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HomeNewsCulver Studios Sold

Culver Studios Sold


By Jack Egan
Studio City Los Angeles, a newly formed investment group, has bought the historic Culver Studios property from Sony Entertainment for $125 million. SCLA says it intends to turn the property, consisting of 14 sound stages, into one of Southern California’s most appealing facilities for producers, attracting shoots that might otherwise go elsewhere.
Ron Lynch, a 20-year production veteran who has been at Orion, TriStar (a division of Sony), Disney and Universal will serve as president of SCLA and be in charge of day-to-day operations. He said the intent is to make the Culver Studios “the first choice of producers when they begin evaluating their production needs.”
The Culver Studios name will be retained and the distinctive production setting, will be scrupulously maintained, according to the company, and also become SCLA’s headquarters. Built by industry pioneer Thomas Ince in 1919, Culver is fronted by a world-famous white-columned main building that’s a replica of George Washington’s Mount Vernon (not, as one Hollywood urban legend has it, the set for Tara). The first president of the United States was a hero of Ince.
After Ince’s death in 1924 the studio passed through many hands including Cecil B. DeMille (who did the monumental silent version of King of Kings there), RKO Pathe under Joseph Kennedy, Howard Hughes, David O. Selznick, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz and Grant Tinker. Sony bought it in 1991. Famous films made at Culver include King Kong (the towering Skull Island set could be seen for miles), Gone With the Wind (the burning of Atlanta was done on the studio’s backlot), Citizen Kane, Rebecca, and Raging Bull. It was also the setting for numerous television shows including The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Lassie, Peyton Place, Batman and Mad About You.
Plans are still tentative but an upgrading of unspecified studio services is in the cards and the addition of some postproduction facilities is being considered, according to Lynch. The studio is already in spiffy shape. Sony, whose own studio on the old Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer lot is nearby, invested some $12 million in improvements in recent years. Sony is expected to continue to be the main tenant at Culver and in an adjacent office complex. SCLA intends to build a 30,000 square foot addition to the 150,000 sq. ft. existing offices to serve as space for Sony Pictures’ Animation and Imageworks visual effects divisions.
“Our goal is to take the Culver Studios’ already outstanding reputation to a new level,” said Lee Tomlinson of Pacifica Ventures, one of three SCLA partners, and to provide “the best-equipped and most beautiful studio facilities for film, television, music video and commercial productions anywhere.” Other partners include Pacific Coast Capital Partners and Lehman Brothers Holdings. PCCP also operates Downey Studios in southern Los Angeles County. Recently the firm purchased it from the city and plans to run it as a full-service motion picture studio.
The backers hold the view that Culver Studios, with an atmosphere suffused with Hollywood lore, and first-class facilities catering to producer needs and wants, could attract shoots that might go elsewhere. At the same time shoots with a range of budgets could be encompassed. “We are making a concerted marketing effort to all filmmakers, lowbudget independents as well as the big studio production,” said Lynch. “We think we can do that by providing a variety of services to meet our customer needs.”
Currently prepping or recently in production at Culver Studios: Skipping the Holidays, from Revolution, directed by Joe Roth; Fat Albert for Fox; Polar Express from Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema’s Monster-in-Law starring Jennifer Lopez and Jane Fonda.
Sony Entertainment decided to put Culver up for sale three years ago. After getting no bids at an asking price of around $120 million, Sony took Culver off the market. The SCLA group approached Sony recently and the deal was done at $125 million, a tad higher, but facilitated by the drop in interest rates to near 50-year lows. About $80 million is for the studio and the remainder for the adjoining office complex.
Culver Studio has been running at 75–85% of capacity, and the new investors would like to beef that up through enhancements. Hoped for rate of return on the $125 investment is 15% a year, according to Dana Arnold, CEO of SCLA.
A related venture, Studio City New York, is building a major new production facility on the west side of Manhattan in the once-tough Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, which is now prime turf.

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