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back-forty

RKO Forty Acres

RKO Forty Acres
1965 aerial photo of the Forty Acres property, looking west.
Description film backlot
Acreage 28½
Location Culver City, CA
Leased 1927
Sold 1976
Studios in charge
1927 Cecil B. DeMille (leased from Harry Culver)
1928 – 1948 RKO Pathé
1935 – 1939 Selznick International Pictures (leased from RKO)
1948 – 1955 RKO under Howard Hughes
1955 – 1957 General Tire and Rubber Company
1957 – 1966 Desilu
1967 Paramount
1968 Perfect Film and Chemical
1969 – 1976 OSF Industries Limited
Forty Acres was a film studio backlot that belonged to RKO Pictures and Desilu Productions, located in Culver City, California. Best known as Forty Acres, or "the back forty, it had other names such as "Desilu Culver, the "RKO backlot" and "Pathé 40 Acre Ranch" depending on which studio owned the property at the time. For nearly fifty years it was famous for its outdoor full-scale sets such as Western Street and Atlanta Street or Main Street and was used in films like King Kong (1933) and Gone with the Wind (1939), and television shows like Bonanza and Star Trek. It was situated on a triangular parcel of land that measured 28½ acres, located a few blocks from RKO (now The Culver Studios ) which was situated to the west. It was bounded by Higuera Street to the north, West Jefferson Boulevard, Ballona Creek and Baldwin Hills to the south and Lucerne Avenue to the west. In 1976 it was razed for re-development and is known today as the southern expansion of the Hayden Industrial Tract .

History

The property on which the backlot was located was originally intended to be a lease for Cecil B. DeMille’s production of the 1927 film The King of Kings. On it he constructed the historical City of Jerusalem, which remained for the RKO production of King Kong in 1933. By then it was known as Forty Acres and owned by RKO Pictures.

In 1935 David O. Selznick leased the property from RKO for his new studio, Selznick International Pictures. For his 1939 production of Gone with the Wind, the plantation Tara, the Atlanta Depot, and other Atlanta buildings were constructed on Forty Acres. The depot and many of the Atlanta buildings became permanent fixtures on the property till its final days, while the set of Tara was sold in 1959 to investors who planned to open a theme park in the Atlanta area (see Tara Plantation). From 1943 to 1958, a separate part of the 28½ acres known as the African jungle set, located on the opposite side of Ballona Creek, was used extensively for the Tarzan series by RKO, and later for The Adventures of Jim Bowie television series by Desilu. Following years of turnovers by several owners, including Howard Hughes, the backlot was practically deserted and cinematic productions declined. It was purchased in 1957 by Desilu with the intention of filming for the burgeoning television industry.

Television

Forty Acres is best remembered for providing the backdrop for the fictional town of Mayberry on the television hit series The Andy Griffith Show. Many of the street scenes and buildings on the backlot were seen regularly on television screens across America and became quite familiar with viewers. The original Town of Atlanta set, comprising a New York style street, a town square and a residential area to the east, was situated in the center of the property and was used on shows like Adventures of Superman, Ozzie and Harriet, Batman, The Green Hornet and Mission: Impossible. It was also used on Star Trek in three episodes entitled "Miri", "The Return of the Archons" and "The City on the Edge of Forever". Sharp-eyed television viewers could note many visual cues that crossed over from one series to the next, including the structures themselves, or signs on doors and windows. In Star Trek's "The City on the Edge of Forever" for example, a crossover from The Andy Griffith Show was evident by noting a window sign for "Floyd's Barber Shop" in a particular scene involving Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Edith Keeler (Joan Collins) who were strolling by..

Forty Acres was also the backdrop for a 1961 episode of My Three Sons entitled "The Horseless Saddle", and five episodes of the hit TV series Bonanza where the backlot’s Western Street, next to the Garden of Allah (1936) set, served as a trail town. An added feature was the fact that some portions of the backlot were occupied by fields and scrub and provided the ideal conditions for filming a western. The Tara set, which sat on a sloping rise at the north western corner of the property, was torn down in 1959 to eventually become the Stalag 13 set for Hogan's Heroes. Most of the sets, which included Camp Henderson on Gomer Pyle, were situated primarily in the center, south and west end of the property. The narrower east end was the site of a western town set at one time, and was later home to an unusual, narrow alley set lined by two long facades facing each other. The alley set was constructed for the 1968 Robert Wise film Star! starring Julie Andrews, and it also later made a brief appearance in the 1975 film Switchblade Sisters, as did the streets and buildings of the central town area.

Overall, the property was an undulating plateau with a southern slope (by the town square) that led to Ballona Creek. Picturesque Sycamore Maple and willow trees dotted the northern and southern perimeter of the property.

List of familiar backlot buildings

Core structures that stood for decades and appeared in many productions are listed here, most of which were constructed to represent, in Gone with the Wind, the antebellum Town of Atlanta, and later used for the fictional Mayberry. This portion of the backlot was the most permanent, and thus the most repeatedly recognizable, existing from 1939 until 1976. Other structures like the Jerusalem set, which was torched to make room for the Atlanta set, or Tara, which was replaced with the Hogan Heroes stalag set, did not survive as long. The western/European set at the east end of the backlot also did not survive past the mid sixties.

The two main arteries that traversed the Atlanta/Mayberry set were Atlanta or Main Street, which ran east/west and opened at one point onto a town square, and North Street, a cross street that bisected it at the four corners just west of the square.

Image Structure flrs Location years Seen on Seen as
church 2 SE end of town square 1950-76

  • All Souls Church

courthouse 2 NE of town square 1952-76

  • Mayberry Courthouse

residence 2 across from church 1939-76

  • the Taylor home

bank 2 SE corner Atlanta/North 1939-76

  • Mayberry Bank
  • National Hotel
  • where Kirk & Spock emerge

store/cafe 3 NW corner Atlanta/North 1939-76

  • Weaver's Department Store
  • Norcross Merchandise

main hotel 2 center, town square 1945-76

  • Walker's Drug Store
  • Hotel Cozy
  • Rusk Hotel

tall hotel 4 NW of town square 1947-76

  • Mayberry Hotel
  • Allegheny House
  • fire escape overlooking alley
  • ...where Kirk steals clothes
  • where Kirk finds Miri

theatre 2 NW of town square 1939-75

  • Grand Theatre
  • Paradise City Arena
  • 21st Street Mission
  • Smallville depot/Daily Planet

buildings 2 rear of courthouse 1955-76

  • feed grain store
  • Bartlett stable

shop 2 E of town square 1955-76

  • Biggs used furniture
  • Onlie's hideout

store plaza 2 N of town square 1955-76

  • Floyd's Barbershop
  • radio repair shop

depot 1 west of town 1939-76

  • Atlanta Railroad Depot

store/cafe 3 SW corner Atlanta/North 1939-76

  • Lake & Lewis Hardware

Tara 2 NW portion of backlot 1939-59

office 3 NW end of Atlanta St 1939-76

  • Atlanta Examiner
  • where McCoy emerges

cafe 2 S side of Atlanta St 1938-76

  • Ringside Cafe
  • Walt's Restaurant

hotel 2 SW of town square 1938-76

  • Travellers Hotel
  • Bijou Theatre
  • Hotel Silsby / hospital

townhouse 2 top of North St 1950-76

  • Reger's home

town hall 2 bottom of North St 1950-76

  • Headquarters 5th Air Force
  • "The Red Hour" clock

List of productions at Forty Acres

Film

Television

See also

References

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