Best New Park: Cahuenga Peak
Protecting iconic landscapes for public enjoyment is a purely American innovation, originating in California and dating back to the Lincoln administration's hand-off of Yosemite to the state as a public park. Over-the-top entertainment and celebrity worship is also something of an American innovation, and the two apparently unrelated threads of U.S. history came together splendidly in 2010 with the protection of Cahuenga Peak.
Not a household name, Cahuenga Peak is nonetheless as well-known a public asset as it gets. The 138-acre piece of the Santa Monica Mountains dominates the landscape behind and beside the famous "Hollywood" sign known the world over. It puts the "H" in H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D.
An appropriately high-profile and celebrity-studded public campaign by the Trust for Public Land led to the protection of this land, and its addition to Los Angeles' 4,100-acre Griffith Park, upending a developer's plans to build high-profile celebrity-filled mansions there. The mansions would have fulfilled, in a way, the starry-eyed vision of industrialist Howard Hughes, who bought the land in 1940 intending to build a home for his then-girlfriend Ginger Rogers.
It was a different connoisseur of starlets with the same initials, Hugh Hefner, who ultimately came through with a $900,000 check that gave the Trust for Public Land the last push that it needed to pay off to the would-be developers. Price tag: $12.5 million, a relative bargain compared to its real estate bubble value of $22 million. (It's not the first time Hefner lent a few dollars to maintain the H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D sign, having hosted a fundraiser to rescue it from disrepair in 1978.)
It's a truly American story, as strange and wonderful as it gets. And because it's Hollywood, of course it has a happy ending.
See all the 2011 Best New Park nominees.