Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Universal Studios Sets in Jeopardy

By Steve Lee

There seems to be no shortage of stories about corporate-owned movie studios abandoning pieces of their history. Here's a new one that I have real mixed feeling about... but I'm holding complete judgment until more information comes in.

It was reported recently in the Los Angeles Times and London's Guardian that NBC Universal is planning a $3 Billion, 391 acre development project that would create a new neighborhood with 2,900 homes and apartment units, as well as production facilities, restaurants, stores, and a hotel. Improvements and upgrades would be made to the existing studio tour and the Universal CityWalk entertainment complex as well. The project would create 17,000 construction jobs, and add 11,000 permanent jobs.

I'm all for creating new jobs and making more opportunities for people, especially in the entertainment community. But there's a big part of this story that I don't think is getting enough attention.

Many historic exterior sets on 124 acres of the Universal back lot stand in the way of this proposed development. Although some reports suggest they plan to relocate them, I seriously doubt that all of them will survive.

One of the locations that has been put on notice is European Street, which has been seen in countless movies and television shows. It's where almost all the classic Universal monsters have terrorized villagers, in films such as "Frankenstein," "Dracula," and "The Invisible Man."

Also on Universal's endangered list is Colonial Street. Although the Munsters, the Cleavers, Marcus Welby and Jimmy Stewart's giant rabbit Harvey all lived there, Colonial Street is probably best known at the moment as Wisteria Lane - home of the "Desperate Housewives." I doubt a day goes by where it's not seen on TV somewhere.

And probably the most recognizable of all the locations threatened by the development would be the house from Alfred Hitchcock's classic "Psycho."

It's no secret that most film sets are usually only temporary, empty shells that only represent what is needed to be seen, and not built to last. But these have become mainstays of not only the movie makers who use all the diverse locations for their shows, but the many tourists who visit specifically to see the historic sites where their screen favorites were filmed.

Absolutely no details of how they intend to "move" these sets has been disclosed yet - one can only speculate. The Psycho house could likely be moved successfully. Some of the Colonial Street houses could be relocated as well, but many were moved once already (having been displaced by the construction of Amblin', Steven Spielberg's production offices) and I have a feeling they may not fare as well. And I seriously doubt that the European Street facades, with their mostly plaster and cobblestone construction, would hold together when uprooted.

This plan is not yet final, of course - and would not happen immediately. According to reports, Universal will be filing their applications with the city and county of Los Angeles early next year, and the approval process could take more than two years. The entire redevelopment is planned for over the course of 25 years.

Local residents are concerned about the negative impact on the existing communities nearby, especially with increased traffic in an already congested area. The studio has already reached out to public officials and homeowner groups, although some are still waiting for more details before forming their opinion.

Hopefully, preservation concerns will be addressed in the near future. Perhaps a compromise can be reached with everyone satisfied enough with the results. Time will tell, and we'll keep an eye on it.


Blogger chuck said...

hi steve, it makes me sick to see how they destroyed the munster house and the harvey house for that garbage desprate housewives, like anybody would know those facades by seeing them in the back ground and only seeing the lower shots the camera never pans up on the second floor.........why didnt they move them to where the original beaver house and the hubbard house are and make a old colonial st. for the tour?????????

10:32 PM, December 15, 2007  
Blogger Ben Glenn II said...

The good news is that these sets are modular and sections can be easily removed and replaced with others. The parts removed from the house likely are in storage. I imagine that, at some point after "Desperate Housewives" ends its run, the Munster house will be restored. It's too famous not to, as visitors expect to see it on the studio tour.

[Read my article on TV sitcom houses at www.tvparty.com]

10:22 AM, June 04, 2008  
Blogger John said...

these sets are meant to be used to make movies and that means they need to be considered working sets not museum pieces. they are constantly changing. Although I would like to see an area of Park land dedicated to retiring the most historic sets and preserving them as is. That is really the only way its really going to happen. The former paramount ranch or Fox rannches would be ideal and appropriate but they are in financial trouble aready so i don't know where it would come from. BTW Warner has the best record of preservation so far though they could change.

1:31 PM, August 08, 2008  
Blogger Greenway7x said...

Accggh! Madness! RETROFIT the existing structures for real residential and commercial use (omitting the iconic PSYCHO house, of course!). People would adore--and pay BIG-- to live and work in such remembered-by-millions, character-filled buildings, and they would be magnets for shopkeepers. What are moronic, disgraceful waste, to waste them!

Colonial Street (which I remember most fondly from THE 'BURBS)was, ironically, also the setting for 'Of Late I Think of Cliffordville' in THE TWILIGHT ZONE, in which an old man's dearest wish was to return to the town of his childhood AS IT WAS THEN... Many of us feel that, and as it's no longer possible in 'real' life, Universal COULD make it true by making really livable the scenes of 'reel' life in which millions have mentally lived as we 'got into' what was onscreen.

12:01 PM, August 25, 2008  

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