Southern California Photography by Alan Pavlik, editor and publisher of Just Above Sunset
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Photos and text, unless otherwise noted, Copyright 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik

If you use any of these photos for commercial purposes I assume you'll discuss that with me

These were shot with a Nikon D70 - using lens (1) AF-S Nikkor 18-70 mm 1:35-4.5G ED, or (2) AF Nikkor 70-300mm telephoto, or after 5 June 2006, (3) AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor, 55-200 mm f/4-5.6G ED. They were modified for web posting using Adobe Photoshop 7.0

The original large-format raw files are available upon request.

Contact the Editor

Visitors from February 28, 2006, 10:00 am Pacific Time to date -

Friday, 30 June 2006
Landmarks: The Forgotten Major Studio
Topic: Historic Hollywood

Landmarks: The Forgotten Major Studio

Culver Studios, 9336 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, California
The forgotten major studio would be Culver Studios, in Culver City, a few miles southwest of Hollywood in the flats.

Okay, almost a hundred years ago, Harry Culver, the founding father of Culver City, decided he had to meet Thomas Ince, the father of the westerns - Culver had seen Ince directing one of his westerns in nearby La Ballona Creek. Culver was building a city after all - he'd moved to California in 1910 and learned the real estate business from I. N. Van Nuys - and wanted this new movie business in his new town. The Articles of Incorporation for Culver City were filed with the California Secretary of State on September 20, 1917, but the place was already booming. Culver convinced Ince to move his studio operations from Florida to Culver City and in 1915 the first Culver City studio was under construction - Ince/Triangle Studios. Ince added a few stages and an administration building but sold out his share in the business to his partners D. W. Griffith and Mack Sennett, and relocated down the street and built what you see here as The Culver Studios. Harry Culver leased the land to him. Of course by 1918 Triangle Studios itself was up for sale - and Samuel Goldwyn bought the place. In 1924, Marcus Loew orchestrated the merger of three motion picture companies - The Metro Pictures Corporation, Goldwyn Studios and Louis B. Mayer Productions to form Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Things were a bit turbulent back in the silent movie days. MGM, down the street, is famous of course (photos here and a good history here). That's now Sony-Columbia. It's all very fluid. What used to be MGM gets all the tourists. It's legendary.

The city has more on Culver Studios, which isn't quite as famous, here - it took two years to build the Thomas H. Ince Studio at 9336 Washington Boulevard, with its Mount Vernon mansion - a December 1, 1918 Los Angeles newspaper called it a "motion picture plant that looks like a beautiful Southern estate." The studio was planned by Meyer and Holler of the Milwaukee Building Company, the same firm that created two of the historic theaters on Hollywood Boulevard, the Chinese Theater (1927) and the Egyptian (1922).

And you have to love this detail -
Ince, a visionary in the industry, and actor turned producer, promoted the glamour of moviemaking with a reverence. He entertained the King and Queen of Belgium, and President Woodrow Wilson. The administration building became a well-known landmark, and Ince was rapidly expanding his successful facility. In the early days, the studio fire chief also acted as the city fire chief. But in November of 1924, amidst clouded circumstances, Thomas Harper Ince fell ill on William Randolph Hearst's yacht, and reportedly died of a heart attack at home within the week. His wife Elinor K. Ince, once a talent agent, took the reins until the next year, when it became De Mille Studios.
What a way to go, on the Hearst yacht. Cecil B. De Mille soon made "King of Kings" here - the first movie shown at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre. In 1940, RKO made Citizen Kane here, all about William Randolph Hearst. Very odd.

The studio itself has a website with its own history - Gone With The Wind was shot on Stages 11 and 12 in 1939, and all the exteriors of Tara, Twelve Oaks and the city of Atlanta were created on the back lot and torched for the filming of the burning of Atlanta sequence in the film. But the mansion isn't Tara.

And this -
Going back in time to just after Thomas Ince died, the studio was purchased by Cecil B. DeMille who built monumental sets on the back lot. The most impressive were replicas of the streets of Jerusalem for one of his biggest budgeted features The King of Kings in 1927. These sets were used in many movies over the years. They were seen in King Kong as part of Skull's Island in 1933. These sets towered over the studio for a dozen years until they were burned to the ground for Gone With the Wind in 1939.

RKO acquired the studios in 1928 and Joseph Kennedy served as one of the studio heads. It was during his tenure here that he had his infamous love affair with leading lady Gloria Swanson. Legend has it that Kennedy built her a private dressing room as a gift. Only much later and after the affair ended did Swanson discover Kennedy had used her money to pay for it. The bungalow still stands and is used as an office for writer/producers.
That would be President Kennedy's father, later our ambassador to England. The son had that thing with Marilyn Monroe. Make of it what you will.

