Just a few weeks ago Playboy founder Hugh Hefner was being hailed as a hero for donating a substantial sum to save the world-famous Hollywood sign in Los Angeles. The soft porn magnate joined hundreds of contributors donating to The Trust for Public Land, allowing the group to purchase the surrounding hillside and safeguard the future of the monument from developers.
But is this philanthropic band in fact hindering, rather than helping, the maintenance of the landmark? Could there be more?
One adventurous designer has put forward plans to transform the nine, forty-five foot high letters into a hotel – offering luxurious accommodation which would make even the biggest superstar blush.
Based in Denmark, Christian Bay-Jorgensen – of Bay Arch – suggests the present structure could be doubled in size to incorporate a modern spa, theatre and other facilities – all designed to draw the crowds out of the city.
“I’m a fan of the Hollywood sign and the unused spaces of America,’ said Mr Bay-Jorgensen in a recent interview. It could be interesting to make it a centre for such events as the Golden Globes and Oscars.
“This could be the future of the sign.”
However, public reaction to date has been sceptical at best; with demonstrations of outright hostility in some quarters. Many regard the sanctity sign as indisputable, with any modification strictly off the agenda.
But the sign has fallen into disrepair before.
During the 1970s Hefner was again one of a group public spirited citizens – which also included shock rocker Alice Cooper - who joined forces to rescue the dilapidated sign from the ravages of time. It is this monument which has stood to this day, with occasional replenishing touches from city authorities.
Interestingly, the original 1923 letters were later sold on eBay to artist Bill Mack.
So what other ideas are there? Is there a better way than a cycle of ruin and – last minute – rejuvenation?
A compromise was suggested by Danish and Belgian architects Bart de Lege, Frederique Hermans, Jan Bloemen, Joep Verheijen, and Steven van Esser – all of whom sought to leave the sign in place, but Und-der-Line it with a cultural centre.
The development would be invisible from the valley below, but would provide space for activities on a specific theme: a location for the Oscar Ceremony in a polyvalent theatre; a hotel; a film museum; and a scenographic park – all with a panoramic view at the city.
“Why not do an exercise in which we make the holy Hollywood sign more accessible to the big public, without changing the image,” questioned the architects?
“Why not do an exercise where a mild architectural addition honours the symbolic value without changing the wording?
“Why not do an exercise that safeguards the existence of the wording, but still generates an economical and touristic added value for the region?”
So the message to the citizens of Los Angeles appears to be simple; take care of the sign or there might not be a Hollywood ending next time…