Columbia Ranch New Year’s Day-1976

We do our best plotting at our favorite Bob’s Big Boy location here in Burbank. After our halftime lunch break, we exit alongside the overweight boy carrying a hamburger. We joke,” that kid could never climb the fence”. We all touch Bob for good luck. “He looks like a security guard anyways,” I retort.

As the Rose Bowl kicks off, we begin our second half of the day. Jimmy drives around each of the four corners along the outside fences of this studio called the Columbia Ranch. This lot is like MGM lot 2, it sits nestled in the heart of this Burbank community. People’s homes look inside here…

As Jimmy and I originally figured, the easiest low profile climbing spot is behind a corner shopping center. We park in the shade provided by a tall wall, we will soon be climbing. Aerosmith’s song- Back in the Saddle keeps us in our car seats. We know once we start, we can’t stop, there are no time-outs in the game of trespassing. We’re like some grizzled Cowboys,” just getting water for our horses, ma’am!”

We can’t get out of the car fast enough as Janis Ian’s song –Seventeen- begins with its depressing tones and lyrics. I’m fifteen and having the time of my life…girls have so many sad feelings. You’re not going to ruin our day with this song. I hope Janis has a better year when she’s eighteen!

Thirty seconds later…we mount up

The three of us, Jimmy, Pat, and myself touch down on pay dirt, large trees and grass berms provide shade and places to hide at while we take in the landscape. We see several four-story tall buildings not too far off. Those buildings can be seen driving down Hollywood Way, a street the locked main gate is located on. The locked gate is an indication this place is probably empty.

We enter here…

Being inside is how we will verify what we are hoping for, is the lot empty for the taking? Everything we see is stationary- empty streets, parked cars, as if someone hit a pause button. Time has frozen still for us, it’s like we’re climbing into a picture or matte painting. We three boys are the only live action going on here today, it appears.

Nothing so far is recognizable from things on TV, because we came in through a backstage entrance, so to speak. But after a half hour in this forested area, we head toward the big city with the tall buildings over yonder. Weaving in and out of what the studio calls picture cars, a huge selection of cars could double as Cal Worthington and his dog Spot’s used car dealership. Jimmy and I pull Pat by the arm so to keep toward our goal, Downtown- Columbia Ranch style.

Pat’s used car lot…quite the selection
The rooftops in the distance fit our needs today…

Pat has a thing for cars, he would stay here all day if we let him. But, we’re going to the highest vantage point on the backlot. It offers not only great views, but a 360 degree observation of any and all activities on the lot. Following proven effective methods used on all our other lots, we sit on rooftops four stories high. A fountain sits below us, and a pool with crystal blue water, in a park setting. We have a pool at MGM, but it’s drained now, so we skateboard in the old Esther Williams pool.

We are on top of the world, or Columbia anyways. We bask in our glory, another successful backlot adventure is taking place, we three sit on the roof and dig into the depths of our collective brains that are TV sets at this moment. Each of us adjust our rabbit ears- pointing out things that slowly are being remembered or identified from TV shows from the sixties.

The Monkees used this fountain in their music video I Wanna Buy Me a Dog. Jimmy and I loved the Monkees and now here we are. “This is the Partridge Family Studio, I’ve seen that bus drive by here” as I follow up with another series, we take a brief Susan Dey moment… Bewitched used that fountain also. This fountain is like the center of the universe on this backlot. We sit above all this reflecting fondly, what a cool way to start the year. Off in the distance we see the Bewitched house. It’s a sling shot from Dennis the Menace’s house.

We are zipping through the sixties on classic TV memories, like we do at Desilu, where Superheroes come alive.

This rooftop allows us to see the entire backlot
The iconic fountain below...
The fountain is the most used set still going...
Looking south west- at the old westHigh Noon was filmed here…
West view- the only stages are in this section of the lot.
Same rooftop- different trespasses!
Same rooftop- years apart…I’ve combined pictures from later trespasses for this story

The buildings we are on top of…

My dream car…
Samantha- taking on city hall over this iconic fountain…
The fountain used in all your TV Land television series filmed on this lot.

The Partridge Family in front of Dennis Mitchell’s Home.
I’m going to nail that bus!

Dennis’ front porch view…
Bewitched House- left side brick home
Around the bend here is a Colonial street with another church to go with this one.

Columbia Ranch-church two...

This village is charming, we decide to climb up into this steeple. We love bell towers; a ladder takes us to the top. It’s dark and musty smelling…the sunlight shines in shapes of perforated squares, like a grid. We reach the top to say “we did it”-then quickly decide this is the worst steeple we’ve been in. It stinks bad and the floor is covered with bird droppings- inches high.

Behind this street is this lot’s western street. Gary Cooper made it famous as did Marlon Brando in 1953 in the film The Wild One. A lot of dust and tumbleweeds have blown down this street since then…

Sheriff’s comin boys!

The Wild One…

Inside theses buildings clocks move backwards…
Water trucks are used on filming sets all the time, but never have I seen one this old...

Before Jurassic Park… T-Rex’s roamed these lots!

A typical western street usually has a gallow at one end, a church at the other, and a saloon in the middle, livery stables, and a chicken ranch within walking distance of the saloon. A sheriff office and a bank trim out all you could possibly want or need.

Today, we visited two old west deserted ghost towns, and we only had to go to Burbank to go back in time. As we make our way back across the entire lot to get back to our climbing spot, Pat finds an unlocked door in a steel covered one story storage facility, it’s the property department. Small hand props are packed inside here- we touch everything. It’s like the biggest curio shop ever, odd, strange yet cool things…

I am in love with a brass container in the shape of a Scorpion. It opens up to put things inside. As tempting as this is, the Robin Hood in us says “Don’t take anything.” We still have a long way to go to exit and we are already carrying camera equipment. “You would think they would lock this place”…

As neat as this room is, it really is all about these wonderful backlots. Today, January 1, 1976…we conquered two more. We head back to Culver City together this New Year’s Day-no chases, no watch commanders, just a relaxing trip back in time to the good old days…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

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