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Major Hollywood prop shop to close

COMPANY TOWN

20th Century Props supplied furniture used in 'Transformers,' 'The Golden Girls,' 'Titanic' and 'The Aviator.' Feature film production in Los Angeles has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade.

June 12, 2009|Richard Verrier

One of Hollywood's largest prop shops is closing, the latest sign that the falloff in local film and TV production is taking its toll on small businesses that serve the entertainment industry.

20th Century Props of North Hollywood said Thursday that it would shut its doors next month because of mounting business losses.

The prop shop, which supplied the chandeliers in the blockbuster "Titanic" and futuristic furniture in "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," has been a fixture for two decades. It operates out of a 118,000-square-foot warehouse near Lankershim Boulevard.

Earlier this year, 20th Century Props employed 28 people, but it is now down to only six.

Owner Harvey Schwartz said a steep decline in orders forced him to close.

"I've been losing money every month for the last year," he said. "It's been horrible."

The closing, first reported by the Daily News, comes at a time when many prop shops and other companies that cater to the industry are struggling from one of the driest spells of film and TV production in memory.

Several prop shops have laid off employees or closed this year, including Hollywood Practicals, which specialized in leasing period telephones and lighting equipment.

Pam Elyea, who runs the prop house History for Hire with her husband, called the latest shutdown a "tremendous loss to the industry."

"Everybody is just hanging on by their fingertips now," she said.

Feature film production in Los Angeles has fallen this year to its lowest level in more than a decade. The recession has caused studios to produce fewer movies, and California continues to lose production to other states and countries that offer tax breaks and rebates.

Labor unrest also has contributed to the slump.

Many companies are still trying to recover business they lost during last year's writers strike.

They experienced a further slowdown during the yearlong contract dispute between the studios and the Screen Actors Guild. The actors union ratified a new film and television contract with the studios Tuesday.

"I don't think business is going to come back. It's going to Detroit, New Mexico and Louisiana and New York," Schwartz said.

He lost one of his biggest customers when ABC moved production of its sitcom "Ugly Betty" to New York.

Schwartz, who has been in the props business for nearly 40 years, launched the company in 1984. He expanded a decade later when he bought 20th Century Fox's prop department.

His inventory consists of 93,752 pieces, including the rattan furniture set used on the TV series "The Golden Girls" and a desk owned by Howard Hughes and used in the movie "The Aviator."

Schwartz said he would auction off his items in late July.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

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