Redeveloping a landmark on the Square   Leave a comment

Posted by vp19 on 2013.11.30 at 00:30
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carole lombard 1940 cbs largest

In the final few years of her brief life, Carole Lombard frequently appeared on network radio, which by that time had firmly settled in as part of the Hollywood scene. In 1938, the industry’s two leading companies opened spectacular studios, as much dream factories as those of their cinematic brethren. On Sunset and Vine stood NBC…

nbc radio hollywood 1950s large

…while a few blocks west, at Sunset and Gower, stood rival CBS’ complex, known as Columbia Square:

columbia square 01a

By the time television came of age in the 1950s, NBC tried to operate TV studios at its site, but found it needed more room and established a TV center at Burbank; the Hollywood building became unnecessary to NBC’s thinking and was razed in 1964 for bank building far less architecturally inspiring. Fortunately, Columbia Square is receiving a happier fate.

Let’s show you what Columbia Square looked like the night it opened, April 30, 1938:

columbia square opening 043038a

It was a splendid site, a beauty of International Modernism designed by William Lescaze and costing $2 million, then a record for a broadcast facility.

Here’s a diagram of the building, state-of-the-art for the late ’30s:

columbia square diagram 00a

That large stage, called “Studio A,” was the building’s showcase, and many programs originated there, such as this to promote the film “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” released in August 1938, not long after it opened:

columbia square 03a

While “Lux Radio Theater” broadcast from its own theater for most of its Hollywood heyday, two other series Lombard appeared on multiple times — the “Screen Guild” show and “The Silver Theater” — were done at Studio A. When Carole took the stage to act, here’s what she would have looked out on (adding about 1,000 spectators, of course):

columbia square studio a 00a

The photo of Lombard at the top may well have been taken at Studio A. Here’s some shots of the studio in action, with a crowd — first, for Gene Autry’s long-running radio show:

columbia square studio a gene autry 00a

Next, a performance of Glenn Miller’s orchestra:

columbia square glenn miller 00a

Many of radio legend Norman Corwin’s literate specials were produced at Columbia Square, such as “We Hold These Truths,” a program commemorating the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Bill of Rights, in December 1941 and “On A Note Of Triumph” after V-E Day in May 1945.

CBS chairman William Paley’s famed “talent raid” from NBC in 1949 brought several of its stars a few blocks west on Sunset, notably radio’s top-rated comedian, Jack Benny. From right, Jack, wife Mary Livingstone, George Burns and Gracie Allen stand outside Columbia Square for an event in 1952 (we presume the buses were rerouted):

columbia square 1952a george burns gracie allen jack benny mary linvingstone

Other famed series were based at Columbia Square, including the greatest of westerns, “Gunsmoke” (although it was transcribed and not performed before a live audience). Here are William Conrad, radio’s Marshal Dillon, and company going through a rehearsal:

columbia square gunsmoke rehearsal 00a

Radio was changing in the 1950s, as its stars found new life in television. (Lucille Ball, whose radio series “My Favorite Husband” was performed there, did her “I Love Lucy” pilot at Columbia Square, although the show would be filmed elsewhere.) With television production moving to different sites, CBS converted several of its large network studios into recording venues. Radio and TV production took a more localized approach, as longtime radio tenant KNX was accompanied by CBS’ Channel 2, whose news studios originated there.

But all good things must come to an end, and so it was for Columbia Square…at least where broadcasting was concerned. In August 2005, KNX ended 67 years there and joined its fellow CBS Los Angeles stations at studios on the Miracle Mile. Some 20 months later, the two CBS TV stations, KCBS and KCAL, pulled up stakes and headed to Studio City.

A trip to the building lobby in 2012 revealed faded memories:

columbia square lobby 2012a

The good news is that in 2009, the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission and the City Council designated Columbia Square a historic cultural monument. And the site is beginning to be redeveloped into a combination office/retail/residential complex that will take shape over the next few years. Note a few of the renderings, and the modernistic feel of the site remains (although the legendary Studio A probably will be divided into offices);

columbia square development 00a
columbia square development 01a

The “CBS” lettering has been removed from the facade, but once work is done, some evening you’ll be able to stand in front of the building and imagine past glories:

columbia square 00a

Learn more at this fabulous Facebook site, “CBS Columbia Square Alumni”:

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Posted November 30, 2013 by vp19 in Uncategorized

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