The Hill Above… DESILU

Once upon a time... A hill overlooked a movie studio, like a balcony in an Opera House.
December 11, 1916. Culver City was not incorporated yet. But Heinz 57 Pickles were thriving. This hilltop reflects the setting that lured Thomas Ince to build a studio here. The 57 was lit up at night. That’s a light standard in between the five and seven.
Sgt. Carter often visits this area, so he can BLOW HIS TOP!
When filling up at Goober’s Gas Station, this hilltop is what you see. Pumps just out of frame on the left. The creek is behind these trees.
1976-right before the 40 acres backlot is no more. Looking toward the hilltop from another hilltop, on the Desilu lot next to Stalag 13. A road separates the studio from this hilltop. You can see Jefferson Blvd. in this photo of mine. Barney ticketed this Highway in his side car mounted Motorcycle. Just looking for speeders is all. ” If you give them an extra 5 miles an hour then they’ll want 10″
The studio man-made hills is the area in left hand side. Hogan’s Heroes has its Bridge located here. That is the hill Sgt. Carter drives his jeep to…to escape Pyle. This area was catering and all the tables and crew for GWTW fed here. The bridge was not built yet and these two small studio hills are man-made. But this rooftop I’m on top of existed going all the way back to 1927. King of Kings set, Cecil B. DeMille.
Scarlett O’Hara in line for lunch, lower corner standing. Boxcar 8142, upper left, along with the mangled one just right of it was used in the fire sequence in the Burning of Atlanta.
Boxcar 8142 (left) and the one on the right which is filled with explosives.
It’s been blown up a few times…Once again, you can watch all this safe and sanely from our hilltop. You’re not trespassing when on the big hill. That’s Baldwin Hills-not Desilu. This is the exact area GWTW lunch was served.
Notice a structure on top of the big hill. Howard Hughes is in charge of this mountain top. The Hughes Tool Company has a research and development project at the summit.
Waiting for LeBeau and balloons. I have the scene script involving this moment. The trees at the very top of this picture sit inside a fenced and secured area inside this Hughes Tool Company Compound.
Waiting for LeBeau and Balloons….
Periscope up…
The studio paved paradise and put up a parking lot. That S.U.V. is parked where Klink’s office once was. It’s summer in the picture from Hogan’s Heroes, the brown hillside is dried out. It turns green for much of the year. The white snow is all fake, paint on the roof, and powder on the ground.
Duke-keeping tabs on the race between Gomer and Yellow Bear.
Carter put all his money on Yellow Bear to win. But, against all odds, Gomer pulled out the win. The Little League Field sits on the hill above Sgt. Carter’s cap. That’s home plate!
This factory can be seen in several TV shows and films. A legendary laundry cleaners used by the studios. J.B. French sits one building south of this. Sadly, it went out of business after decades of service at this spot.
A dedicated crew hard at work.This facility sits directly across the street and clearly into the backlot with the town church looking directly down upon it.
James MacArthur, Chuck Connors, and Claude Akins star in Ride Beyond Vengeance. This 1966 film shared our favorite TV Land backlot. Bernard McEveety directed this fun adventure. The French laundry is the building distant behind the Bar and Grill. Where Mayberry gets things dry-cleaned. These sets date back to GWTW.
As of 7/5/22-Building remodeled and painted black. Across the street from Mayberry.
J.B. French sits…Out of Business.
“Slow it down”- The J.B. French building is in the background.
Behind that billboard is a road named Hetzler. It takes you to the top of this hillside.
Jefferson Blvd., Culver City. This public highway separates the studio property from this hillside. The popular “stairs” leading to the Culver Scenic Overlook Visitor Center looks down on this. You park your car to visit this hilltop along this stretch of Highway patrolled by Culver City Police these days. Yes, you too can get a speeding ticket right here.
Close-up of traffic stop. The creek behind this fence separates the backlot from Jefferson Blvd. at this point in time pictured, Desilu owns this side also, Tarzan’s jungle.
Tarzan…RKO style.
This RKO Tarzan inhabited this area along Jefferson Blvd.
A real hilltop- Overlooking Tarzan’s set.
If Ince Blvd. did not dead end at the 40 acre’s backlot, it would continue right up here. Ince Blvd, and the iconic water tower in a picture from up here overlooking Gomer Pyle’s Camp Henderson.
Vintage Panorama…same spot.
Almost exactly same angle as the B/W overview picture. Picture One of a three picture panorama.
Continue panning -second picture in sequence of four. Picture two. From here, center of backlot was the Western Street and Mayberry R.F.D. farm. Before that- King Kong’s walls from 1933 would clearly be looked down on from here. Of course, The Burning of Atlanta would take place five years after Kong for yet another landmark film. Fire trucks lined this hilltop for protection on that December night in 1938.
This quadrant below was Mayberry. Andy Griffith’s Courthouse and the Mayberry Church would be the sets in this section. You could see Barney write speeding tickets from here. Picture three of four.
Trails at the summit.
Now the same panorama three picture- but vintage. Picture One of vintage Panorama.
Picture two of vintage panorama…. I can see my dressing room, a black spec from this distance, in far corner of the lot. The Atlanta Rail Depot is the center building. No trains ever visited that station. Notice it has no tracks. Mayberry are the sets most right in frame. The very west end of the street. It’s more-so Atlanta. Mayberry hasn’t been dreamed up yet. Give Danny Thomas a bit more time, he’s got some popular TV series coming!
Picture three…this one is pre- Gone With the Wind. The King of Kings sets from 1927 are on display. Elvis Presley would use these same sets in Harum Scarum, 1965. Cecil B. DeMille had this section built.
The Culver Studios lot from the Howard Hughes R and D compound. Inside the hangar I’m on top of is a radar, it moves on a track inside and outside this hangar. I met an engineer that worked up here, long after it shut down in 1973. He was reminiscing up here, these guys always watched the goings on in the backlot below.
From the top looking down with Clark Kent. The Tara Plantation can be seen left of his arm. Stalag 13 not built yet is what that means. Marion Davies’ trailer is situated behind Tara set. It was there and active long after Marion received a new one in 1926. The original horse drawn trailer is caked in history.
T.V. was just starting to take off- as is Superman. The backlot will have two new sets in the near future. Gomer Pyle’s barracks and Stalag 13.
This picture was taken at the Ron Smith Little League Field. The mountain has the radar installation, the two green buildings top of hill. It’s that area Superman is attempting to take flight. Home plate actually looks down on the Desilu backlot. MGM had a guard with the name Ron Smith. He was a great guy and excellent security guard. He caught me in a rowboat in Tarzan’s Lake.
Before and after. The landscape changed forever. Cement buildings and asphalt roads replaced the dirt streets and wooden sets.
The tall eucalyptus trees yonder still remain where Goober’s Gas Station was situated.
1976-The End is Here... Bottom left- what looks like a concrete wall is the film vaults. It’s the only thing still standing. It’s as if no one knows they’re here. All the blast doors appear shut. A yellow water container sits exactly where the 40-acre guard shack was situated. Those trees in the middle were the ones in Camp Henderson.

