hughes for a hilltop hideaway for Ginger Rogers but the eccentric's estate sold the tract in 2002 to Chicago investors who flipped it with permission to construct luxury residences and a road to access them. Another irony is that the Hollywood sign, erected in 1923, was an advertisement for "Hollywoodland," one of the early subdivisions of the foothills -- well below the peak. Only 55 days to go...

More on land conservation:
Omnibus Land Bill Fails in House: 2 Million Acres of Wilderness Left Unprotected
Huge Land Preservation Bill Finally Set to Pass Congress
Great News for Californians

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