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Lights Announcement 'Premature' : Debate Flares Again Over Hollywood Sign

January 22, 1989|RON RUSSELL | Times Staff Writer

A controversial plan to light the landmark Hollywood sign was revived last week, but not the way its sponsors at the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce had intended.

Embarrassed officials described as "premature" a chamber-authorized news release implying that agreement had been reached with a Camarillo solar energy company to light the sign.

"I think (the release) sort of jumped the gun," said Bill Welsh, the chamber's president and chief executive officer.

'News to Us'

A spokesman for Arco Solar Inc., a subsidiary of Atlantic Richfield Co., which last April made the proposal to light the monument permanently as a demonstration of sun-powered electricity, agreed.

"It comes as news to us," company spokesman Steve Lowe said. "There are a lot of details to be worked out yet, and, frankly, we haven't had much communication with any of the chamber people in the last few months."

Chris Baumgart, head of the chamber's effort to light the sign, said the news release was prepared by a public relations firm "as an effort to create some enthusiasm for the project."

For years, chamber officials have wanted to light the sign on Mt. Lee in Griffith Park to promote the old and new Hollywood.

Historic Monument

Designated a Cultural Historic Monument in 1973, the sign is under the jurisdiction of the city's Recreation and Parks Department, which has authorized the chamber to raise funds to restore and maintain it.

Before it was donated to the city, the land on which the 50-foot-tall letters stand was part of Hollywoodland, a residential subdivision that the sign was built to publicize.

Originally illuminated by 4,000 20-watt bulbs as a real estate promotional gimmick in the 1920s, the often-vandalized sign was lighted during the 1984 summer Olympics.

But residents of the nearby Hollywood Hills complained that the 1984 experiment caused their neighborhoods to be flooded with trespassers, loiterers and vandals drawn to the sign after dark by the lights.

Last year's proposal to light the sign permanently was met with protest from residents, prompting City Councilman John Ferraro, in whose district the sign is located, to push for a citizens' advisory panel to oversee future plans for the sign.

Chamber officials formally withdrew their request to light the sign last November, citing opposition by residents, but they have continued to pursue the idea.

Although the plan is in limbo, Baumgart said he is optimistic that, "if everything were to work out," the sign might even be illuminated by July 4.

"The one thing we want to emphasize is that we aren't trying to do anything without the blessing of the people who live near the sign," he said. "First and foremost, we've got to present a security plan that people can feel comfortable with, and I'm confident we can do that."

But several members of the advisory panel expressed surprise at the chamber's latest overtures.

"I think most of us thought the proposal was dead," said Dino Williams, a panel member whose home is near the sign.

Christine O'Brien, president of the Hollywoodland Homeowners Assn., said she was "unaware of any discussions with any of the (neighborhood group) leaders" during the last several months.

"I don't think anyone's position has changed, and that's that we're opposed to lighting the sign," she said. "Nothing the chamber or anyone else has suggested in the way of security seems near adequate to deal with the type of problems we experience up here."

An aide to Ferraro expressed a similar view.

"There's no way anything is going to happen to light that sign outside the channel of the (advisory) committee," Tom LeBonge said. "At this point, I don't see that (the chamber) has made any headway."

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