Supporters make final push for funds to buy land near Hollywood sign

With just four days left to raise enough money to preserve a 138-acre patch of land next to the Hollywood sign, Serena Irani was happy do her part.

“I’m going to sell these to save the peak,” the 10-year-old said Saturday, showing off a tray of cupcakes she had helped her mom bake the night before.

If only she could have charged $200,000 apiece for them.

Facing a $2.8-million gap in the $12.5 million needed to buy Cahuenga Peak from a group of Chicago investors, neighborhood associations and the Trust for Public Land rallied for the final push with live music and a bake sale at Lake Hollywood Park, beneath the landmark sign.

But even with time running short, backers said they still have potential donations in the works and are optimistic that the deal with Fox River Financial Resources Inc. will go through.

“These projects are always nail-biters,” said Rosemary Carroll, regional development director for the nonprofit trust, which negotiated the sale. “We don’t have it in the bag, but I think we are going to make it.”

The $12.5 million, which includes a purchase price of $11.7 million and related costs, is to be paid with a mix of public funds and private donations.

The sale would cap a years-long campaign to buy the acreage from Fox River, which picked it up from Howard Hughes’ estate in 2002 for $1.7 million. Efforts to acquire it and add it to Griffith Park gathered steam when the new owners said they planned to sell it to be used for five luxury home sites, since scaled back to four.

The mountaintop, with its 360-degree view of the Los Angeles Basin and San Fernando Valley, has attracted some well-heeled potential buyers, said Beverly Hills real estate agent Ernie Carswell. His website lists the property at $22 million and offers a virtual tour of what it might look like with high-end homes.

But Carswell said preservationists and their allies, notably City Councilman Tom LaBonge, have played on the “fear factor,” evoking images of “the greedy developer trying to rape the land.”

Not so, said Carswell, who claims a personal affinity for the peak and said his sellers are “caring people” who want it used properly. He contends that even if the acreage is sold to private owners, it probably would become public parkland.

“The fact is you really can’t build there,” Carswell said, noting it would cost “millions and millions” to pave a mile-long driveway and install sewers and other infrastructure.

“Yes, I had a Japanese billionaire fly here to talk about building his dream home there. And, yes, he had the money to do it,” he said. “It’s not that it can’t be done, and it’s not that he didn’t have the money. But he decided it’s just not feasible. It just doesn’t make sense.”

Carswell said other prospective buyers are waiting in the wings, including a religious organization he would not identify. None plan to build homes, Carswell said.

Those at the “Save the Peak” rally said they’d rather not take that chance.

“I have been hiking up there for years and years, and I want to make sure it gets added to Griffith Park,” said Joe Young, 64, one of about 150 people on hand. “Once open space is gone, it’s gone forever. It never comes back.”