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Dec. 15 Auction : Laird Studios, Historic Film Lot, Up for Sale

Times Staff Writer

Laird International Studios, where such films as “Gone with the Wind,” “King Kong,” “Rebecca” and “Citizen Kane” were made, is up for bids.

The venerable Culver City lot, which has previously been known as Selznick Studios, RKO and Desilu, must be sold at a Dec. 15 auction to pay off creditors of the investment company that owns the 12-stage facility.

Curtis B. Danning, bankruptcy trustee for Kings Point Corp., said that while bidding will not start at a specific amount, he expects the studio to sell for at least $20 million.

The sale comes after years of speculation about the fate of the 14-acre facility, bought by Kings Point in 1977. The Culver City-based company filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in 1982, and more than a dozen production and investment companies have expressed interest since then in buying the facility, Danning said.

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The eventual buyer of the studio will likely be a film company that will use some of the studio’s sound stages for its own productions, renting out the remainder to independent producers, he said.

The sale will help Kings Point pay off its creditors and has nothing to do with the financial condition of the studio, which is enjoying its best year ever, Danning said. Laird International--named for major Kings Point shareholder Joseph Laird--is currently fully occupied by 15 to 20 independent producers, according to Jack Kindberg, studio manager.

The lot is located in downtown Culver City just blocks from the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio that was recently bought by Lorimar-Telepictures. It was built in 1918 by silent film producer Thomas Ince, and subsequent owners included Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., producer David O. Selznick, billionaire Howard Hughes, and television stars Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.

The Laird Studios backlot was used as the Tara plantation and to film part of the burning of Atlanta sets in “Gone with the Wind.” Its headquarters building, which resembles a Southern mansion, is shown briefly behind the Selznick logo at the beginning of that classic film.

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The studio includes two movie stages built by Ince in 1918 with canvas walls and glass roofs. It also has a pair of bungalows, one built by Kennedy for actress Gloria Swanson, the other used by director Orson Wells during the filming of “Citizen Kane.”

Current Tenants

Some of the studio’s current tenants include producers Blake Edwards and Norman Jewison and such film companies as the Cannon Group, Feldman-Meeker Co. and Turman-Foster Co.

Companies mentioned as possible buyers of Laird include Los Angeles-based Cannon along with Lorimar-Telepictures and Filmcorp Group, both of Culver City. Lorimar and Filmcorp have filed statements of interest with the Culver City Redevelopment Agency in case that agency decided to acquire the studio by condemnation. The studio is located within a city redevelopment area.

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Agency officials have said they do not intend to acquire the studio but have asked the studio owners to repair leaky roofs, electrical wiring and ventilation systems, and to increase off-street parking.

Laird officials reject those claims, saying they have already spent $5 million improving the studio. Kindberg said the studio had completed more than 80% of the improvements requested by the agency.

Trustee Danning said parking is the studio’s biggest problem. Local residents have complained that visitors and employees of the studio park on their streets. The studio has space for 450 cars, but the redevelopment agency wants it to provide 700.

Parking Problem

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City and agency officials met last summer with Kindberg and other downtown businessmen about building a large parking structure on a 66,000-square-foot lot owned by the agency at Washington and Ince boulevards across the street from Laird. The agency is in the process of acquiring property from small businesses on the lot.

Laird is one of Kings Point’s major assets, Danning said. In the mid-70s, the company organized a number of limited partnerships in coal subleases that it expected to result in tax deductions. But the deductions were not allowed by the Internal Revenue Service, which led to the company filing for bankruptcy protection.

The studio auction will take place at 1 p.m. at the Westwood Plaza Holiday Inn, 10740 Wilshire Blvd., Danning said.


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