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Group Seeks to Preserve Hollywood Sign

LOS ANGELES - Like the Oscars, Sunset Boulevard and Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the hillside sign spelling out "Hollywood" is an icon of cinema, celebrity and this city itself. But the postcard view could be in danger from developers.

Conservationists say they have two months to seize an opportunity - and raise $12.5 million - to buy the land adjacent to the sign.

"It would be horrible if that view was molested," says Tom LaBonge, a Los Angeles city councilman who represents the area. "This is our iconic symbol."

LaBonge, a Democrat, and the Trust for Public Land said Tuesday they have raised about $8 million of what is needed, with half that from public funds dedicated for park lands. They want to buy 138 acres behind and to the left of the sign and add it to Griffith Park, which lies to the east of the sign.

Their option to purchase expires April 14.

Unless the land is protected, they say, the current private owners could move forward to build mansions.

Paige Rausser, project manager for the San Francisco-based preservation group, said $1 million was raised since it kicked off a campaign last week. For five days ending Tuesday, the group draped the 45-foot-tall letters that spell out "Hollywood" with a temporary new message: "Save the Peak."

The sign was put up in 1923 as an advertisement for a housing project, Hollywoodland, of former Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler. The shortened version later became one of the most famous signs of all time.

It faces southward along a 1,865-foot mountain ridge that separates Hollywood and much of Los Angeles from the San Fernando Valley to the north.

The 138-acre tract on Cahuenga Peak was put on the market in 2002 by the estate of Howard Hughes, who had owned it since 1940.

Hughes, the famed industrialist and aviator, had wanted to build an estate on the property for his intended bride, actress Ginger Rogers. But those plans died with their relationship.

The buyers, a Chicago investment group, secured rights to build several estates, Rausser said. The subdivided property was offered for sale in 2008 for $22 million.

Efforts to preserve the land around the sign have been helped by the economic downturn. With a falling market, the Trust for Public Land was able to secure a one-year option to buy the property for about $12.5 million.

The sponsors say they are confident they will receive enough donations by the deadline. "It's going to happen," LaBonge said. "I think we're going to get there."

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