Once Upon a Time in Hollywood… The Columbia Ranch

A Little Background on Columbia Ranch—

Hidden within the city of Burbank is The Columbia Ranch movie facility, surrounded on all four sides by residential property. Modest single family homes stand outside its fences on these charming, tree lined streets.

In baseball terms, this lot is like Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, places of unbelievable magic and history making… tucked behind the most conventional of appearances.

Two story homes and apartments can easily see inside this fabricated world… right from their living room windows, residents can have a peek over the ivy covered fences that secure this iconic movie location. It’s as if they are part of famous movie sets that sit right across the street. Like having a balcony seat for a fine play. Except this play never ends… until now.

Being this close to actual film production, sounds, smoke and production activities slip into this normally quiet residential neighborhood. For some residents, their entire life has been an inadvertent part of this movie history.

It has been this way for generations, but soon, this wonderful, western-style, movie playground will go the way of so many other former studio backlots, such as MGM, Fox, and Desilu, which have all seen this sad movie playout before: Quick cash, in the form of real estate development, will overide the movie history that has played out both inside and outside the backlot. Paving paradise once again.

It seems escalating property values overide history every time. Who needs these old buildings and mature forest areas that lie inside this lot? 

And number crunchers will make the case and justify the cause. But the effect is felt most acutely by those who worked, in some cases, their entire life at this film ranch, as well as movie history buffs. The community surrounding this studio knows no other normal. It’s a throwback to Hollywood’s past glory.

You may think you never have seen this lot or experienced it… ahh, but you have!

The home from Bewitched, starring Elizabeth Montgomery, is still standing. It sits across the street from Jay North’s Dennis the Menace home. Chances are… you have watched TV episodes that were done entirely on this lot. In the back of your mind, you might’ve wondered, just where these neighborhoods exist.

The Columbia Ranch… that’s where!

A Personal Anecdote—

I was fortunate to be invited on a movie set during filming. The movie being filmed was Hooper. It starred Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, and Jan Michael Vincent. The movie is about Stuntmen in Hollywood. The director was Hal Needham.

Chariot races were being filmed that afternoon. It was stunts on top of stunts. A stunt rodeo was taking place. I was sitting in a chair next to video playback on the historic High Noon western street, from the Gary Cooper classic. I approached Mr. Needham, as he replayed the activity just captured on film.

Being a teenager, I was caught up in all this excitement. I had to ask… “what was your most thrilling stunt ever?”

He turned away from what he was doing — directing a movie — and proudly turned to me and boasted, “I still have the record for car rolls: 23 rolls on one cannon flip.” As he was telling me this, Burt Reynolds walked up, and upon overhearing this, said, “He can have that record! Tell him how long you were in the hospital, Hal!”

Mr. Needham replied, “Well, I broke my back, several ribs, and was in traction for awhile, but I own a record no one on this set can touch!” Burt then chimed in, “or even want to,” as the two of them looked at each other and laughed.

A priceless moment that is as fresh as the day it happened. The beauty of memories is… they can’t be bulldozed.

Trailer: Burt Reynolds, filming at Columbia Ranch.