RKO controlled the lot for almost thirty years - the days of Bette Davis, Robert Mitchum, Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, King Kong, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. So think A Star Is Born (1937), Tom Sawyer (1938), Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940) and Spellbound (1945). And Citizen Kane was shot on the lot in 1940. Howard Hughes bought the place in the fifties and ran it into the ground. Desilu Productions purchased the lot in 1956 and television became the main business - The Andy Griffith Show, Hogan's Heroes, The Untouchables, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Lassie and Gomer Pyle - and in 1967 Peyton Place, as well as The Green Hornet, Batman and the pilot for Star Trek. Star Trek became a Paramount franchise and moved down to Melrose Avenue.

In 1968 new owners sold off most of the back lot and by the late seventies the place was pretty much abandoned. In 1977, the studio became Laird International Studios, a rental facility. When Laird filed Chapter 11 in 1986, Grant Tinker (Mary Tyler Moore's producer and husband) and Gannett (USA Today), bought the place and called it GTG Entertainment, then The Culver Studios. In 1991 it became a part of Sony Pictures Entertainment. Sony sold the studio to Pacific Coast Capital Partners (PCCP) Studio City Los Angeles in 2004. Sony had too much television production space.

So that's it, but as the studio's site notes -
Walk through any of the restored buildings and there is a feeling of another era. Over the years, unsubstantiated rumors of studio hauntings have circulated among the studio staff. Stage hands high in the catwalks have reportedly been confronted by a ghostly figure resembling Thomas Ince. It's rumored that late at night a spirit - some say Gloria Swanson - roams the halls of the mansion. While there is no proof of these sightings, eerily similar reports occur year after year.

Many recording artists have utilized the studio's private atmosphere to rehearse (Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Don Henley, Janet Jackson) and to shoot music videos (Ricky Martin, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Luis Miguel). The Culver Studios is also the birthplace of Baywatch, Mad About You, and The Nanny.
Baywatch? Ouch.

The studio is not open to the public, and no tours are offered.

But there are the stories, like this from the days when Louis B. Mayer's son-in-law, the Pittsburgh-born RKO executive David O. Selznick, ran the place -
They even staged the famous "burning of Atlanta" scene from "Gone With The Wind" here on the back lot of Culver Studios, on December 10, 1938. The city of "Atlanta" was actually made up of various old sets from previous films made on the lot, which David O. Selznick set ablaze to make room for the construction of the exterior of Tara. (The fire consumed old sets from "King Kong," "The Last of the Mohicans" and "Little Lord Fauntleroy.") Yet the key role of Scarlett O'Hara still had not been cast. As Selznick watched from atop an observation tower as the red flames consumed "Atlanta," his brother Myron introduced him to Vivien Leigh, with the words: "I'd like you to meet your Scarlett O'Hara."

Lucille Ball was one of the many actresses who tried out, unsuccessfully, for the part of Scarlett in "Gone With the Wind." She got her revenge later, though, when she bought the studio, turned it into her own Desilu Studios, and took David O. Selznick's office as her own. (Desilu later moved to what is now part of the Paramount lot.)

Culver Studios, 9336 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, California

The working end of things -

Culver Studios, 9336 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, California

Culver Studios, 9336 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, California

Culver Studios, 9336 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, California

Nearby, the new De L'Esprie bronze of Harry Culver, dedicated March 26, 2006 -

Harry Culver

Culver Studios, 9336 Washington Boulevard, Culver City, California

Posted by Alan at 5:39 PM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Updated: Friday, 30 June 2006 5:47 PM PDT
Thursday, 29 June 2006
Busy as a Bee
Topic: Technical Exercises

Busy as a Bee

The day has been busy, editing more than a hundred shots from a photo excursion to "The Heart of Screenland" - Culver City, between Hollywood and the beaches, with its historic studios and amazing Art Deco and Zigzag Moderne buildings from the late twenties and the thirties, and some odd sculptures. Those will along soon. Falling behind here...

