Warner Bros. on Tuesday officially broke ground on a pair of Frank Gehry-designed office towers, which when completed will mark a major expansion of the Burbank-based movie and TV studio’s headquarters.
The project, first announced last April, was commemorated in a ceremony with Warner Bros. Chief Executive Ann Sarnoff and Gehry, the famed Los Angeles architect, who designed the buildings to resemble two icebergs floating along the 134 Freeway.
The construction endeavor is part of a larger expansion of Warner Bros.’ footprint in the area that includes the acquisition of Burbank Studios. The acquisition and building project is expected to conclude in 2023, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the studio’s founding. As part of the deal, Warner Bros. is selling its historic North Hollywood Way facility known as the Ranch lot.
Warner Bros. is calling the design and construction phases of its new effort the Second Century Project, in honor of its upcoming centennial. The deal comes amid a production boom driven by massive demand for TV and film content.
“This is an investment in our employees, our creative and business partners and the Burbank community,” Sarnoff said during remarks onstage at Burbank Studios.
Buying Burbank Studios will allow Warner Bros. to expand production efforts, providing additional office space, eight soundstages, a mill building and a commissary, the studio said when the deal was announced.
The studio was acquired by AT&T in 2018 as part of the phone company’s larger purchase of Time Warner Inc. AT&T plans to take part in the streaming era with the coming launch of HBO Max.
The deal is one of Burbank’s biggest real estate transactions ever, with a combined estimated value of more than $1 billion.
New Burbank Mayor Sharon Springer and Gov. Gavin Newsom touted the projected effect of the real estate project on the economy. The civic leaders said the construction is expected to generate 2.5 million hours of work.
“By definition, this is a project that shows confidence in our [California’s] future,” Newsom said. “This is a big deal, not just to Burbank, but to the entire region and the state.”
Following Newsom’s remarks, the studio revealed a large-scale rendering of the structures with the “Superman” theme playing over speakers.
The real estate deal represents a full-circle return for Warner Bros., which is buying back property it once owned. Studio co-founder Jack Warner sold the parcel to NBC in 1951. In 2007, NBC’s then-owner, General Electric Co., sold the property to prominent developer Jeff Worthe for about $250 million. He is selling about three-quarters of the property to Warner Bros. for an undisclosed amount.
Worthe and partner Stockbridge Real Estate Fund plan to keep about 7 acres of the Burbank Studios site, where they will build the Gehry-designed office towers, which Warner Bros. will occupy as the sole tenant. The 800,000-square-foot office complex will consist of a seven-story building and a nine-story structure.
Gehry’s designs are famous around the world. He’s known for buildings including Walt Disney Concert Hall; the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain; and the Grand, a $1-billion mixed-use complex being built across the street from Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
Once ready, the studio plans to move its operations at the Ranch to Burbank Studios.
The Ranch, which will continue to operate as a studio and office complex, has a rich Hollywood history. It was used for filming the movie “Lethal Weapon” and the TV series “Bewitched.” The opening credits of Warner Bros.’ 1990s sitcom “Friends” feature the cast members in a fountain near the center of that lot.
“Warner Bros. is a legendary company and we have to create a legendary building for all this legendary history,” Gehry said. “It’s up to us not to screw it up.”
Ryan Faughnder writes for the Los Angeles Times. Times staff writers Roger Vincent and Meg James contributed to this report.