Wyoming meets 5th Avenue at MGM Lot 2

A skeleton version of MGM’s lot 2, many things have yet to be constructed, such as the iconic NY street, known as 5th avenue in many of the musicals to come. The backlot in it’s infancy.Tarzan’s jungle exists, and it boundaries with Midway and Wyoming public streets. Quality street does not exist yet. My train station is operable, the fence and rail tracks veer into the backlot.That would be my main entrance many decades later. I could look at this picture-all night. It’s like seeing a picture of your parents before you were born.
Fascinating, their is so much here to expand upon. MGM did just that, property seen above would get stretched out both north and east. North at Arizona avenue, my caretaker house that Maureen and I took over as our second house had another home along side it. That was not there in the 60’s. MGM expanded fencing in the entire south side of Arizona. Arizona connects to Midway avenue, these streets still exist, just not MGM. Montana is the middle of the 3 streets that stretch east to west. North of Montana would become a huge MGM crew parking lot. Montana no longer exists, it’s now home to Studio estates, or as we like to call them, Studio mistakes!
MGM lot 2 does not exist yet in this photo. Wyoming, Montana, and Arizona, Midway, and Oregon streets look like runways at an airport. But what does is exist, two streets from where the backlot will be soon, I my family home. It’s in this picture. Oldest house on Huron would have it’s own special MGM history.
The streets named Wyoming and Grant would become part of MGM Lots number 1 and 2… I live on Huron, and MGM security officer George Barner, who was hired with the sole intent to capture me, lived on Milton. His house was between the backlot and my house. In other words, we went by his house in almost every trespass and chase. Escapes became personal along these residential streets. The MGM Red Bronco often was parked at his house, the vehicle most involved with these narrow escapes. Often, he would drive down my street to see if I was home. It was like my house was part of set watch! Once in awhile I might errantly throw a football close to his windshield. “Leave me alone- I live here!”
Wyoming street, Overland- intersection is located under the word Motion. Continuing left is Montana ave, Oregon ave, and Washington Blvd.
The backlot I grew up on had all this stuff…Main gate above is main gate below.
Main entrance on Overland, Wyoming was just to the right of this gate
This is Montana street and the MGM crew parking lot. I rode my bike daily down this street, peeking in tiny Holes in the Fence.
This is the corner of Midway and Montana, see streetlight and street sign, bottom right corner in photo. The Lords Home and the Watermill house sit beyond this fence, as does Tarzan’s jungle. When Kong was filmed in 1976, the public entered on a series of special engagements when filming required thousands of extras. I have that show and all the behind the scenes action of that blockbuster in my second book, Hole in the Fence-Book Two. Hopefully ready by Christmas. The best Kong adventures no-one knows, guaranteed!
Intersection just outside MGM lot 2, the confluence of Arizona, Midway, and Montana streets meet on this strip.
This use to be a old green fence, in 1978, Chips TV series pursued the Phantom cycle all over the backlot.
5th avenue…Chips.
5th avenue, right after Soylent Green ran the scoops through here.
Same angle- Singing in the Rain -Art Department Photo
1974-Planet of the Apes. Two arc lights spit out smoke and fire, like dragons. The scene is a collapse of pavement that traps both humans and apes together in an underground subway. Wyoming street never looked like this, safe to say!
I stood next to the director as he gave –Yul Brynner direction. He stood stoically, staring me down, looking like this! The Ultimate Warrior meets the Ultimate Trespasser- movie history is made on 5th avenue.
Real rain -on 5th avenue, 1980. The tall platforms (background) are used on stages to elevate sets quite often. Wild walls can be grabbed and used elsewhere (foreground) Nothing gets thrown out, yet when they tear things down, like the entire backlot, little gets saved.
The road I’m standing on in this picture was Midway, it use to extend alongside Tarzan’s jungle and lake and connect to Montana and Wyoming streets…
Tough pictures to take, I remained composed…the curtain on old lot 2 is about to close…
Ashes to ashes-dust to dust. Wyoming street, then 5th avenue, finally today, it’s the Culver Senior center.
The end is similar to the beginning…

I love the MGM, it’s gift that keeps on giving. Internet didn’t exist when I was a young lad inside these fences. Films and TV shows were our link to the past. Books hardly existed on our secret world.

When I saw these pictures from the sky, my heart fluttered. I get to see my home before I lived in it, meaning the studio. The oldest part of MGM lot 2 was the area closest to my house. That explains why so much of what’s located in this section is extremely aged and weathered. Like character wrinkles on an older friends face. We all age, even the sets I play on. But, what I did not know is how lot 2’s NY street was not original, but part of a large expansion.

MGM lot 1, the side with the sound stages, also had sets built on it. A move was made that demolished the sets on lot 1, and more stages were built. Newer, fanciers sets were built brand new on the backlot. This expansion, would see MGM buy up a Culver City street called Wyoming. This section would become the most iconic New York street any backlot would want to have, or dream off. Well thought out and engineered, each angle appears to go on forever. Clever intersections, cut through connecting street after street. It’s a grown ups play set. Add streetlights, newspaper stands, light posts, phone booths, subway portals, cars etc. Next thing you know Gene Kelly will be dancing or skating- down this street..

Even a massive warehouse was constructed on the backlot that could hold both an oceanliner and a rocketship…and everything in between. MGM bragged it has more stars than the heavens, so it needed more real estate to present these actors settings to perform in.

More than any other star, Gene Kelly is attached with this street. American in Paris, Singing in the Rain, It’s Always Fair Weather, and the Black Hand were all done here. Fred Astaire walks down 5th avenue in the classic The Bandwagon.

Red Skelton, The Marx Brothers, Laurel and Hardy, and Buster Keaton are some of the funny people that would create history on 5th avenue. In the 70’s the street saw Joe Gannon of Medical Center have a clinic on it, Soylent Green became the official food of the neighborhood. Richard Roundtree filmed Shaft, the TV series here. I can dig it!

Laugh- in filmed a special on this street which included the legendary Bettie Davis, Roddy McDowell and Robin Williams, on my birthday-1977. I snuck into the theater during filming of a scene and realized the camera was facing in towards us and they were about to detonate a pyro technique explosive, right where we were positioned. We exited just in time before the blast… their is danger in the fun I have.

I’d give anything to see this NBC special again, endless skits all over the backlot on every set, it filmed June 13/14 1977. Must see T.V.

The Phantom of Hollywood would use the entire lot, including a murder at a studio party thrown by Peter Lawford on my NY street. Broderick Crawford was given the challenge to capture Jack Cassidy, the notorious Phantom. MGM security called me the Phantom before this show was created. In the script, two kids die falling from where my Boystown fort happened to be, at the time of this filming. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Planet of the Apes would take this street captive only to die off due to poor ratings. Yul Brynner stared me down as the Ultimate Warrior, dead center of this theater district, while taking direction, he looked at me like a robot.

Chips even chased a Phantom cycle-down this street. MGM would blow up a portion in 1979 in John Ritter’s Hero at Large feature.

It’s amazing how a couple pictures can conjure up so many memories…

Written and lived by Donnie Norden...

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