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Hefner Donates $900,000 To Save Hollywood Icon

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Hefner Donates $900,000 To Save Hollywood Icon

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Hefner Donates $900,000 To Save Hollywood Icon

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And now a Hollywood saga involving L.A.'s famous sign. Some investors from Chicago were planning to develop a track of land next to this local landmark. People here naturally worried that a bunch of houses on the hill would distract from the heretofore pristine view of those giant letters. Then another Hollywood fixture came to the rescue, as NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.

Mr. JOHN FLETCHES(ph) (Tour Guide): Okay, folks. The Hollywoodland sign was originally built up here back in 1923 by the Hollywoodland...

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: It's a favorite tourist stop, the Hollywood sign. The Vaghtangadzeh family, New Yorkers originally from Georgia - that would be the country, not the state - is taking a bus tour of the city, and daughter Salme was very clear about what she wanted to see.

Ms. SALME VAGHTANGADZEH (Tourist): Coming to Los Angeles and, like, Hollywood, this is one of the biggest things. Everybody knows: When you think of Hollywood, you think of a sign.

GRIGSBY BATES: Their driver, John Fletches, changed his spiel to reflect the sign's uncertain future.

Mr. FLETCHES: Well, I don't know if you realize it, but the city of Los Angeles has been trying to raise $12.5 million to buy back a portion of the hill that has been owned by a group out of Chicago. Yeah, my boys out of Chicago want to do some building up there. Isn't that wonderful?

GRIGSBY BATES: Actually, no. The land known as Cahuenga Peak was once owned by industrialist Howard Hughes. He'd planned to build a home on it for his then-girlfriend Ginger Rogers. They broke up, and after he died the Hughes Estate sold the land to developers. They offered to sell it to the city, but the money had to be in hand by this week.

Everybody moved quickly. The movie studios and the people who work in them, like Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, opened their checkbooks. So did plenty of Angelenos, famous and not. But they were still $1 million short. Then one Hollywood icon stepped in to save the other, as he had 30 years ago when the sign needed a complete overhaul.

Mr. HUGH HEFNER (Founder, Playboy Magazine): To say that it was in disrepair is an understatement, because it was falling apart.

GRIGSBY BATES: Hugh Hefner, founder of the Playboy empire, rescued the sign back in 1978. And in the final hours he provided the $900,000 that closed the gap - on top of what he'd already given.

So as the hilltop fog floated away and the 45-foot-high letters shone brightly behind him, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger stepped to a podium with an announcement that brought sighs of relief.

Governor ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (Republican, California): Finally, the $12.5 million was raised to secure the land behind the Hollywood sign. So we are very, very happy about that.

GRIGSBY BATES: So were preservationists and the people who depend on that land for hiking and dog walking and bird watching.

Will Rogers is president of The Trust for Land Preservation. The Trust collected the funds that will now donate Cahuenga Peak to L.A.'s park system. Rogers clearly was thrilled they'd beaten the clock.

Mr. WILL ROGERS (President, The Trust for Land Preservation): So with the help of all these people and thousands of people from around the world who wrote checks and contributed over the Internet, we have today a true Hollywood ending. We saved the peak.

GRIGSBY BATES: And they can all hike happily ever after.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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