Former 20th Century Fox owner Marvin Davis and some of Hollywood's major studios are among more than 15 potential buyers seriously interested in Laird International Studios, the historic Culver City film lot that will be auctioned off Dec. 15.
Curtis Danning, bankruptcy trustee for Kings Point Corp., which owns Laird, said Davis has met with him two or three times about buying the 14-acre studio. Other potential bidders, Danning said, include Sunset Gower Studios, Raleigh Film & Motion Picture Studios, Warner Hollywood Studios, Filmcorp Group and New York-based Tri-Star Pictures.
Danning said the list includes other businesses and attorneys who have either sent representatives to tour the lot or have requested a detailed report on redeveloping the 68-year-old facility to meet city building and design standards.
Davis, who sold his stake in Fox to press magnate Rupert Murdoch last year, recently bought more than 10% of the common stock of Aaron Spelling Productions, a major producer of network television programs. Spelling is the primary client of Warner Hollywood, the seven-stage West Hollywood facility owned by Warner Bros.
Might Move Operation
Davis may be interested in moving Spelling's operation to Laird if he buys the studio, according to a major studio executive who did not want to be identified. Warner Hollywood, faced with losing its major tenant, is joining the bidding to protect its market, the source said.
Kings Point, based in Culver City, has filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. The investment company, which has owned Laird since 1977, wants to sell the studio to help pay off its creditors. Danning has said the company expects the studio to sell for at least $20 million.
Laird, started by silent film director Thomas Ince in 1918, served as the site for such classic American films as "Gone With the Wind," "Citizen Kane" and "King Kong." Over the years, it has been known as Selznick, RKO and Desilu studios. Most of its sound stages and offices were built in the 1920s. The most recent construction involved two sound stages in 1940.
The Culver City Redevelopment Agency on Nov. 17 approved a draft design plan for the studio, requiring any new owner to repair buildings, improve electrical systems, increase parking and provide new landscaping around the lot. The studio is located in a city redevelopment district.
Davis sent a representative to the agency meeting, according to a source at Laird. Buddy Monash, a Davis executive, said through a spokeswoman that the company would not comment.
Jack Foreman, vice president and general manager of Warner Hollywood, confirmed that the company was interested in Laird. Foreman said Warner was determining the cost of renovating the studio, which he said would be "quite extensive," including construction of a parking garage and demolition of some buildings.
Saul Pick, managing partner of Sunset Gower Studios, said he has had meetings with architectural and construction engineers to determine the condition of the studio and the cost of rebuilding some of its sound stages and offices.
At least two of Laird's 12 sound stages and two other buildings will have to be razed because they are unsafe, Pick said. He estimated that the cost of redeveloping the lot to his satisfaction would be as high as $22 million, in addition to the purchase price.
Still, he said he will bid for it at the Dec. 15 auction. "I am very much interested. If the price is right, we are going to buy it, but it is going to take millions and millions of dollars to make it a successful studio," said Pick, who, with partner Nick Vanoff, bought Sunset Gower--formerly Columbia Studios--in 1977.
Tom McGovern, vice president of Raleigh Film & Television Inc., which owns the Raleigh studio, said that his company is also interested in buying Laird and that its architectural department is researching restoration costs. He said that while Laird needs major work, he thinks the cost would be substantially lower than Pick's estimate.