Hefner donation helps save Hollywood sign

Group raises enough money to buy 138 acres near landmark

A $900,000 donation from Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was just enough to save the iconic Hollywood sign from being plowed under in order to make room for four luxury homes.

The Trust for Public Land -- which covered the Hollywood sign for a few days last month with a tarp reading "Save the Peak" -- said Monday it raised $12.5 million to buy 138 acres near the sign. The nonprofit TPL intends to allow the land to become part of Griffith Park.

If TPL had failed in its yearlong mission to raise enough money to buy the land, the Chicago investors who bought it from the Howard Hughes estate eight years ago likely would have sold it to developers. The land is zoned for up to four large homes.

When TPL covered the sign with its "Save the Peak" message in early February (after some paperwork delays), it still needed more than $6 million. Since then, a couple of previous donors, the Tiffany Foundation and Aileen Getty, stepped up again, as did small and large donors worldwide. A Facebook page of supporters boasts 27,000 people.

Celebrities who backed the effort included Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Norman Lear, Kathleen Kennedy, Frank Marshall, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Virginia Madsen, Tippi Hedren and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Schwarzenegger said the Hollywood Sign "called to me when I left Austria and made my way to the U.S., with a few dollars in my pocket and the dream of becoming an actor."

Hefner, who calls the sign "Hollywood's Eiffel Tower," is a longtime supporter. In 1978 he, along with Andy Williams, Alice Cooper, Gene Autry and others, raised enough money to rebuild the sign, which made its first appearance in 1923.

For the latest sign-saving effort, $3.2 million was kicked in by entertainment entities, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, CBS, the Entertainment Industry Foundation, the Lucasfilm Foundation, NBC Universal, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Time Warner, the Walt Disney Foundation and CAA.