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Oldest Active Studio Orders a Remake : Raleigh Budgets $25 Million to Curb Runaway Film Production

February 22, 1987|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

When it comes to doing something to curb runaway film production, Raleigh Studios, believed to be the oldest continuously operating movie studio in Hollywood, is doing its share.

Raleigh Enterprises, which bought the small, deteriorating studio in 1979, has been pumping millions of dollars into it for acquisition, renovation and construction.

The idea is to make the 10-acre property, which has a building dating back to 1915, more appealing to current tenants and potential users who are filming elsewhere.

So, as George Rosenthal, president and founder of the 22-year-old Raleigh Enterprises, views it, "Keeping the film business in Hollywood is one of our great goals."

He calls Raleigh Studios a "facilities operator."

"We do not shoot a foot of film," he explained. "Most studios are directly involved in creating the product, getting the film in the can and putting it out there for distribution."

Raleigh is more like a landlord.

Using the slogan "More Than a Lot," Raleigh leases equipment as well as space--offices, stages and labs.

Its tenants are entertainment-related office users--among them, Bozo the Clown (Larry Harmon)--and independent producers, primarily--these days--of network TV commercials, although feature films are also shot and edited there.

"Lady in White," starring Katherine Helmond (also in TV's "Who's the Boss?"), and "Nothing in Common," featuring Jackie Gleason, were among those filmed at the studio last year, and several others had post-production work done there. The last Academy Award-winning film made there was "In the Heat of the Night," starring Rod Steiger, in 1967.

The studio's lot, which also has a restaurant and modernized screening rooms, occupies a square block, bounded on the north by Melrose Avenue; south by Clinton Street; east by Bronson Avenue, and west by Van Ness Avenue. The Polar Palace, where Sonja Henie and other Olympic skaters were trained, was built in 1929 on a corner of the lot, but it burned down in 1962.

Raleigh Studios was recently expanded with the purchase of an apartment house on the east side of Van Ness. The units are being turned into offices, and a parking structure and design building are planned on the rest of the site.

New construction is already under way on the lot itself. A power substation was just completed (studios use a lot of electricity), and work has begun on a four-story, 40,000-square-foot office building. Another like it is planned.

Three new sound stages, with support facilities, are also being built, with two expected to be completed in April, a third in July. The studio already had 10.

Many of the stages, including the new ones, are immense. Two of the ones nearing completion can be combined for a length of 240 feet. They are 136 feet wide and 45 feet from floor to grid.

The sizes are unusual in Hollywood, where many existing stages--even three at Raleigh--were built to accommodate television sets, which are small in contrast with those used for motion pictures.

Tom McGovern, vice president of Raleigh Studios, said many sound stages are being opened in old supermarkets and stores, but there are few new ones the size of the ones being built at Raleigh and, for that matter, few large ones of any age available for independent producers of television commercials.

These producers often need big stages. "Like the Big Mac commercial, which was done on our old Stage 1. You know--(the) Mac-Tonight (ad campaign)? That was a remarkable set," McGovern recalled, "and remember the TransAmerica commercial a couple of years ago--the one with the gorilla climbing up the side of the building? That was also done here.

"You need height to do these grand commercials."

This and other needs of producers, especially of network commercials, helped save Raleigh from becoming a K-Mart in 1979.

Rosenthal explained:

"We initially bought the property to tear the studio down, but after analyzing the situation, we thought it would be much more exciting and rewarding to work with the studio."

It was a different kind of venture for Raleigh Enterprises, which owns the Sunset Marquis Hotel & Villas and Westwood Marquis Hotel in Los Angeles as well as hotels in Texas and Aspen, Colo. It also operates a hotel in Phoenix and just got the go-ahead to develop a $60-million, 200-suite hotel just off Parliament Square in London.

The studio was barely making ends meet when Raleigh Enterprises bought it.

As Fred Jordan, who has been associated with the studio since 1961 and owned it for three months before selling it to Raleigh, remembered it, "We were just hanging on, that's all."

Jordan, who is president of Raleigh Studios, helped convince Raleigh Enterprises to save the studio and spend some money on it, but Jordan gives Rosenthal all the credit: "He was a man with the dollars, the courage and the vision, and I like what he's done."

The first thing Rosenthal did was plant trees. Then he ordered the buildings painted. At first, the budget for fixing up the studio was $10 million. Now it's $25 million.

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