Amazon Studios as it appears today. About 40 percent of the lot is original. Two big stages and The Plantation Building escaped remodel. I prefer the old studio in every way, shape, and form. It needs a water tower. MGM or Sony, Warner’s, and Paramount have the last towers left in show business.

On a hill once controlled by Howard Hughes… We Begin.

Paramount Pictures uses a mountain for their Moniker. They had it built on their backlot. It’s most famous for the TV series Bonanza. The Mod Squad filmed their opening credits inside it. It had a storage area that could double for a strange set.

But RKO/Desilu had a real mountain bestowed above their backlot, and it’s as legendary as the studio below it. From up on top of this dirt playground you could watch Hollywoodland develop from its preliminary infancy to robust, viable, commodity. Plus, the Hollywood stares back at this Hughes Radar hilltop. You can even see the Paramount lot in the distance with its tiny little composite snow painted mountain.

In my desperation to explore the Desilu backlot, I used this hilltop to map what’s below me in the late 60’s and early 70’s. This was my private balcony that overlooked this legendary backlot. Baldwin Hills has horse stables up as does 40 acres backlot below. Horses are king here, and bulls make good beer commercials. Wildlife thrives along the old creek bed, which divides up two sections of Desilu.

It was from this hilltop I verified what the Desilu fences had warned against- “Dogs on Duty.”

This set me back, it was almost impossible to gather a group of trespassers bold enough to explore here since… after all “You could be eaten alive.” Eventually temptation won out, Robin Hood-myself, along with a group of Merry Men, banded up together to go where no kid has dared to challenge- the 40-acre plot of backlot land protected by these The Dogs on Duty!

We slowly progressed, almost inch by inch-in pitch dark landscape, towards the first Stalag 13 guard tower we could climb up in…

The genie was officially out of the bottle for all things Desilu going forward. Dogs on Duty must be Dogs Asleep, thankfully.

Normally I take you through old sets, but today let’s look at the POV of Desilu from both looking down on it- and looking up at it. It’s a fun hike and the top has views of the Hollywood sign one direction, the Pacific Ocean the other. Overhead, a continual parade of aircraft lining up to land at LAX. This mountain top is a strategic vector as planes begin descent. Radar experimentation takes place up here, and that facility is operated by The Hughes Tool Company.

Everything that ever took place on the Ince, RKO, Desilu backlot could be clearly viewed from up here, and I’ve been told by engineers who worked up top here that’s exactly what took place. The Backlot was a T.V. set and this radar facility was like an antenna connecting you to the Outer Limits.

I find it fascinating that Howard Hughes ended up choosing this area for this secret facility, these hills extend to his aviation plant and airport. That’s the place the Spruce Goose was built. The real estate controlled by Summa Corporation is where Playa Vista occupies today… What didn’t Mr. Hughes delve into?

Nicolas Cage would film 8MM up top here at the summit after the facility was abandoned. On Jefferson Blvd. below this hill top-CHIPS, The A-Team, and Hunter, starring Fred Dryer-followed up the The Andy Griffith Show with more street credits.

To sum this all up, this mountain appears attached to the 40-acre backlot and indeed it is. Just traverse a creek and highway that lies in between. My biggest all-time regret is not photographing all this area with the backlot still standing below. You felt as if you were part of the studio up here. The church tower and the Mayberry Hotel were the tallest sets on the backlot but they were easily looked down upon here. This view made Desilu look like a game board with actual moving game pieces making T.V. shows below.

This area was to become upscale homes but thanks to the Santa Monica conservancy, it was spared an unrecognizable fate. I think a studio shrine needs to be included at the visitor center that sits lost and unenlightened after climbing the mile high stairs. This hilltop needs a good tour guide…

Written and lived by… Donnie Norden.

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