Photo: Mack Sennett and John A. Waldron with plans for new project. Credit: Los Angeles Times, June 26, 1927
North Hollywood really began growing in the mid-1920s, when farmers and ranchers began subdividing property. Syndicates were formed to buy land and then develop it for residential use. One syndicate made the bold move of acquiring 503 acres from Ventura Boulevard to Tujunga Avenue, running north from Pacoima Avenue (now Laurel Canyon Boulevard) to Chandler Way, to create a film capital, employing the moniker Central Motion Picture District. Their aim was to turn this swath of North Hollywood land into a picture district known as Studio City, the new film capital of the world. The company hoped to lure independent film companies as well as studios to the area, much like in Hollywood. Not only would this neighborhood create steady and lucrative business and jobs, but it would draw new residents to the homes built on the rest of the property.
Image: Map of proposed San Fernando Valley project. Credit: Los Angeles Times, June 26, 1927.
The Central Motion Picture District, Inc., was led by Famous Players-Lasky (soon to be Paramount) executive manager Milton E. Hoffman, Charles H. Christie (brother of producer Al Christie), Gilbert Beesmeyer, and Harry Merrick, and included such directors and stockholders as Famous Players executive B. P. Schulberg, Bernard Fineman, actor Noah Beery and Mack Sennett.
The $20-million dollar Studio City project would include the Mack Sennett Studios, which would cost $800,000 to build, and several other major film studios, per the June 26, 1927, Los Angeles Times. The Sennett Studios would follow the California Renaissance style of Spanish architecture, with an administration building, film laboratory, dressing rooms, machine shop, two stages, and miscellaneous other buildings. Sennett moved into his studio in May 1928, and the Christie Film Company would also finish improvements on their adjoining property during May as well.
Photo 1: Grading with mules in Studio City. Credit: Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1927.
Photo 2: Motion picture executives. Credit: Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1927.
Photo 3: First movie set erected in Studio City. Credit: Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1927.
Sennett’s technical director Paul Guerin would intensely study the area before building two of the largest sound stages in the film industry, built to be perfect to record the new sound pictures. The 105 x 200-feet stages would also rise 48 feet, and the concrete walls would be deeply anchored in the earth. The October 14, 1928, Times article stated, “On account of the absence of earth tremors in the Studio City area the thickness of sound-stage walls is reduced to a minimum, according to technicians, who declared yesterday that satisfactory results could be obtained from nine-inch walls of wood frame and stucco.”
They also claimed that tests on models showed almost perfect sound. Milton Hoffman, president of the Central Business District group, proclaimed that Studio City would eventually become the center of all sound film production because this land was like a giant punch bowl with gravel and water at the bottom, followed by layers of sand, which would provide the cushion to halt vibration. Unfortunately this land would also be the prime area for liquefaction in an earthquake, which they didn’t know at the time.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer leased land south of Studio City in Fryman Canyon for outdoor sets, and they would go on to film “Annie Laurie” and “The Cossacks” here. Famous Players bought 2,700 acres of land out near Calabasas from a consortium led by many of the Studio City directors, which they tried to claim was near Studio City in articles.
The group also reached out to independent producers like Richard Talmadge, who produced action-packed features starring himself and who lived in the area. He intended to build a $275,000 theater designed by Universal City architects. This project never saw fruition.
On December 16, 1928, the Central Business District announced that two sound stages would be built by the combined interests of Sonoratone and Gotham Photoplay Corp. in cooperation with Asher-Small-Rogers. Sol Lesser and Asher-Small-Rogers would build $750,000 sound stages equipped with Sonoratone from the Sonoratone company, developed by combining the Sonora sound corporation and talking picture company Bristol from Connecticut, which they stated would be the only exclusively sound stages on the West Coast. Unfortunately, these plans never came to pass.
Independently of the group, Donald Parker attempted to form his own studio in 1926 at Fulton Avenue and Moorpark Street in Van Nuys, which would soon become part of Studio City. He bought 30 acres for $200,000 from three dairy farmers in June 1926. His plans included spending $600,000 to build administrative offices and eight stages to turn out product. Unfortunately, lack of funds prevented the studio from being constructed.
Associated Artists’ Corp. from New York bought 100 acres of the W. J. Petit Ranch near Van Nuys, intending to establish a center for operations, but financial difficulties scuttled the idea.
Two streets just outside the Sennett Studio were named for people involved in creating Studio City. Hoffman Street was named for Milton Hoffman, and Guerin Street was named after Paul Guerin.
By the time Sennett opened its new gates in 1928, business spending in America was at its peak and already on the decline. With the stock market crash in October 1929, all thought of a Studio City film district died. No other studios or film businesses established headquarters in the city. Mack Sennett himself went bankrupt in 1932, and the studio passed to other interests, and eventually became Republic Studios. In the late 1950s, Republic sold out, and the lot became a television production facility, still in operation today as CBS Studio Center.