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A chance to touch a Tinseltown icon

An online sweepstakes offering a chance to touch the Hollywood sign would have flown the winner to Los Angeles free from anywhere in the country.

Instead, Gillian Singletary drove over from Los Feliz on Thursday for the chance to scramble in jeans and sneakers down a very steep, sandy, slide-prone hillside and claim the prize offered by LA Inc., the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

That a resident won instead of a visitor couldn’t have been more fitting really, given that the reason for holding the contest was to celebrate a major gift to the people of L.A.

Before a campaign led by Los Angeles Councilman Tom LaBonge and the nonprofit Trust for Public Land brought in $12.5 million in donations large and small to buy nearby Cahuenga Peak, the private developer that owned the 138-acre property got it zoned for four luxury homes. And because when you look at the Hollywood sign from many angles, you also see the peak, those mansions probably would have stuck out.

Now the land where they might have stood is part of Griffith Park, open to everyone. And the sign’s nearest surroundings will remain unspoiled.

Singletary, 27, who is originally from Colorado, says she’s thrilled about that.

“I just love it,” the freelance copywriter said as she stood leaning against the sign’s enormous steel letter O. “I see it every day when I walk my dog, as long as it’s not too hazy. Even after being here for 10 years, still every time I see it, I think it’s so awesome that it’s something I get to look at because it means a lot of things to a lot of people all over the world.”

Like Singletary on an ordinary day, most people see the sign from a distance — from the freeway or an airplane window or a sidewalk miles away. Even tourists who come in search of it often get no closer than Hollywood’s Beachwood Drive below the sign, where they step into traffic to pose for souvenir photos.

While the scrubby land around the sign shows evidence of visitors — a disintegrating T-shirt, rusty beer cans, graffiti on a rock — the sign is fenced off from above and has security cameras and speakers mounted right on its letters. Those who try to make stealth trips there will probably hear loud police warnings, often followed by a helicopter overhead.

So although the main event in Griffith Park on Thursday was meant to be a ceremony thanking the peak’s major donors — including Aileen Getty, Hugh Hefner and the Tiffany & Co. Foundation — and unveiling a plaque in their honor by a new trailhead, the real draw for many was the close-up visit to the sign, which took place immediately before.

Anyone making the dizzying trek down the hillside had to sign a waiver absolving the city in case of injury.

Singletary and her friend Nick Campbell, 30, took dozens of cellphone shots of each other in front of the sign. Also clicking away was Stephanie Riggio, 44, of Mount Washington, who was the runner-up.

“When they told me, I begged them, ‘Please let me hike too,’ ” said the L.A. native, a voice-over artist. “This is fantastic, absolutely fantastic.”

TV camera crews, reporters, city officials and tourism boosters also jumped on the opportunity to touch the sign. They posed before letters and scrambled, sometimes on hands and knees in the loose dirt, to get to good spots to establish photographic proof of where they had been.

An Australian TV crew even broadcast live, telling a Friday morning audience thousands of miles away: “We had to jump over some fences to get here.”

nita.lelyveld@latimes.com


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