1438 N. Gower Street,
Phone: (323) 467-1001
Built in 1921, this 17-acre Hollywood movie studio was originally the historic Columbia Pictures Studios.
It's located right in the heart of "Gower Gulch," near the corner of Gower Street and Sunset Boulevard) - hence the new name.
Columbia Pictures was founded in 1920 by Harry & Jack Cohn, and during 50 years on this studio lot Columbia gave us a mixture of B-movies (like the Three Stooges movies) and such classic feature films as Frank Capra's "It Happened One Night" (1939) and his "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1934).
Other Columbia gems included "Born Yesterday" (1950), "From Here to Eternity" (1953), "On The Waterfront" (1954), "The Caine Mutiny" (1954), "Picnic" (1955) "Bell, Book & Candle" (1958), "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), "Bye Bye Birdie" (1963), "Dr. Strangelove," and "Fail Safe" (1964). In later years, they brought us "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" (1967), "Oliver! " (1968), "Funny Girl" (1968). The stars of those films included Marlon Brando, Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Jimmy Stewart, Judy Holiday, William Holden, Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Henry Fonda, Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Rita Hayworth, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon and Barbra Streisand.
Unlike M-G-M, which was a star's studio, Columbia borrowed most of its stars from other studios. When M-G-M wanted to punish their actors, they used to loan their stars to Columbia. In one instance, the honchos at M-G-M thought they were "punishing" a young Clark Gable when they exiled him to Columbia to make a "minor picture" called "It Happened One Night" - the hit movie that made Gable a star.
The studio was also deep into television production. Classic 60's TV shows formerly taped at the Sunset-Gower lot include "I Dream of Jeannie" (with Barbara Eden), "Bewitched" (with Elizabeth Montgomery) and "The Flying Nun" (with Sally Field).
In 1972, Columbia left its Hollywood studios at Sunset & Gower (to save money) and moved over the hill to the San Fernando Valley, where they shared "Burbank Studios" with Warner Bros.
In their new Burbank location, Columbia made "The Last Picture Show" (1971), "The Way We Were" (1973), "Shampoo (1975), "Taxi Driver" (1976), "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977), "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979), "The China Syndrome" (1979), "The Blue Lagoon" (1980), "Tootsie" (1982), and "The Karate Kid" (1988). The new stars there included Cybill Shepherd, Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Goldie Hawn, Jodie Foster, Robert De Niro, Richard Dreyfuss, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, and Brooke Shields.
The lot also saw its fair share of rock stars back in the 70's, when Elton John used Stage 6 as his base when rehearsing for his "Rock of the Westies" tour, which climaxed with his concert at Dodger Stadium. Other artists on the lot at that time included Frank Zappa, Olivia Newton John, Ringo Starr, Deep Purple, Crosby, Stills & Nash and the group called America.
In 1978, Columbia Pictures made the Guinness Book of World Records by paying the highest price ever paid ($9,500,000.) for the rights to the Broadway stage hit "Annie" (which, as it turned out, wasn't the wisest investment in the studio's illustrious history.)
But eventually, Columbia was bought by Sony Entertainment of Japan, and they finally settled into the historic M-G-M Studios lot in Culver City, where they remain today, along with Sony's other label, TriStar Pictures.
Now that Columbia has moved on, the old studio lot they deserted isn't just sitting idly by. The re-named "Sunset-Gower Studios" no longer has a permanent film production company to call its own (hence the geographical name), but it keeps busy renting out its ample sound stages for assorted television and indie movie productions. The studio employees between 2,500 and 3,000 people, depending upon the time of year.
Scenes from the 1993 thriller "Sliver" (with Sharon Stone) were shot here, but Sunset-Gower's primary product is now TV shows. They are currently filming the NBC series "American Dreams" and the HBO series "Six Feet Under" here.
In recent years, "American Dreams," "Six Feet Under," "JAG," "Moesha," "Blossom," "Married With Children," "Fresh Prince of Bel Air" and "The John Larroquette Show" were taped at Sunset-Gower. In fact, although Columbia's film division is long gone, their television division remains on the lot.
The Sunset-Gower Studios offer no public tour of this historic lot, but sometimes there is a way to get inside the walls, just the same. You will notice when you drive past the studio that there are large posters mounted on the outside walls that advertise television shows that are being taped inside, such as "The Parkers" or the teen comedy "City Guys."
The public is invited to the live tapings of these sitcoms when they take place. To find out whether anything is taping there right now, call "Audiences Unlimited", and ask them if there are any free tickets to shows taped at Sunset-Gower. Then you can go inside to watch the TV taping, and walk into the studio which gave us "Gandhi," "A Man For All Seasons" and "Ghostbusters."
Update: In December of 2004, it was announced that the Sunset-Gower studio had been purchased by a private equity firm GI Partners (which manages an investment pension fund) for a price of $110 million. Fortunately, there are no plans to tear down the lot, and as of now, production will continue as usual.
Getting there: the studio is located on Sunset, just west of Fox and KTLA studios. From Hollywood & Vine, take Vine Street south (two blocks) to Sunset Boulevard. Turn left (east) and go three blocks, to the corner of Sunset & Gower. You will find the gated entrance to the studio just east of Gower, on the right (south) side of Sunset.