When media mogul Ted Turner made his dramatic announcement that he would give $1 billion one third of his personal wealth to the United Nations, it might have caused some of L.A.'s richest people to do some squirming.

Why? Because Turner immediately called upon America's wealthier individuals to give more to charitable organizations. And Los Angeles, notorious for its conspicuous displays of wealth, has a reputation for being downright tight-fisted when it comes to charitable activities.

A study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy in 1994 placed Los Angeles at 48th among America's 50 largest cities behind El Paso, Texas and Virginia Beach, Va. in charitable donations based on per capita giving to mainstream charities and foundations.

That low ranking likely would not surprise the civic leaders who have spent much of the past year struggling to raise $100 million in donations to build Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A.

Nor would it come as much of a shock to officials at the local offices of United Way, where per capita giving averaged just $5.91 last year compared to an average of $20.14 in Atlanta.

"Los Angeles does not have the traditions of giving that exist in older East Coast and Midwest cities," said Eli Broad, chairman and chief executive of SunAmerica Inc. and perhaps the city's leading philanthropic arm-twister. "It is a newer city, and generally philanthropic growth follows the creation of wealth by a generation or two."

So is L.A. the stingiest city in America?

In a city as geographically, economically and culturally diverse as Los Angeles, it depends who you ask.

Certainly, the city's diversity as well as the exodus of major corporate headquarters from the region have made things difficult for large, mainstream charities such as United Way.

"It's a city which is so big and so diffuse," said John Fishel, executive vice president of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles. "Some cities really have a sense of closely knit communities. But this is a series of communities. People don't know each other."

But talk to charities linked to Hollywood and you're likely to hear a different story.

The entertainment and fashion industries have taken a leading role in raising money and consciousness for such a number of causes, most notably in AIDS and health care issues.

Michael Ovitz recently donated $25 million to UCLA's medical school. And scores of more anonymous Tinsel Town donors have contributed to AIDS Project L.A., which sponsors the annual AIDS Walk Los Angeles.

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