In the early 1920s, when Hollywood was still getting started in what writer Nick Toshes called “the dirty business of dreams,” movie studio tycoon Harry Cohn purchased a small studio situated on Sunset Boulevard, between Gower Street and Beachwood Drive.
In 1924, the studio became the home of Cohn's Columbia Pictures and it would go onto to become one of the most storied lots in Tinseltown, churning out Golden Age classics like “On the Waterfront,” “From Here to Eternity,” “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” and “Lawrence of Arabia.” According to legend, Cohn's office windows at the studio were close enough to those of his contracted writers that the hired hacks could frequently hear him yelling: “I don't hear you bastards typing!”
With the rise of television, the studios continued to thrive as the home for 1960s Technicolor confections such as “I Dream of Jeanie,” “The Flying Nun” and “Bewitched.”
But Columbia moved over the hills to the San Fernando Valley in 1972 and, by the mid-1970s, the studios had largely fallen into disrepair. In the closing pages of Hollywood Babylon, Kenneth Anger's 1975 book of salacious gossip from Hollywood's Golden Age, he portrays the lot as a sign of Hollywood's fall from grace: “On the empty stages of Columbia, where Harry Cohn's electric ears were once perked, they play tennis these days. (Outside on Gower Gulch, the tacked-on FOR SALE sign fades.)”
While the studio was being used as the Hollywood Indoor Tennis Club, someone did see the faded sign and in 1976 real estate company Pick-Vanoff bought the lot for $6.2 million. The company refurbished the property, renamed it Sunset-Gower Studios and established a bustling television business. In later years, popular favorites like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “The Golden Girls” and “Married with Children” were shot on its many sound stages.
The company also folded the Aquarius Theater into the property, which had formerly been the Moulin Rouge nightclub. Converted into a theater, it eventually becoming the home of televised talent show “Star Search” (it is now known as the Nickelodeon Theater).
In late 2004, Palo Alto-based private equity firm Global Innovation Partners acquired the 18-acre facility for a reported $110 million. The studio, which sports 165,000 square feet of office space and 160,000 square feet of production support space in addition to its 12 soundstages, is home to a number of shows for children's cable network Nickelodeon and, until recently, the HBO drama “Six Feet Under.” The studio is expanding with state-of-the-art editing and post-production facilities and now sports a new restaurant from celebrity chef and restaurateur Joachim Splichal.
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