Paramount Pictures plans $700-million upgrade to Hollywood lot

Paramount Pictures Corp. unveiled plans Tuesday for $700 million in improvements including new sound stages and offices for its storied Hollywood lot.

About 1.4 million square feet of development would take place over the next two decades at Paramount’s Melrose Avenue headquarters and some adjacent properties owned by the company, if city officials approve.

“We have run out of options for creating more production space,” said Frederick Huntsberry, Paramount’s chief operating officer.

The internal expansion would create nearly 7,300 jobs during construction and accommodate 5,500 permanent workers at the studio, he said.

The studio is awash in Hollywood history — think Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond desperately trying to enter its famous gate in “Sunset Boulevard” — but faces challenges to compete with more modern studios and to continue to expand its services to television and film producers in the decades ahead.


The lot is a congested warren of stages, offices, trailers and support facilities such as woodworking mills that date to the early 20th century. The layout is byzantine in part because Paramount bought the former rival RKO studio lot from Desilu Productions to create the lot known today.

In spite of its awkwardly cramped quarters, Paramount operates around the clock with as many as 5,000 people a day, most of them working for independent producers who rent facilities on the lot to make shows such as “Glee,” “Community” and “NCIS: Los Angeles.”

Part of the challenge for architects Rios Clemente Hale Studios and Levin & Associates Architects will be to expand Paramount’s capacity without taking away its raffish charm as a homey old-Hollywood campus. Much of it is unchanged from the days of Clara Bow and Gary Cooper.

Decades ago, when other studios were flush with cash and went on modernization sprees, “Paramount had bad management and bad films,” said architect Ann Gray, in charge of design and development at the studio in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Paramount’s financial troubles left the old studio mostly unchanged for four decades until it expanded during the tenure of then-President Frank Mancuso and Gray, who now primarily consults for developers and publishes a magazine for Los Angeles architects. For its size, the 56-acre lot “has really been underutilized from the very beginning,” she said.

The current chief executive of Viacom Inc.-owned Paramount, Brad Grey, said the proposed growth plan is intended to protect the company’s legacy and ensure that the studio remains viable for future generations in the entertainment industry.

“This is a wonderful way to reinvest in what brought us to the party,” Grey said.

There are hurdles to cross before development can begin.

The studio will shortly file a master plan application with the city and begin work on the environmental review process. It also will reach out to neighbors and business owners in the area to explain the development it is calling the Hollywood Project. The process, including multiple public hearings, could take about two years.

Paramount Studios is in Eric Garcetti’s district. The city councilman said he is “very excited to see the confidence Paramount has in Los Angeles and Hollywood. I believe we are in Hollywood’s second golden age right now.”

Other studios have been upgrading and expanding their facilities. NBCUniversal is seeking approval for a $3-billion overhaul of Universal City that would add nearly 3,000 residences to the famed studio property in the San Fernando Valley. Its plans also call for the construction of additional studios and offices for producing movies and television shows, as well as a hotel, shops and tourist attractions.

Studios vie to attract talent, said commercial real estate broker Carl Muhlstein, who has worked on large studio sales and leases. “They want to offer the right mix of services and facilities — not necessarily modern ones — to be competitive.”

Paramount’s makeover would mingle the old with the new, architect Robert Hale said. Much of the construction would take place inside the studio on the perimeter along Melrose and on surface parking lots. One of the lots with a vast mural of the sky behind it has been occasionally flooded for filming scenes on water, but advances in computer technology have eliminated the need for large fake lakes.

Paramount hopes to modernize systems such as air conditioning and power while expanding facilities to make television shows and movies. There is also high demand for offices from producers and other creative types who find offices on the lot convenient and prestigious, Huntsberry said.

The goal is also to keep Paramount a cocoon of sorts.

“Frank Mancuso said creative people are very insecure,” architect Gray recalled. “He said, ‘We want an environment where they feel secure enough to be as creative as they can be.’”