Expansion set for old Hollywood studio amid surging demand for L.A. soundstages

A historic Hollywood studio where stars like Rudolph Valentino and Lillian Gish made silent films is about to make a $600 million comeback in the new era of streaming entertainment.

The owner of the Television Center, which was once the Technicolor and Metro Pictures Corp. film laboratory. plans to convert the aging Romaine Street complex into a larger, more modern studio that will lease production facilities to people who make films and TV shows.

Spurred on by intensifying competition between streaming platforms like Netflix and Apple TV+, television production is the key demand driver for both on-location and stage production.

In the ring of LA’s famed Thirty Mile Zone filming area, developers are upgrading old studios like Warner Bros. Ranch in Burbank and Universal Studios and inventing whole new ones, including one on the property of the former Sears store in Hollywood and one planned at the printing facility the Los Angeles Times downtown.

A giant "L.A" appears on top of a multi-storey building near a crossroads.

Rendering of Echelon in the Television Center office building in Santa Monica, left, and Cahuenga Boulevards in Hollywood.


The surge in demand is a welcome development as city and state leaders have for years tried to lure filmmakers back from competing states and countries with various financial incentives. State legislatures last year approved an additional $150 million in tax credits for filming on new or refurbished sound stages.

The growth of streaming television has revitalized the region’s illustrious entertainment industry, said USC economist Richard Green.

“It’s what makes LA special and what’s made LA special for 100 years,” he said. “New studios reflect how important this business is to the economy.”

Existing sound stages in Los Angeles County have been almost entirely leased for years, which can make it difficult for new productions to find jobs, according to FilmLA, the nonprofit organization that manages film permits in the area.

“We’ve seen streaming grow at an average rate of 35% per year,” FilmLA President Paul Audley said last month. “Even if what some people are now forecasting is wearing off, we still don’t have enough stage space to handle it.”

A wood paneled room with stairs to the left.

Interior of the historic Art Deco Television Center studio complex in Hollywood.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Though the Los Angeles area has the largest number of sound stages of any city in the world, studios are operating at nearly 100% capacity, with five film productions waiting for those spaces, financial adviser Deloitte said in a report last year.

“To meet booming demand, supply in Los Angeles County would have to more than double over the next few years,” Deloitte said. Planned projects for more studio space remain a long way off.

Entertainment real estate developer Bardas Investment Group will present plans to the city on Thursday to transform the television center in the heart of Hollywood by adding four sound stages and other production facilities, executive director David Simon said.

The goal is to create a 620,000-square-foot two-block studio with modernized elements of a classic Hollywood film factory, backed by stylish offices for industry professionals and underground parking for more than 1,000 cars.

“It’s intended for all entertainment media users,” Simon said of the studio. “We want to keep Hollywood in Hollywood.”

Bardas and financial partner Bain Capital Real Estate made a big bet to revitalize the old studio lot, paying $135 million for the Television Center in March, more than double what the previous owner paid in 2020.

People walk and cycle between two buildings between sidewalks and bushes.

Rendering of a thoroughfare in the Echelon at Television Center Studio.


The cost is justified by the opportunity to build the kind of studio-office complex in Hollywood that entertainers aspire to, Simon said.

“Hollywood is the best brand in the world in terms of entertainment,” he said. “We are pleased with the total investment of $600 million in the project.”

Bardas previously announced that another studio is in the works on the site of a long-closed Sears store and parking lot on Santa Monica Boulevard west of the 101 Freeway in Hollywood. Planned is a studio with five sound stages and support facilities, including offices and space for production base camps, where actors’ trucks, equipment and trailers will be placed.

This project, called Echelon Studios, is in the city’s permitting process, which hopefully Simon can complete in time for the groundbreaking next spring. At Television Center, which will be renamed Echelon at Television Center, Simon hopes to start work within 18 months. Each studio would take about two years to build.

At the Television Center, Simon plans to “merge the two blocks together in a way that makes it feel like one big studio complex.”

The former Technicolor North Block facility was built between 1930 and 1966 and has approximately 183,000 square feet of office and studio space, including a small sound stage. Bardas plans to retain the property’s original Art Deco structures while adding a six-story office building with outdoor terraces overlooking the Hollywood Hills.

Technicolor used the older buildings for offices and its development lab, which produced films such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, The Wizard of Oz, and Singin’ in the Rain.

After Technicolor moved in the 1980s, the complex was called the Television Center, Simon said.

People walk among trees and plants surrounded by buildings.

Echelon at Television Center was designed to include open-air courtyards to bring the outside world into the office environment.


Entertainment business offices are a key element in the development of new studios as they are in high demand. The film and television production company is one of the biggest users of office space in the Los Angeles area, occupying 17.7 million square feet as of 2020, real estate broker CBRE said.

The north block would also have a street-level restaurant and cafe catering to the public, Simon said. The remainder of Echelon at Television Center would be secured internally like other studio properties.

The block south of Romaine was once the Metro Pictures property, which became part of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in the 1920s. Metro’s stars included Rudolph Valentino, Lillian Gish, Ramon Novarro, Jackie Coogan, Buster Keaton and Wallace Beery.

Plans for the south block, where there is a parking lot, include four large sound stages, a base camp and a six-story office building.

Other studio projects abound in Los Angeles County.

Last month, East End Studios submitted an application to the city to build a studio near downtown LA’s newly famous 6th Street Bridge. With 16 soundstages, East End Studios’ ADLA campus would be one of the larger studio projects in the pipeline for the borough.

A potential downtown competitor is 8th & Alameda Studios on the site of the current Times Printing Plant. This proposed project would eventually include 17 sound stages spread over 26 acres.

Other notable developments include the redevelopment of Warner Bros. Ranch in Burbank and a seven sound stage complex called Sunset Glenoaks Studios in LA’s Sun Valley neighborhood

FilmLA is pursuing 14 studio projects in the Los Angeles area, including new stages and other facilities on the Universal Studios campus and a $1.25 billion overhaul of the former CBS Television City.

If all of these projects are built, the number of certified stages in the region would increase by about 27%, FilmLA said, and the total stage area would increase “by an unknown but significant amount.” Los Angeles County has 5.4 million square feet of certified stage space across 398 stages.

The addition of more film and television show production facilities cements LA’s appeal as the home of the entertainment industry, Green said.

“If you want to get into this business, you want to be where there’s dense production,” he said, which “creates a constant recycling between the talent and the work to be done. It’s hard to break that up.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-09-29/expansion-set-for-old-hollywood-studio-to-meet-demand-for-soundstages Expansion set for old Hollywood studio amid surging demand for L.A. soundstages

Sarah Ridley

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