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TV Studio, Fire Station Compete for Site

November 06, 1986|ROY H. CAMPBELL | Times Staff Writer

The Audiences Unlimited bus, which transports studio audiences to live television tapings, pulled up to the 1000 block of Glendale Avenue on a recent Friday evening. Scores of teen-agers piled out and stood in front of the blue Glendale Studios sign.

"Son of a gun," said one teen-ager. "I thought we had made a wrong turn."

Unbeknown to many, Glendale has been the home of a small television studio for more than a year. With little attention--until a rivalry surfaced recently with the city Fire Department-- Glendale Studios has been cranking out television series, including the popular syndicated comedy "What's Happening Now."

The studio, which has two sound stages, is now planning a $6-million expansion on adjacent land. It wants to erect a modern three-story building with two more sound stages, a parking structure and underground storage.

But, standing in the way of this expansion, studio officials say, is the Glendale's plan to build a fire station on the same site. The studio hopes to either acquire the land from the city or convince city officials not to build a fire station there.

"We intend to grow and we're trying to show them that we're serious about being here," said Christopher Cates, the studio's general manager.

He conceded that the studio could expand on the property where it is now situated, although it would rather build on the nearby land. However, he said that any expansion is unlikely if a fire station is built on the block. The noise from fire engines rushing to fires would "do us in," Cates said, because few production companies would risk taping at the facilities.

"A fire station is completely incompatible with this type of industry. It's like putting a rock-and-roll joint next to an old-folks home," said Ron Erickson, the vice president of Oakridge Productions, the producing arm of the studio.

So, over the last few months, studio officials have been lobbying the local powers-that-be, even throwing city officials a fancy dinner hosted by comedian Tim Conway, who is planning to tape his new syndicated comedy show at the studio.

Thus far it has been a losing battle.

Said Mayor Larry Zarian of the studio: "They have a first-class operation and we'd like to work with them and help with their expansion, but unfortunately that land is not for sale."

Fire Chief John M. Montenero said there is virtually "no chance' that he or city officials will change their minds about the fire station location.

The sought-after land is at the corner of Glendale and Palmer avenues and is just south of the studio. The city paid Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Inc. $1.2 million in July for the 1.13 acre plot, said City Manager James Rez. He said Kaiser sold the land to the city only because the city threatened to condemn it and take the land anyway. Kaiser bought the property for a medical clinic after a Chinese restaurant on the site went out of business.

Mayor Zarian and other city officials have told studio officials and stated in interviews that the city could not sell the land or use it for any other purpose because it was acquired for the stated purpose of building a fire station. Assistant City Manager David H. Ramsay said it would be difficult, and probably illegal, to "turn around and sell it to a private company."

But City Atty. Frank R. Manzano said the city could indeed sell the property or build something other than a fire station.

"The city owns the land and can do whatever it wants with it," Manzano said.

Under current plans, fire Station 22 at 1505 S. Brand Blvd. will close and relocate to the Glendale Avenue site in January, 1988. The 58-year-old station is too small, has fallen into disrepair and is on the far south side of the city, which prevents quick response by firefighters to calls from many neighborhoods, fire officials said.

"We've spent years looking for a site that was farther north and this one is perfect. Nobody around here knew anything about this so-called proposal for (the studio's) expansion until after we owned the property," Rez said.

Glendale Studios began operating in June, 1985. But, six months ago when the studio found itself turning away potential clients for lack of space, it started developing expansion plans, the management said. Oakridge Vice President Erickson said the studio did not learn that the city was planning to put a fire station next door until after the city had acquired the land in July.

On Aug. 29, the city manager, the fire chief and the five-member City Council were all guests of honor at a studio dinner.

Banquet on TV Set

There they met studio president and owner Al Makhanian, dined at a banquet on the set of the syndicated television show "The Judge" and mingled with the cast of "What's Happening Now."

Council member Ginger Bremberg said it was an enjoyable evening made all the better by the presence of comedian Conway, formerly of the Carol Burnett Show. Conway, she said, joked with council members and signed autographs.

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