Seventy five years old this year, Warner Bros.' famed Burbank lot is the embodiment of old Hollywood, where fabricated jungles and Brooklyn brownstones rub up against enormous hangar-like sound stages in which celluloid worlds are composed.
Despite the fantastic facades, this is a city that is as authentic as the real one outside its walls. Wander the back lots and you come up against a barren '30s-era New York theater, its glamour perfectly faded. Turn the corner and a mock Western town is crammed with trailers and cables, workers milling around awaiting orders. Even the pristine setting of the nearby administrative courtyard is an illusion. The buildings' facades, mostly constructed during the '20s, are a subtle architectural fantasy, a wonderful blend of Spanish, Art Deco and Postmodern styles. Step back, however, and they look more solid than most of Los Angeles' endless rows of Spanish Revival homes. Behind the stucco facades, this is the real world, where executives sweat over box-office returns.
The sound stages--not the more glamorous offices--truly embody that industrial ethos. Here, there is no pretense of sophistication. Arranged in tight rows, the 44 massive sheds cover the bulk of the 110-acre lot. Their powerful, oversized forms and repetitive barrel-vaulted roofs--some 98 feet high--evoke a time when films were churned out with the assembly-line efficiency of Detroit. Seen from afar, they have an almost miltary aura.
It's an image that was not lost on Jack Warner. After Pearl Harbor, the studio's legendary co-founder had a giant message painted on one of the sound-stage roofs. The sign, directed at Japanese bombers, read: "LOCKHEED THAT-AWAY." Don't mess with big dreams.