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From the Archives: Paramount's new 1929 sound movie studio destroyed by fire

From the Archives: Paramount's new 1929 sound movie studio destroyed by fire
Jan. 16, 1929: Fire destroys the new soundproof talking picture stage of the Paramount-Famous-Lasky studios on Melrose Avenue. (Los Angeles Times)

In their rush to produce new sound-on-film movies — "talkies" – Paramount quickly built a new soundproof movie studio. Then, before production began, fire destroyed the building.

A story in the Jan. 17, 1929, Los Angeles Times reported:

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Fire destroyed the new $450,000 sound-proof talking-picture stage of the Paramount-Famous-Lasky studios on Melrose Avenue last night and five firemen and three civilian workers were injured while combating the flames.

The blaze was discovered about 6 o'clock by a girl employed in the cutting department. Shortly afterwards flames shot high into the sky and could be seen for miles. When the fire department arrived the entire top of the structure was aflame. The building, which was 180x150 feet, was constructed of steel, tile and wood. Between the tile and wood was a layer of a soundproof composition of wood and felt.

It was this material that caused dense smoke and sparks to rise in a huge column over the studios. The soundproof building had just been completed and preparations had been made to celebrate the opening with a dance Saturday night. The new equipment designed to make talking pictures had not been uncrated and had not been moved into the building. Had the equipment been in the building it would have increased the loss to almost $1,000,000, studio officials assert.

The fire is believed to have been caused by defective wiring…. The building has been designed to hold five stages and was considered the last word for production of sound pictures. No one was employed in the building when the fire was discovered and the heavy iron doors had been closed.

Across the street in the cutting department Jesse Lasky and B. P. Shulberg, officials of the company, were in the projection room looking at a film when Malsie Hause, a film cutter, saw sparks coming from the roof of the soundproof building. She cried out the alarm and everyone near by rushed for the alarm box and extinguishers.

The alarm-box door could not be opened and one of the girls, Miss Helen Thompson, snatched off her high-heeled shoe and hammered on the box until she broke the glass. In the meantime the studio fire department had started working on the blaze. The Hollywood [fire] department arrived and threw up ladders.

Just as three ladders had gone up the pent-up smoke and gas within the building exploded and blew the heavy iron doors outward, carrying with them two ladders upon which were firemen. With the explosion came bursts of flame from all parts of the roof and two more alarms were sent in.

Ambulances took the injured firemen to the emergency hospital. A few minutes later a ladder upon which two electricians were working with a hose slipped from the wall and both men were injured. They also were taken to the hospital. A half-dozen other firemen were partially overcome during the three hours that the fire raged, but none needed medical attention.

Tons of water were poured onto the flames from the roofs of nearby studio buildings. The outer walls of the burning building were fourteen inches thick and the flames were held within them.

Because of the nature of the work contemplated for the building it had been built fifty feet away from any other building. Most of the employees of the studio and gone home for the day, but the flames brought hundreds of them back.

The dense smoke lighted by sparks and flames caused thousands of homeward bound motorists to clog the streets for many blocks around the studio property. Traffic was at a standstill for an hour and extra fire and police equipment had difficulty in reaching the gates.

According to the IMDb website, production of Paramount's first musical, "Innocents of Paris," was interrupted by the fire. Heavy drapes were used as emergency soundproofing to finish the movie starring Maurice Chevalier, which opened on May 25, 1929.

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