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Historic movie lot that gave Studio City its name to get $1-billion makeover

Radford Studio Center, a legendary Studio City movie lot that has hosted well-known television shows for generations — including “Gunsmoke” and “Seinfeld” — is getting a $1 billion upgrade to expand its facilities and bring it further into the digital age .

The owners of the lot, formerly known as CBS Studio Center, submitted plans Friday to Los Angeles officials to revamp and expand the aging studio and broadcast complex, adding a whopping 1 million square feet of new soundstages, production facilities and offices. .

Street signs on the lot of the Radford Studio Center in Studio City.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Founded by movie comedy legend Mack Sennett in 1928, the lot became known as “Hit City” in the decades following World War II through popular TV shows such as “Leave It to Beaver”, “Gilligan’s Island”, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”, “The Bob Newhart Show” and “Will & Grace” were made there. Current shows include “Big Brother 24” and “Physical”.

An alley is lined with movie studios of varied architecture.

The Mill Building, left, built in the 1940s, will be moved to the site at Radford Studio Center in Studio City.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

“It has this mystique that if you get there, you’re going to make it,” said studio president Mike Klausman, who has worked on the property since he started there as a CBS page in 1971.

The Radford complex was the studio lot that gave rise to the name Studio City. It’s had countless incarnations, including decades as Republic Studios, home to movie legends like Roy Rogers, John Wayne, and Joan Crawford. Popular movies from Republic included “The Quiet Man,” “Sands of Iwo Jima,” and “Johnny Guitar.”

The current state of the 55-acre studio is less glamorous than its heritage suggests, as it evolved like an old town where new additions, often built on a tight budget, were stacked over and around existing structures.

“There was never really a master plan,” Klausman said. “You would never tear something down, only add. We had to work around what was there.

Bungalows for writers and stars — often quaint buildings from Hollywood’s Golden Age on other historic movie lots — are clusters of mobile homes that were completed in the 1990s, when times were lean, he said. In the past, the huge roofs of soundstages drained rainwater directly onto the asphalt roads below.

Bungalows on the right and a parking garage in the background.

Bungalows made from mobile homes, right, used by writers and stars and a parking garage in the background at Radford Studio Center in Studio City.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

A New York style street lined with historic two-story yellow and red brick buildings.

New York Street, where “Seinfeld” was shot, at the Radford Studio Center.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

“You almost needed a boat to get from one studio to another,” said Klausman. “It was like a river in that place.”

The runoff issue has been resolved and times are no longer lean as the rise of streaming has increased the demand for soundstages and other production facilities and led to the development of new studios in the Los Angeles area. Radford and other studios are fully booked all year round.

Though modest in appearance with the main entrance tucked around a corner of Ventura Boulevard on Radford Avenue, the Radford studio is one of the most valuable in the world by price. It was sold for $1.85 billion in 2021 to Hackman Capital Partners, one of the largest providers of entertainment production facilities, and New York real estate investor Square Mile Capital Management.

“The history of hit shows produced in Radford follows the trajectory of culture and entertainment in Los Angeles,” said Zach Sokoloff, a senior vice president at Hackman of Culver City, who plans to complete the makeover.

Its location in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood, near other illustrious movie studios beloved by filmmakers, made Radford highly sought after when it hit the market nearly two years ago, said JLL real estate agent Carl Muhlstein, who sells ViacomCBS to the deal represented. There were multiple bidders for the property, he said.

A view shows an aerial view of movie studios in Studio City.

View of the proposed Radford Studio Center in Studio City.

(Radford Studio Centre)

“Between Studio City and Burbank, there are four iconic studio lots. Disney, Warner Bros. and Universal have not changed hands in over 100 years,” he said. “Here was an opportunity to buy something that only became surplus with the merger of CBS and Viacom” in 2019.

In addition to the real estate assets, ViacomCBS (now Paramount Global) has transferred its lucrative studio business to the former CBS Studio Center, which includes stage rental, facilities management and production support services on the Radford lot.

ViacomCBS sold another former CBS property, Television City in LA’s Fairfax neighborhood, to Hackman in 2019 for $750 million. Paramount Global operates the legendary Paramount Studios in Hollywood.

CBS’s two television stations in LA, KCBS-TV (channel 2) and KCAL-TV (channel 9), are housed in the CBS Broadcast Center on the Radford lot, and the local news operation will remain there as part of a long-term leaseback .

a rendering of the proposed Radford Studio Center makeover.

A view of the proposed Radford Studio Center makeover. According to a study by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.

(Radford Studio Centre)

CBS, which acquired the property from Republic Pictures in the 1960s, will continue to occupy stages and produce content on the Radford lot. CBS-produced shows now include “SEAL Team,” “Entertainment Tonight,” “The Neighborhood,” and “The Talk,” which are taped in front of a live audience.

As it stands, Radford Studio Center offers tenants 18 traditional soundstages and four other stages. The site also has approximately 210,000 square feet of production office space and its own carpentry and special effects factory, commissary and car wash.

It has a backlot with a “Central Park” and a “New York Street” with 11 building fronts, including four brownstones. It also features simulated residential neighborhoods with a mishmash of homes in various architectural styles, including a facade that was used as the Cleaver residence in the sitcom “Leave It to Beaver.”

Hackman’s proposal calls for the creation of a mostly new studio with 2.2 million square feet of buildings, including up to 25 soundstages and 300,000 square feet of production support space such as wardrobe, storage and a mill. There would be 725,000 square feet of offices to support productions and an additional 700,000 square feet of offices available for lease to companies in the entertainment industry.

Two men stand outside talking on a residential street

Zach Sokoloff, left, senior vice president and asset manager of Hackman Capital Partners, talks with Mike Klausman, president of the Radford Studio Center, on the studio’s grounds.

(Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times)

Historic structures, including the Mack Sennett Building and Phases 9 and 10, would be preserved.

To improve access, an entrance on Ventura Boulevard at Carpenter Avenue would be “resurrected,” Sokoloff said. The studio once had an entrance there, but closed several decades ago.

Also planned is a new bridge over Tujunga Wash at Moorpark Street that would turn Radford Avenue into a thoroughfare. Only vehicles going to the studio would be able to cross the bridge, but it would be open to the public on foot or bicycle. The The Los Angeles River Greenwaya 51-mile cycle and pedestrian path, is currently interrupted at Radford Studio Center and a new bridge would close that gap.

Hackman owns five studios in the LA area, along with facilities in New York, New Orleans, Ireland, Canada, London and Scotland.

The company is planning $1.25 billion in improvements to Television City, including soundstages, production support facilities and offices for rent.

While the Los Angeles area has the highest number of soundstages of any city in the world, the studios are operating at nearly 100% with waiting lists as much as five film productions deep for those spaces, financial advisor Deloitte said. said in a 2021 report.

“To meet the rapidly growing demand, supply in Los Angeles County should more than double in the coming years,” said Deloitte. Planned projects for more studio space fall far behind.

The Radford Studio project would add more than 4,000 employees upon completion, doubling the number of people working there now, according to a study by the LA County Economic Development Corp.