Tract May End in Blaze of Film Glory : Lancaster: The city is talking to filmmakers who may want to burn down an abandoned development as part of 'Lethal Weapon III.'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mel Gibson and Danny Glover need houses to burn for their upcoming action movie "Lethal Weapon III." Lancaster has a half-built, abandoned housing tract that city officials would like to see leveled.

Could it be a match made in Hollywood? The hottest scene since the sets standing in for Atlanta were torched for "Gone With the Wind"?

The reviews are still out, but representatives of the movie, the city and the federal government--which acquired the housing tract from a failed savings and loan--confirmed Monday that they are talking about a deal to torch the houses for the climactic scene in the upcoming flick.

"We are still in negotiations," said Anne Reilly, publicist for the movie, which is due to be released by Warner Bros. in May. Filming has been under way in the Los Angeles area since October. The burning of the tract, if the deal is made, would be shot in January, she said.

Dennis Davenport, Lancaster's assistant city manager, said the city is favorably considering the request, figuring that it not only might attract some jobs and attention, but also may rid the city of a longtime eyesore. In fact, the city's major concern is that the movie makers may not be destructive enough.

In a bit of Hollywood irony, the site of the proposed pyrotechnics is the now-defunct Legends tract at 30th Street West and Avenue J, a collection of rotting frames that sit next to the project's still surviving billboard, which features a likeness of screen legend Marilyn Monroe.

The project's Burbank-based builder, now-defunct U. S. Housing Corp., stopped work by 1989, about the same time the federal government seized and later liquidated the tract's lender, Pennsylvania-based Hill Financial Savings Assn., and took over the property.

The collection of hulks, four mostly completed model houses and about 50 framed skeletons, have sat decaying ever since. Last month, Lancaster officials decided to try to buy the site from the federal Resolution Trust Corp. with plans to demolish the houses.

But if Mel Gibson wants to do the honors instead. . . .

Actually, the filmmakers would like to insulate the wood and then use propane gas flames around the structures to create the effect of a fire, in case they need to reshoot the scene. But Lancaster officials say they'd rather the filmmakers burn the place to the ground, thus saving the city the trouble of demolition.

However, the final say for the plan rests with the RTC and the private company it has assigned to manage the site--the Philadelphia office of Graimark Realty Advisors--and, as of Monday, they hadn't decided.

"I don't know if any such thing will happen," said Handsel Minyard, a Graimark executive.

Cody Cluff, an official with the Economic Development Corp. of Los Angeles County--a private, nonprofit agency--and who helped broker the deal, said he is optimistic that it will succeed. But Cluff said progress came only last week after he asked the office of U. S. Sen. John Seymour (R-Calif.) to intercede with the RTC.

Before that, Cluff said, the movie makers' request had been turned down. And even last week, he said, Lancaster officials were not getting responses from the RTC or Graimark. So on Thursday, Cluff said, he called Seymour's office and by Friday, word came that the RTC was willing to cooperate.

Cluff said the movie makers plan to use about 14 of the houses for several nights of shooting. As negotiations now stand, he said, the movie makers would rather pay the city a fee than have to burn the houses to the ground.

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