Bee pollinating flower, Overland Avenue, Culver City, CA

Bee pollinating flower, Overland Avenue, Culver City, CA

Posted by Alan at 8:18 PM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Wednesday, 28 June 2006
Clouds: Storms Over Hollywood
Topic: Light and Shadow

Clouds: Storms Over Hollywood

Two on the afternoon on Wednesday, June 28, above Hollywood, on a brutally hot day - the whole basin baking in the harsh sun - eighty at the beaches, in the mid-nineties from downtown to Hollywood to Beverly Hills, and on the other side of the hills, in the San Fernando Valley, well over one hundred. On Mulholland Drive, at the turnout above the Hollywood Bowl, even at six hundred seventy feet above sea level, it really is ninety-three in what little shade there is. But off to the east above the San Bernardino Mountains - Baldy and Big Bear (Mount San Gregornio) - the thunderheads are building - storms coming up from the Baja that will never get here.

To the northeast, they frame the Hollywood sign, and directly west, they make a nice backdrop for the Griffith Park Observatory.

Thunderheads over the Hollywood sign

Storm sky behind the Griffith Park Observatory



Posted by Alan at 5:50 PM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Tuesday, 27 June 2006
Old Trains - Guest Photography
Topic: Guest Photography

Old Trains - Guest Photography

There's something romantic about old trains, and out here in the west we have a great collection of them, restored to perfection, as shown in photographs here and here. But our friend, the high-powered Wall Street attorney, reminds us they have great old trains back east.

The Catskill Mountain Railroad Scenic Train runs between Phoenicia and Boiceville, New York, about twelve miles. The trip takes about an hour and a half. You leave from Mount Pleasant, ride along the Esopus Creek, looking for bald eagles, great blue herons, hawks, deer and such things. On the north is Mount Tremper and on the south Mount Pleasant and Romer Mountain. At the Phoenicia stop there's the Empire State Railway Museum in the restored 1900 Railroad Depot.

This is what is left of the Catskill Mountain Branch Line of the long-gone Ulster and Delaware Railroad. Bluestone for the sidewalks of New York was quarried near here, and produce and dairy products from these parts were sent along with that to the city by rail. Traffic the other way was city folks off to the Catskills' boarding houses and hotels - 676,000 passengers in 1913. Automobiles changed that, and the New York Central ended up using the tracks for general freight. In October 1976 the Ulster and Delaware Railroad folded, and in 1979 the County of Ulster purchased the Catskill branch to make it a tourist thing. In 1983, the Catskill Mountain Railroad was chartered to operate a tourist passenger operation as well as freight service. The whole line will be back in operation one day.

Catskill Mountain Railroad Scenic Train

Phoenicia, New York - the Empire State Railway Museum in the restored 1900 Railroad Depot

Old roadbed of the Catskill Mountain Branch Line of the long-gone Ulster and Delaware Railroad

Photos copyright © 2006 - M. A. Hewitt, all rights resevered

The location -

Phoenicia, New York - from Google Earth

Posted by Alan at 6:46 PM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Monday, 26 June 2006
Topic: Light and Shadow


Hollywood was miserable this date - Monday, June 26, 2006 - dark all day and in the nineties, with the feel of thunderstorms nearby, but they never came - just distant rumbles now and then. The sky turned an odd sick yellow in the late morning and the air was throbbing - time to unplug a few things before the electrical storm. But that passed and the whole basin reverted to a dark and steamy calm. This is not how it's supposed to be out here at the edge of the Mojave, with the mild Pacific just down the road.

This is hard to capture in a photo or two. At LACMA (the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, down on Wilshire) there's a new David Hockney exhibit - portraits this time. The man is famous for his swimming pools. From the LA City Beat review -
The prolific Hockney has by far a more widely disseminated body of work than any current L.A.-identified artist. Ed Ruscha's output, much more subtle and ironic, is a distant second in this regard. Hockney's swimming-pool paintings in sun-bleached pastels (like "A Bigger Splash" and "Pool with Two Figures") have come to define a kind of sequestered gay Southern California privilege. The later long rectangles of various local canyons received wide public display as well. Winding roads and sprawling flora in neo-Fauve colors became emblematic - for better or worse - of a chamber-of-commerce veneer that is, in reality, a precious commodity. Hockney may make sharp observations about L.A., but he's never been one to lacerate the city's most vulnerable foibles.
But if Hockney were to paint a Hollywood Hills pool on a day like this, it would look like this, outside the window here. Printed as a negative, this is how it felt here.

Red pool (negative image)

The sun at six in the evening, obscured by the low steamy clouds -

Sun and palm - through low clouds

Note: These were shot with the medium telephoto lens - AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor, 55-200 mm f/4-5.6G - using a polarizing filter.

Posted by Alan at 7:19 PM PDT | Post Comment | Permalink

Updated: Monday, 26 June 2006 7:22 PM PDT

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