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A piece of history put up for sale

Cash for a bit of the old Hollywoodland sign would go toward repairs of aging stonework.

June 04, 2007|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

For 31 years, a slice of the long-gone Hollywoodland sign hung in the Andrinas' home or office.

Not much longer than four feet and a few inches wide, the bronze-colored tin strip with six bright bulbs used to light up the edge of a letter D before the iconic sign was shortened in 1949. It was discovered by a relative scouring the Hollywood Hills for fossils.

Guests who visited their home near the upper reaches of Beachwood Canyon would try to wrest the relic from the Andrinas -- one even offering to pay $5,500 on the spot -- but the couple loved it too much to give it up.

That was until Sunday, when they found a cause worthy enough to sell the artifact. The Hollywoodland Homeowners Assn. was holding its third annual flea market to raise money to preserve the neighborhood's aging granite staircases, walls and gates.

Built by European stonemasons 84 years ago when Hollywoodland was opened and advertised to East Coast transplants as a Mediterranean Riviera in the Hollywood Hills, the historic stone features are one of the many charms that have attracted famous moviemakers, musicians and writers to the quaint, village-like neighborhood for decades.

The community, which straddles the northern end of Beachwood Canyon Drive within walking distance of Hollywood Reservoir and the Hollywood sign, was built by a syndicate of developers that included former Los Angeles Times Publisher Harry Chandler.

It was marked at the peak of the community by a bold "Hollywoodland" sign made of sheet metal and screwed to telephone poles. The sign used to light up at night, first in a sequence of syllables, HOLLY-WOOD-LAND, then light up completely.

By the 1940s, the sign had fallen into disrepair. The city planned to demolish it but was stopped by activists. The only casualty was the final syllable. In 1978, the sign benefited from a renovation campaign.

The homeowners association needs thousands of dollars to repair the lesser-known stonework. The Andrinas thought they could at least make a contribution by offering their piece of the Hollywoodland sign in a silent auction at the flea market for $3,500.

"We've had lots of people try to buy it but we didn't want to sell it until we decided we could raise some money for the homeowners," said Barbee Andrina, 59.

Though the area's granite staircases have been deemed historically protected by Los Angeles, the homeowners association has still had trouble over the years funding repairs and preventing some residents from knocking down portions to extend their properties.

"Some are crumbling and some just need a little TLC," said Cara Rule, president of the association. "It's very hard to find craftsmen to do that work."

The steps require expert mason work on the pointing mortar, which protrudes between the granite stones. The original granite comes from a quarry not far away in Griffith Park, said Kim Sales of the homeowners association.

"We have a resident, Harry Williams, who's 84 years old and is the only one who knows how to" repair the steps, Sales said. "We need constant maintenance. Some things are still damaged from the Northridge quake."

The stairs cut past hillside homes to connect pedestrians to winding streets that cars have to climb in a progression of tight U-shaped turns.

The stone structures, as well as the white Spanish colonial revival homes with terracotta tile roofs, have distinguished the community since it was established. But the Hollywood sign that overlooks the 650 homes in the neighborhood has defined it.

Every day, buses climb the narrow roads and unload tourists near the foot of the sign. At night, lovers make the same journey in hopes of finding some private space. The area is often littered with cigarette butts, residents say.

"I'll be gardening and people who come by only ask me two questions: How do I get to the Hollywood sign and where's Madonna's house," said association member Kimberly Wells, talking about the pop star who used to have a purple and yellow striped home in the neighborhood.

Because the community owes so much to the sign -- be it in its original longer state with flashing lights or its pared-down modern version -- it seemed fitting to stake a small part of its preservation to a remnant of the icon.

"This is a piece of the most famous sign in the world," Sales said.

By the end of the day, the silent auction had failed to attract a buyer for the piece of the sign. During the auction, Barbee Andrina had been quietly hiding her unease at the prospect of seeing it go.

"I'll rethink selling it all together," she said. "It was kind of an impulsive decision."

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