Fun Facts and photos on Columbia Ranch (Retroweb.com)—

  • Founded in 1920 as Columbia Pictures Studios.
  • Built in 1921, this 17-acre Hollywood movie studio was originally the historic Columbia Pictures Studios.
  • “In 1948, Columbia establishes a television arm, housed under the revived Screen Gems banner, which makes it one of the first studios to invest in television.”
  • Spring 1970 – “soundstage # 4 caught fire and some Bewitched sets were damaged (especially the kitchen). Not wasting any time, the show shot scenes for The Salem Saga episodes while the kitchen set was repaired and redesigned.”
  • “In 1972, the nearly bankrupt Columbia Pictures sold its Hollywood location at Sunset and Gower and moved over the hill to Burbank in the San Fernando Valley, where they shared space on the Warner Brothers lot (renamed for a while as “The Burbank Studios”).”
  • The studio had no backlot, and instead, the Columbia Ranch in Burbank was used for exteriors.
  • The Ranch started in 1934, as a 40 acre plot purchased by Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures Corporation.
  • “Over the years, Columbia Pictures sold off much of its 80-acre Burbank ranch to developers. Columbia’s ranch had acted as the studio’s backlot since 1935, with its scenery of grassy park and fountain, Old West street (destroyed by fire in 1970), and facades of city buildings, townhouses and suburban homes (including the Bewitched house).”
  • A 1957 aerial photo “shows the single soundstage Columbia built at the ranch. Later, in the late 1950s, a second stage was built right next to it. Also, you can make out Columbia’s special effects water tank with its sky backing almost dead center. Up to right where there’s a semi-circular backing was the spot the lamasery set was built for Frank Capra’s LOST HORIZON. Today that portion of the lot has a large drugstore and a parking lot. Many year ago Columbia sold off a portion of the lot to a developer.” – Richard P.
  • “The real street used in the Blondie movies was right near CBS Studios. I took some photos when I was there last year. One of the houses was later recreated at the Columbia/Warner ranch…which later became the I Dream of Jeannie house.” – Anthony
  • “The (new) “re-created” Blondie house at the Columbia Ranch from the early 1940s was indeed used for the exterior on Jeannie, as well as Mr.Wilson’s house on Dennis, and the Anderson house on Father Knows Best, during the 1950s/60s. It’s still standing, has most likely been used for numerous other TV shows and movies, as well as commercials throughout the decades.” – Mark J. C.
  • “[In Bewitched,] I seem to remember the Kravitzes front house exterior being the house that would later become (or by 1970/71 was already) the Partridges’ house [but in the episode “Mary the Good Fairy,”] there’s a closeup of Gladys Kravitz gasping as she sees the police picking up Mary. and Mrs. Kravitz is [standing instead on the front porch of] the Donna [Reed] house (and also Dennis Mitchell’s house).” – Mark J. C.
  • “I think they used a different exterior for the Kravitz house in that two-parter as the former house suffered some damage in a backlot fire.” – Anthony
  • In 1970, three successive fires (in January, April and August) destroyed half the lot
  • In mid-1971, became a combined Columbia and Warner ranch
  • 1990 – Columbia left, and ranch became The Warner Ranch
  • “All of the houses on the Warner Ranch are now complete structures. I don’t think there are any “facades” left. Some of the “facades” have been enclosed within the past decade to protect the sets from water damage.” – William F., Jr.

Some of the Shows that Filmed on Columbia Ranch—

Father Knows Best
The Donna Reed Show
Hazel
The Hathaways
The Farmers Daughter
Our Man Higgins
Gidget
Bewitched
I Dream of Jeannie
The Flying Nun (Convent set)
The Monkees
Route 66
The Partridge Family – exteriors AND interiors (on soundstages at ranch)
Camp Runamuck
Here Come the Brides
The Wackiest Ship in the Army
Fantasy Island
Eight is Enough

columbia_ranch_gidget_lagoon_400.jpg

Columbia Ranch lagoon and berm seen in Gidget.

columbia_ranch_western_street_monkees_200.jpg

Columbia Ranch Western Street seen in The Monkees.

columbia_ranch_jeannie_house_200.jpg

Home of Major Tony Nelson in I Dream of Jeannie.

columbia_ranch_partridge_family_house_200.jpg

Home of The Partridge Family…a facade rebuilt following a backlot fire in 1970.

columbia_ranch_ny_street_bewitched_200.jpg

The Ranch’s New York Street as seen in Bewitched.

columbia_ranch_lagoon_jeannie_200.jpg

Columbia Ranch lagoon as seen in I Dream of Jeannie.

columbia_ranch_post_1970_fire_400.jpg

Post-fire aerial view of the Columbia Ranch in 1970.

(Bullet points and photos courtesy of Retroweb.com)

Written by Donnie Norden
Edited by Donna Quesada

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s