Coke Building Studio Plaza : Office Tower to House Entertainment Sector

Times Staff Writer

In Hollywood, all eyes will be on the Academy Awards on Monday, but in Burbank the focus is also on Studio Plaza, a major new production for the Entertainment Business Sector of the Coca-Cola Co.

The 12-story office building, now a gigantic hole in the ground, is being developed to house units of the sector, which is a producer and distributor of television programs and motion pictures.

Never heard of it? Coca-Cola has only been in the entertainment business since 1982, but that's when the sector was formed with the merger of Coca-Cola and one of the well-known studio giants: Columbia Pictures, which traces its roots back to 1920.

That's when brothers Harry and Jack Cohn and their business associate, Joe Brandt, formed the C.B.C. Sales Co. in New York. Soon after, Harry Cohn rented an office on Hollywood's Gower Street, then called "Poverty Row," and produced short comedies, westerns and featurettes.

Columbia Studio Prospered

C.B.C. produced its first feature-length film, "More to Be Pitied Than Scorned," in 1922. Two years later, C.B.C. became Columbia Pictures.

Columbia prospered in the 1930s and 1940s, acquiring 40 acres of an eventual 80-acre Burbank ranch that was used as a back lot.

During those early years, the studio released more than 200 "Three Stooges" films and such classics as "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936) and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939). Both were directed by Frank Capra, who also directed "It Happened One Night" (1934).

Columbia won its first "Best Picture" Oscar for "It Happened One Night," starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, who also won Oscars, along with Capra and writer Robert Riskin. It was one of the few times a single film won all top five Academy Awards.

Later, Columbia won "Best Picture" Oscars for "You Can't Take It With You" (1938), "All the King's Men" (1949), "From Here to Eternity" (1953), "On the Waterfront" (1954), "Bridge on the River Kwai" (1957), "Lawrence of Arabia" (1962), "A Man for All Seasons" (1966), "Oliver" (1968), "Kramer vs. Kramer" (1979) and "Gandhi" (1982). Columbia's highest-grossing film to date is "Ghostbusters" (1984).

Entered Television Production

Now, through the "Coca-Cola Television" umbrella organization, network television shows, first-run syndication series and made-for-TV movies are being released. Some network shows are "Who's the Boss," "Designing Women," "Starman" and "Houston Knights."

Columbia went into television production in the early 1950s through its Screen Gems division, known for such hits as "Father Knows Best" and "Route 66," then "I Dream of Jeannie" and "Bewitched." In the 1970s, Screen Gems was renamed Columbia Pictures Television and expanded operations to include TV movies ("Brian's Song") and miniseries ("QBVII") as well as regular series ("Fantasy Island," "Hart to Hart," "Charlie's Angels") and daytime drama.

In 1972, Columbia sold its sound stages on Gower Street and merged its real estate holdings with Warner Communications to form the Burbank Studios (TBS), a 108-acre production facility and 32-acre ranch. The Avon Street gate of the production facility is just steps away from Studio Plaza, at 3400 Riverside Drive.

The 435,000-square-foot Studio Plaza, with five levels of subterranean parking, was designed by the Los Angeles office of Gensler & Associates/Architects to accommodate the movie and TV divisions of Columbia Pictures as well as other units in Coca-Cola's Entertainment Business Sector.

The sector's principal operations include Columbia Pictures, producer and distributor of motion pictures; Coca-Cola Television (Columbia/Embassy Television, a producer of network programming and a leader in syndication; Coca-Cola Telecommunications, a producer and syndicator of TV programs for new markets, such as first-run, pay-TV, basic cable and home video.

Also, Merv Griffin Enterprises, producer of game shows and variety programming; participation in joint ventures (RCA/Columbia Pictures Home Video, RCA/Columbia Pictures International Video, Bell & Howell/Columbia/Paramount Video), and an equity interest in Tri-Star Pictures (producer and distributor of motion picture and TV shows, and motion picture theater owner.)

Current Award Nomination

Tri-Star was formed in 1983 by Columbia, HBO and CBS as the first new major motion picture studio in decades.

One of its films, "Peggy Sue Got Married," brought Academy Award nominations this year for Best Actress in a Leading Role to Kathleen Turner, Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design. Columbia Pictures also garnered several nominations: two for Best Original Song, in the "Karate Kid, Part II" and "That's Life," and one for Best Screenplay, based on material from another medium, in "Stand By Me."

All involve Coca-Cola's Entertainment Business Sector, which Frank T. Vincent Jr., the sector's president and chief executive officer, acknowledged "has grown significantly since its formation."

The result has been an increasing demand for office space.

As Vincent observed, the sector has "offices in many locations in Los Angeles."

'Rich History'

Kenneth S. Williams, senior vice president and treasurer of the sector, added, "Each part of the sector has a rich history within the entertainment industry that we wish to bring to this site."

Barbara Cline, vice president-studio administration for Columbia Pictures Industries, said, "We've been expanding all over the Burbank area for some time. We have leases in three places. We're hoping that with this Studio Plaza building, we can consolidate."

The way the sector has been growing, it's possible that it will take up the entire building, but because the facility is so large, Cline for one is hoping it will fill the sector's needs for the next 10 years. If that's the case, there may be room for other entertainment-related tenants, but nobody will know that for sure until the structure is topped out in October.

The first parking level is being installed now. Design began last July, excavation was under way by October, and occupancy is scheduled in June, 1988.

It's a good pace for such a large building, and Cline--the in-house project manager for Studio Plaza--credits that to "pulling together the full construction and design team at the project's inception."

Coordinates Team

Cline has been working on the project for nearly three years, coordinating the team, overseeing the plans, acquiring the land and putting together the financing, which wasn't a terribly difficult task for a subsidiary of a company with more than $1 billion in operating income. Construction is costing about $40 million. "It helps to be owned by a Coca-Cola," Cline said with a smile.

Interiors will cost extra, and they are expected to be special, geared toward the entertainment industry. Williams said, "Display areas have been incorporated into the design for historical exhibits, as well as current (motion picture and TV) product displays."

The building will be dramatic with its stepped facade, 14 corner offices on each floor, floor areas averaging about 35,000 square feet, and a penthouse, served by a separate elevator, accessed from the 12th story.

A theater-style carriage entrance will be lined with palm trees and annual flowers. A 15,000-square-foot plaza and tropical garden will link the building to the Burbank Studios, and a semicircular, terrace restaurant will overlook the gardens.

Peck/Chandler, a partnership of Chandler Investments and C.L. Peck Inc., is development consultant. Peck/Jones is the contractor, and POD Landscape Architects is handling landscape design.

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