Hollywood, the industry, has never been completely contained by the geographic bounds of Hollywood, the place. Burbank, Culver City, West Los Angeles and Beverly Hills have all been, and continue to be, thriving centers of the Hollywood entertainment world. Increasingly, Hollywood business is also being done surfside, in Santa Monica.
During the past few years, several film studios, production companies and production facilities have made the move to Santa Monica, enough so that the city’s commercial rent rates are at their highest level in years, often well over $2 per square foot of space. Contented industry residents now include MGM Inc., Savoy Pictures, Todd-AO Studios West, producer Andrew Vajna’s Cinergi Pictures Entertainment Inc. and director James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment.
“We’re definitely experiencing a growing interest in Santa Monica on the part of the entertainment industry,” says Daniel Ehrler, the newly installed executive director of the city’s Chamber of Commerce, who himself was lured from Santa Cruz this spring. “I think the attraction is that the city can function as a very competitive business center, but it also has a very comfortable small-town feel to it. And you can’t beat it when it comes to being close to the ocean.”
Ehrler’s responsibilities include the management of a Business and Technology of the Future Committee, designed with the express intent of inviting entertainment industry participation into chamber decision-making.
The possibility of doing serious business in a casual environment is what attracted MGM to an airy complex on Broadway in Santa Monica when the company’s lease on its Culver City offices ran out two years ago. MGM is the largest tenant of the MGM Plaza, a campus-style spread of buildings set on grounds dotted with greenery.
“The company considered high-rises in other areas but decided to go with the very open atmosphere here, and I think that’s had a positive effect on the way we do business,” explains Anne Corley, vice president of corporate communications. “The city made us very welcome, and there’s much more sense of being part of a community for us.”
The search for space in Santa Monica ensures that no facility stands empty for long. When George Lucas’ Skywalker Sound South decided to move out of its studios on Olympic Boulevard, Hollywood’s Todd-AO Studios decided to expand by opening Todd-AO Studios West.
The music business is also well represented in Santa Monica. Three years ago, Sony Music moved into an office complex at the Arboretum on Colorado Avenue that now houses the Columbia and Epic labels, Sony business and publishing offices and a fully equipped recording studio.
Santa Monica is also home to Discovery Records, the latest venture of Elektra Records founder Jac Holzman. Holzman pioneered the Sunset Strip when he built the now-defunct Elektra Studios on La Cienega Boulevard in the late ‘60s. He is now extremely happy to be among those who have made the move west to Santa Monica:
“One of the reasons Discovery chose Santa Monica is that we believed that the area would become something of a music center. And soon after we moved in, Sony built its music campus, and there are other small record companies here as well.”
Holzman adds that perhaps Santa Monica’s greatest attraction as a place of business is its not-entirely-businesslike atmosphere. “There’s a very pleasant informality around here, and I like that kind of small-town feel,” he explains.
MGM’s Corley points out that, in a city and a business in which faxes, modems and carphones are de rigueur , one might as well be somewhere comfortable. “People will still drive to a power lunch or to meet a director, whether that means going to Beverly Hills or Burbank or Santa Monica. And technology is such that it really doesn’t matter where you are. The rest of the world is still as accessible as it was from Culver City.”