Sound technician Paul Sandweiss likes working on a studio lot because it feels, well, like a sanctuary — but with a slice of movie magic.
“Sometimes you see the most interesting stuff,” he said. “Maybe an elephant is walking by or half of the Boston Celtics in their uniforms. There is just a buzz going on.”
Sandweiss, the audio director for the Oscars last March, is a longtime tenant at Sunset Las Palmas Studios, where his company provides audio post-production for recorded programs such as variety shows, comedy series and video games.
Landlord Hudson Pacific Properties, the biggest owner of independent studios in town, is trying to appeal to tenants like his Sound Design Corp. by building more office space behind the gates of working studios.
The lots and their workaday glamour are in particular demand these days among the growing cadre of people who make movies, television shows and other fare in this age of streaming video.
Next in Hudson Pacific’s pipeline for the lot south of Santa Monica Boulevard is an office building meant to look like one of the soaring silent-film stages from a century ago that sported glass walls and ceilings to bring in abundant sunlight.
The $79-million building under construction on a corner of the lot at Seward and Romaine streets will be called Harlow after actress Jean Harlow, a 1930s screen siren who once worked on the lot.
The four-story, greenhouse-inspired design by architect Rios Clementi Hale Studios is intended to create light-filled work spaces and open floor plans. Outdoor stairways will provide each floor access to landscaped balconies and terraces including a mezzanine garden deck above the top office floor.
Perhaps the building’s most compelling attraction, though, will be what is outside the front plaza, said Bill Humphrey, who manages Hudson Pacific’s three Hollywood movie studios.
“Within a couple of feet you’ll be walking onto the historic studio lot,” Humphrey said.
A few steps away is a former writers’ bungalow where actor Donald O’Connor, film and television editor Stanley Frazen and other luminaries of the time signed their names in the wet cement of the bungalow’s sidewalk in 1954.
Hudson Pacific hopes to sign a single occupant such as a media or production company to the 128,000-square-foot Harlow when it opens in 2020, Humphrey said, but the building could accommodate multiple tenants.
Among the landlord’s challenges as it expands office space on its lots is keeping the classic studio mystique and intimacy alive as it adds hundreds of new people to the mix. Hudson Pacific doesn’t require its office tenants to be in entertainment-related fields, but so far they are.
“We’re going to attract somebody interested in interacting with the studio lot,” Humphrey said. “It’s self-selecting.”
His tenant pool has been rapidly expanding as Los Angeles — and Hollywood in particular — becomes the hot spot for businesses that merge technology and entertainment such as video gaming, short-form video creators for platforms such as YouTube and burgeoning online streaming companies that make their own shows.
Video-streaming giant Netflix occupies an entire 14-story office tower and an additional five-story office building Hudson Pacific completed last year at its nearby Sunset Bronson Studios lot. Across Sunset Boulevard from that lot, Hudson Pacific is building a 13-story office project called Epic with stacked outdoor terraces that is set to open in 2020. The company also owns Sunset Gower Studios nearby, where a six-story speculative office building was fully leased to Technicolor before it was completed in 2009.
The new buildings are part of a construction boom in which 1.6 million square feet of office space has been delivered to Hollywood since 2014 by Hudson Pacific, Kilroy Realty Corp., J.H. Snyder Co. and other builders, according to real estate brokerage JLL. There are 12 properties including Epic and Harlow in the pipeline totaling an additional 1 million square feet that will mostly hit the market in 2020.
Average Hollywood office rents are rising quickly, in part because owners of these new buildings can charge top rates, broker Nicole Mihalka of JLL said. Asking rents are in the mid-$5-per-square-foot-per-month range, up about 30% from a year ago. She expects Hollywood rents to hit the mid-$6 range when the next crop of office buildings arrives around 2020.
New office buildings that are behind studio gates have performed especially well, Mihalka said: “A lot of content creators of today like the access to soundstages and the intimacy of being on a smaller lot” like the older ones found in Hollywood and West Hollywood, where Oprah Winfrey’s television network in 2014 moved into new offices on the former Warner Hollywood Studios lot owned by Los Angeles landlord CIM Group.
Another tenant in new offices at the 100-year-old studio now known simply as the Lot is comedy video website Funny or Die. Premium cable channel Showtime has agreed to lease 50,000 square feet in a new office building that is under construction at the Lot, according to JLL.
Hudson Pacific’s 15-acre Sunset Las Palmas Studios, which opened in 1919 as Hollywood Studios Inc., was the home of director Francis Ford Coppola's Zoetrope Studios in the early 1980s. But for most of its existence it has been an independent operation renting soundstages and other production facilities to the makers of films and television shows.
Comedy daredevil Harold Lloyd and tycoon Howard Hughes filmed movies there. One of the early tenants was United Artists, the company founded by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith. Mae West, Bing Crosby, the Marx brothers, Cary Grant, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy were among the stars who made pictures there in the 1930s and 1940s.
In the decades after World War II, the studio evolved into a hotbed of television production. The first two seasons of "I Love Lucy" were filmed there in front of a live audience starting in 1951.
Coppola bought it in 1980 and turned the entire lot into a giant set for his movie "One From the Heart," but soon fell on hard times. The lot ended up being sold in a 1984 bankruptcy auction to one of Coppola's creditors, the late Canadian real estate developer Jack Singer, for $12.3 million. The Singer family's business, Studio Management Services Inc., sold the studio to Hudson Pacific for $200 million last year.
Since 1996 Sandweiss’ company Sound Design Corp. has been a tenant. Rent is more expensive than elsewhere in Hollywood, he said, but the lot’s isolation is desirable for his high-profile clients such as famed British actress Helen Mirren and R&B superstar Usher.
“Our clients love the fact that they are in a gated, garden sanctuary and can do whatever they want without being hounded or bothered,” he said. “Janet Jackson can pull up in her Porsche and go to work.”
Sandweiss sometimes works late into the night in his studio in a former dressing-room building erected on the lot in 1933 and likes to leave the door open, which he wouldn’t do outside of the gates.
“Hollywood is a little wacky at 2 in the morning,” he said.