Issue: Issue Summer 2010

Hollywood Studios Today

Although the advent of new technology and out of state incentives has helped spread filmmaking across the country, Hollywood still claims studios that have stood since the early days of cinema.  Although changing hands and  names in the past century, they retain the history and glory of the nascent filmmaking era.

The first and the last major motion-picture studio in Hollywood, Paramount Pictures on Melrose Avenue has produced movies at its current location since 1926, with roots firmly planted by Adolph Zukor as far back as 1912 including “Sunset Boulevard”, “Psycho”, “White Christmas”, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, and “The Godfather”.  Television shows including “Dr. Phil,” “Glee,” and “NCIS: LA” are currently being produced on the Paramount studio lot. On 62 acres, it is like a town complete with a water tower and a “Main Street.”

Cast of Glee on Paramount lot
Pictured clockwise from L: Jenna Ushkowitz, Chris Colfer, Cory Monteith, Amber Riley, Kevin McHale and Lea Michele in "Glee," filmed on the Paramount lot.
Matthias Clamer/FOX ©2009 Fox Broadcasting Co.

In 1915, Famous Players Fiction Studios began operations on Melrose Avenue with a Mary Pickford production - one of the first features to be filmed at what is now Raleigh Studios.  One of the world’s first sound stages was built on this location, thanks to owner William Clune.  Raleigh Enterprises purchased the lot in 1979, which is today the production site of “Private Practice,” “Castle,” and “The Closer.”

Hollywood Center Studios on Las Palmas Avenue, built in 1919, was the filming site for Howard Hughes’ “Hell’s Angels”, starring Jean Harlow.  “I Love Lucy” was shot there in the 1950’s, and George Burns kept an office on the premises.  The Disney shows “The Suite Life On Deck” and “Sonny With A Chance” are both filmed on this sixteen-acre lot.

Tim Mahoney, CEO of Hollywood Center Studios since 1984, oversaw the infrastructure transformation from filmmaking site to television studio.

Holly Center Studios
Rooftop view of the busy Holly Center Studios facility.

The history of the lot has been a benefit for doing business.  “The feedback we get from people is that they sense that they’re sort of living that history, even though all of the equipment is modern, and all of our studios now are HD,” Mahoney said.  “So it’s sort of a blend of nostalgia and high-tech.”

Ren Mar Studios on North Cahuenga Blvd. features five sound stages, lighting and rental equipment, and offices for rental.  Beginning in 1915, it was a Metro Pictures’ backlot, and saw the production of films featuring Ramon Navarro, Marlon Brando, and Gary Cooper.  From 1953 to 1967, it was known as Desilu Cahuenga Studios, and hosted such shows as “I Love Lucy,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and “I Spy.”  Since 1974, Ren Mar has been independently owned and operated, the taping site of “Ally McBeal” and “Lizzie McGuire.”    

Newly named, Sunset Gower and Sunset Bronson studios have enjoyed similar longevity in Hollywood.  Sunset Gower began when Warner brothers, Sam and Jack, purchased a farm on Sunset Boulevard between Van Ness and Bronson in 1919, where they filmed the “Rin Tin Tin” film series and notably produced the first “talkie” film - “The Jazz Singer” -here in 1927.  Warner Bros. moved east toward Burbank and Paramount purchased the studios in 1954, establishing the first TV station KTLA. “Family Feud,” “Judge Judy,” and “Hannah Montana” have all been taped at Sunset Bronson Studios and it’s still home to KTLA, now part of Tribune Broadcasting.

In 1922, Harry Cohn leased a property on Sunset Boulevard which became officially known as Columbia Pictures in 1934.   Frank Capra filmed “It Happened One Night” there that year, the first film to win all top five prizes at the Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Actor, and Best Screenplay.  “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Funny Girl” were also produced at this location.  Screen Gems, Columbia’s television arm, opened there in 1948.  Since its purchase by the Pick Vanoff Company in 1977, the property has been known as Sunset Gower Studios, and its sound stages have played host to a number of films and TV shows, including “Sliver”, “Dexter,” and “Heroes.”

Raleigh Studios building on Melrose
Raleigh Studios on Melrose was the site of the world's first sound stages. A movie studio has here since 1915.

Both Sunset Bronson and Sunset Gower properties were purchased by Hudson Capital in 2007. Christopher Barton, executive vice president of Hudson Capital, acknowledged the studios have faced difficulties in the past few years due to the uncertainty facing its entertainment industry tenants - production companies, casting agencies, special effects companies, etc.

Since the purchase of the studios, Hudson Capital has invested in changes to the property including completing the construction of the Technicolor Building in 2008.

Sunset Gower Studios' stunning new Technicolor Building
Sunset Gower Studios' stunning new Technicolor Building.

Control room for Stage at the Sunset Bronson Studios facility
The sophisticated control room for Stage 6 at the Sunset Bronson Studios facility.

Stage Cafe at sunset Gower Studios
The Stage Café at Sunset Gower Studios.

“There are a lot of benefits to a place people find charming and interesting, and I think it promotes the sense of community and creates a synergy among all these different types of entertainment companies that are based here,” Barton said.  

A bit further west, Formosa Avenue is home to “The Lot,” known early on as the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio, and later expanded by Samuel Goldwyn and Joseph Schenck.  Goldwyn and Mary Pickford had a bitter dispute over the property that ended when Goldwyn outbid Pickford at auction in 1955.  Until 1980, the lot was known as The Samuel Goldwyn Studio, and classics such as “Some Like It Hot” and “West Side Story” were filmed there.  From 1980 to 1999, Warner Bros. owned the studio, but it now is owned and leased by BA Studios.  Recent projects brought to life at “The Lot” include the second season of HBO’s “True Blood,” “Miss Congeniality 2”, “The Majestic”, and “The Green Mile”.

The former Warner Bros. Studio, now Sunset Gower.
The former Warner Bros. Studio, now Sunset Gower.

The Charlie Chaplin Studio on La Brea Avenue was built in 1917, the site of the actor’s independent productions, including “The Kid” (1921), “The Gold Rush” (1925), “City Lights” (1931) and “The Great Dictator” (1940). His last film shot there was “Limelight” (1952).  He sold the studio in 1953 and such shows as the George Reeves “The Adventures of Superman” series, “The Red Skelton Show”, and the original “Perry Mason” were produced there.  In 1966 it became the home of A&M Records and Tijuana Brass Enterprises, Inc.

The Jim Henson Company took up residence there in February 2000.  Charlie Chaplin's concrete footprints can still be found in front of Sound Stage #3.

Box office of Warner Theatres with Poster of the Jazz Singer
“The Jazz Singer” - the first “talkie” - was filmed in 1927 at the Warner Bros. Studio, now Sunset Gower Studios.

Hollywood Center Studios
Hollywood Center Studios - The Suite Life
Then and now: Hollywood Center Studios built in 1919, was site site of "I Love Lucy" (for left) and today's Disney Show, "The Suite Life on Deck."

Those in the Hollywood production business know that movie and television production occurs anywhere and everywhere, from Griffith Park, neighborhoods, and sound stages and various venues large and small. While opportunities for making big-budget movies at these historical properties may have waned, Hollywood studios have adapted to accommodate a growing creative clientele and an ever-changing technological frontier, ensuring Hollywood’s future in the entertainment industry universe.