Los Angeles

Hugh Hefner and the Hollywood Sign: How an LA Icon Helped Preserve One of Its Most Famous Landmarks

'It represents Hollywood dreams,' the Playboy founder said in 2010 after contributing the final $1 million needed to help preserve land near the sign

High above Hollywood, nestled in brush lining a hiking trail that leads to the Hollywood sign, there's a boulder with Hugh Hefner's name on it -- a reminder of the Playboy publisher's affinity for one of Los Angeles' most famous landmarks.

Hugh Hefner Overlook juts out to the Hollywood side of a ridge line between Cahuenga Peak and Mount Lee that offers a panoramic view of Los Angeles. Located behind the Hollywood sign's towering white letters, it's a fitting spot to remember a man who always had the sign's back.

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Hefner, who died at age 91 Wednesday at his Holmby Hills mansion, first rode to the sign's rescue in the late 1970s, when the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce pursued a complete rebuild of the dilapidated sign. Built in the 1920s to promote a real estate development, the sign was showing its age until Hefner and many of the entertainment industry's biggest names raised funds for the quarter-million dollar repairs. Hefner, the quintessential party host, organized a gala fund-raising event at the Playboy Mansion, where sign letters were auctioned at $27,700 per letter. 

The decaying sign was removed in August 1978 and nine gleaming white letters were raised in its place. 

Thirty two years later, a plan to develop 138 acres near the sign threatened to dramatically alter the peak's globally recognized landscape. The land in question was purchased by industrialist Howard Hughes in 1940 to build a home for movie star Ginger Rogers, but their relationship ended and the land, zoned for residential development, wound up in the hands of investors when it was sold in 2002.

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An effort called "Save the Peak" was launched to preserve the site. There were a memorable few days during the drive when the sign was covered in letters that eventually read "Save the Peak," but at various times during the transition read, "Sallywood," "Sollywood" and "Save The Pood." 

It was Hefner's nearly $1 million donation that capped the $12.5 million fund-raising effort at its deadline, marking a Hollywood ending that allowed the Hollywood Sign Trust to protect the land. Philanthropist Aileen Getty and Tiffany & Co. also delivered significant contributions.

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"I knew about the problem, I knew that they were raising money," Hefner told Access Hollywood in 2010. "But it was only just a few days ago that I learned they were running out of time. I am happy to have been in a position to have been able to do it.

"It is our Eiffel Tower. It represents, I think more than a city, it represents Hollywood dreams." 

A plaque marking the "Hugh Hefner Overlook" was placed off the trail near the sign to recognize Hefner's contribution.

[NATL] Hugh Hefner and Playboy: The Early Years

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