7:24 PM PDT, April 26, 2010
LOS ANGELES -- Developers won't be building anything near the world famous Hollywood sign -- thanks to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and other donors.
Hefner donated $900,000 to complete the $12.5 million fundraising effort by conservation group "Trust for Public Land" to protect the 138 acres behind the Hollywood sign.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Monday that Hefner was the final donor, calling it "the Hollywood ending we hoped for."
Hefner's gift caps a yearlong effort by conservationists to keep developers out of the area behind the sign. Aileen Getty, a billionaire daughter of oil baron J. Paul Getty, and The Tiffany and Co. Foundation earlier contributed $1 million.
Hefner released this statement:
"My childhood dreams and fantasies came from the movies, and the images created in Hollywood had a major influence on my life and Playboy," Hefner said in a statement. "As I've said before, the Hollywood Sign is Hollywood's Eiffel Tower and I am pleased to help preserve such an important cultural landmark."
Schwarzenegger told the crowd the Hollywood sign was his inspiration as a young bodybuilder in Austria, calling it "the most recognizable iconic symbol in the world."
"When I heard that it was 130 acres around the Hollywood sign needed to be protected I did what The Terminator was supposed to do, which is to jump into action," Schwarzenegger said.
He thanked others who pitched in to save the land around the sign, including LaBonge, Arianne Getty, Tiffany & Co. jewelers and private donations from Hollywood luminaries Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks.
"There were even donations from 50 different states -- think about that -- 50 different states, and 10 different countries," Schwarzenegger added, citing the "fantastic teamwork" that made the land purchase possible.
The sign itself is owned by the city of Los Angeles, but the 138-acre property around it belongs to a group of investors who acquired rights to build four luxury mansions along the ridgeline.
The group will now be able to buy the land from its Chicago area-based owners and give it to the city, so it can be incorporated into the adjacent 4,200-acre Griffith Park.
The investors initially planned to sell the land to real estate developers for $22 million, but agreed to turn it over to the nonprofit, "Trust for Public Land" for $12.5 million.
The trust -- which over the last 38 years has conserved 2.8 million acres of land across the country to be used for parks, gardens and other natural spaces -- wants to see the ecosystem of native chaparral and animals around the Hollywood sign maintained.
Before the latest campaign, environmentalists raised $7 million to buy the land around the sign, more than half of which came from the Los Angeles Recreation and Parks and Public Works departments. The rest came from private donors, including the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
Councilman Tom LaBonge says the city wants to aquire the land "not only to maintain the view of the Hollywood sign, but also to preserve open space, hiking trails and wildlife corridors" for the future of Los Angeles.
Fox River Financial Resources purchased the mountain site from the estate of Howard Hughes in 2002 for about $1.7 million and had it zoned into four home sites.
The movie producer and industrialist bought the mountaintop in the 1930s and planned to build a love nest there for actress Ginger Rogers, who wanted no part of it.