Salem Village-MGM Lot 3

MGM Art Department- Lot 3 Waterfront.
This port resembles a turn of the century harbor. These are actually seaworthy-enough ships. This body of water is not to be confused with Arnold Gillespie’s ocean. That set is down wind of this one, it’s most famous for its large sky backdrop.
MGM TV used these sets in this village’s final decade. The Outer Limits, The Twilight Zone, Garrison’s Gorillas, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, Man From U.N.C.L.E., Girl from U.N.C.L.E. are some of series that used this village.
The Cotton Blossom, here in dry dock, was used in Show Boat and ended up, after the famous MGM auction, in a theme park in Kansas City.
A close examination of this picture shows two cast trailers and a Direct Current mobile Generator. Lighting equipment and electric wind machines required DC power. A cable run is feeding two rafts with set lighting arc lights. They are wrapped in white covers when not in use.
Follow the cable trail, from the power source, cables are floated on innertubes to a wooden gang plank, cross the water, to an area with two more arc lights and what appears to be a wave maker. When turned on, it creates motion in the water for more realism.
The first time on Lot 3, I ended up in this ship -below deck. I was so scared, older kids were just leaving when we arrived and warned us about MGM security shooting trespassers with salt rocks. Turned out to be TRUE…
This waterfront is superior to the Cabot Cove waterfront at Universal. The Orca was the only decent ship in the Universal lake besides a P.T. boat used in McHale’s Navy. MGM lot 3 and Universal had the most extensive harbor and water sets and villages. Salem at MGM is tucked into the back corner of this lot and easy to access. Universal does have a cool shark in their pond that helps pull in thousands of dollars every day on The Glamour Tram Tour.
Cotton Blossom docked here…

Show Boat, yes indeed, this is MGM backlot 3.
Canoe’s could be found in the jungle area and were used by crew to access equipment in the lake basin.
Tom Sawyer’s Island at Disneyland? Nope, MGM lot 3. You can see the paddle wheel Cotton Blossom docked in Salem village. In the film Show Boat, it sails around this dog leg turn in the swamp and makes its grand musical entrance. This picture indicates the eastern property line at Lot 3. The row of trees at the bottom of this picture are still here. Many trees original to MGM still exist as does a portion of this lake and island. Raintree captured some of the flavor of the studio and it’ 67-acre adventure land.
50 years later, Maureen and I, at this same entrance. When MGM used this lot, the fences were chain link along all sides that looked towards Baldwin Hills. That was so the camera did not pick up the non-transparent green fence. Green fences secured Overland and Jefferson, the side facing Culver City. Chain link allowed for a never-ending landscape. I walk my dog along this area to this day and if you listen closely, you can still hear gunfire from Combat echoing in these canyons and hillsides. This was their Army playground when not blowing up sets on lot 2.
Salem in the series Man from U.N.C.L.E.

U.N.C.L.E. gadgets…
U.N.C.L.E. -Robert Vaughn and David McCallum
I see Dead People
U.N.C.L.EHelicopter Salem Village…
Stuff happens back here…
The huge lake is through the trees on the left side of these roads
This is the fence separating MGM lot 3 from Baldwin Hills, West LA College football field now exists here.
The little chain link fence that allows visibility into the Baldwin Hills. These oil fields, right beyond this fence, have a long list of movie credits attached to them.The fence in 1951 was replaced by a taller one, since it was so easy to access inside. The guards played for keeps however…

We Begin;

MGM lot 3 is its own very special land. Nestled at the base of the Baldwin Hills Oil Fields, MGM uses its natural western looking landscape to frame its movies and TV series’. This lot is best known for war if you grew up in the 60’s- around here. Combat, The Rat Patrol and Garrison’s Gorillas gave us a longer war than WW2 did. The sounds of gunfire ripped through this area adjacent to the studio, scaring birds and critters that go about their business in this adjoining oil field.

First operated by Standard Oil, these oil fields behind the studio can be seen in several Twilight Zones including the episodes Dust and Rance Mcgrew. Combat made sure not to capture these hills since it would not match their location. Oil derricks by the hundred looked down on this backlot. This was a very quiet area when no filming was taking place, often the only sounds were birds and oil wells pumping. Sulphur smells can be detected all about this area.

Lot 3, like Lot 2, had different types of fences around its vast expanse. The views where the hills would be included had chain link so you could not easily tell there was a fence. You could clearly see inside. Except on the main streets that border this lot. They tried to hide the place but how do you hide a wall with a sky painted on it and an ocean that has seen more action the Caribbean, with all its Pirates? The entire lot stood out above and through these fences like a gorilla in a small, tight suit.

I think everyone growing up around here, trespassed here, very easy to access, but security has free range and use of firearms was standard. So, keep that in mind. Plenty of places to hide but, this lot is so big, running requires covering huge sometimes wide-open distances. I can outrun a guard, but not a jeep, or a bullet. The vast expanse worked for us, but also against us.

My pal Jimmy and I rode around this lot on the outside for years, on our sting rays. When we finally got the guts to venture inside, we meet guys who warned us they shoot here. They pointed to a flood control drainage area that works like a bunker. Trains line the south side of the lot, blocking the views of the western street, so we would stare under the train carriages, looking for security. This gun thing is scary, it just is, because it’s true!

It’s the only reason more people did not partake in this game.

My friend Pat was shot at on lot 2 in a chase, we split off in different directions and security fired two shots at Pat. It’s scary enough being chased by an angry guard in a speeding jeep but the sound of shots fired is something you don’t forget –when you’re the target.

The western streets line up back to back but other sets are spread out so it’s dangerous in the daytime and really scary at night. The lot is too big to feel like you mastered it, so expect the unexpected. It feels haunted because I think it is. All these backlots are, but this one takes the cake. No stages exist at Lot 3, it is pure wilderness, with various villages and streets sprinkled in.

It is now the site of Raintree and Tara Hill, it’s laid out nicely, incorporating much more MGM landscape than the Studio Estates “Mistakes” made over on on Lot 2.

Written and lived by Donnie Norden…

2 thoughts on “Salem Village-MGM Lot 3”

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