Live next door to 'HOLLYWOOD' sign for US$22 million
By Llisa Leff, AP
April 18, 2008, 12:00 am TWN
LOS ANGELES -- The world-famous HOLLYWOOD sign that has been used by TV and movie directors in more scene-setting shots than a film student could ever count was first erected in 1923 to promote real estate in the fledgling capital of celluloid.
Eighty-five years later, some fear the sign and the hillside on which it sits are threatened by, yes, a real estate deal.
An investment group that owns 138 sage-covered acres (56 hectares) above and to the left of the 45-foot-high (14-meter-high), steel-and-concrete H put the land up for sale last month for US$22 million (euro14 million).
Some Los Angeles residents are afraid mansions will be built there, spoiling the sign's uncluttered, postcard-perfect backdrop. They worry, too, that the land will no longer be accessible to the hikers, sightseers and romantics who often climb the hill for solitude and a panoramic view of the Los Angeles basin.
Residents led by a city councilman are fighting to preserve the parcel, known as Cahuenga Peak.
"That is our Eiffel Tower," Councilman Tom LaBonge said. "There is the Hollywood sign. There is the open space. And that's all there is. This is ours and it should remain ours."
The parcel has a distinctly Hollywood back story: It was once owned by billionaire Howard Hughes.
Lore has it that Hughes bought it in 1940 — 17 years after the publisher of the Los Angeles Times spelled out his plans for a nearby subdivision in King Kong-size letters — with dreams of building an estate to share with Ginger Rogers.
The romance fizzled — Rogers later said the idea of being holed up with the tycoon on the isolated hilltop gave her the willies — and Hollywood's highest crest was left to the deer, the coyotes and the visitors who ignore the no-trespassing signs.
In fact, most people here assumed the property had long ago fallen into the public domain. That is, until Fox River Financial Resources, the Chicago investors who quietly purchased the peak from Hughes' estate for US$1.7 million in 2002, put the one-of-a-kind parcel on the market recently.
Based on the bargain-basement price paid by the investors, it appears the Hughes estate's trustees were unaware of what it was worth or too busy managing the billionaire's vast holdings to care, said Ernie Carswell, a real estate agent handling the property.
Either way, the current asking price stems from valuable information the owners unearthed after buying the property: In 1949, Hughes secured the right to build a hillside road on land owned by the city Department of Water and Power. That would make the hill more accessible, and thus more attractive to homeowners.
"Deep beneath all the layers was the Hope diamond. Someone found it, and it was our sellers," Carswell said. "The day that happened is when that property skyrocketed in value."