Nature punches, H’w’d rolls

The entertainment community put business on hold indefinitely Monday as tremors rocked the mostly empty studio lots and offices all day following a Monday morning earthquake that killed at least 27 people.

Los Angeles Police Chief Willie Williams has asked businesses to stay closed today if possible. Additionally, Mayor Richard Riordan announced a strict dusk-to-dawn curfew, and other area communities, including Burbank, followed suit. Employees for entertainment businesses should check with their offices before reporting to work.

Since the majority of the town was observing the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, most industryites had already scheduled around what will undoubtedly become known as Earthquake Day in Hollywood. Had many studios not recognized the national holiday — which one in five Americans currently takes off — production crews may well have been setting up on the lots at4:31 a.m. when the first shock waves jolted the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles basin.

The earthquake rolled in from a previously uncharted fault in Northridge. Seismologists at Cal State Northridge — right at the epicenter — said it registered 6.6 on the Richter scale, the biggest temblor to hit Los Angeles this century.

All day, minor and major aftershocks pulled and tugged at already stressed denizens and buildings. Some aftershocks clocked in at up to 5.7 on the Richter scale.

No collapses

But while the earth moved under the major studios, on-the-lot buildings did not come tumbling down.

A Walt Disney representative said there was no structural damage to any of the studio’s Burbank buildings, including the glass-and-steel building referred to as “the tower.” The rep said it was uncertain whether Disney employees would return to work today. He called it a “wait-and-see situation.”

Other studio sources added that architect Michael Graves’ Team Disney building, which features pillars modeled after the Seven Dwarves, was flooded inside and that emergency generators had been set up early in the day to power computers and lighting. On the Disney emergency hotline, employees were told to stay home. Disney studios chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg was out of town and could not be reached.

At the Warner Bros. lot, also in Burbank, workers in red hardhats patrolled the grounds looking for damage; yellow ribbons blocked off streets. The lot was closed for the day and security guards turned away most visitors.

The Universal lot also was closed, as were the Universal Studios Tour, CityWalk and movie theaters, with guards posted at each of the gates. But on Lankershim Boulevard, marble facing from one of the group of three-story MCA buildings crashed to the ground. Several 15-foot plate-glass windows were blown out.

‘Seinfeld’ status?

The MTM/Radford lot in Studio City — home to such TV sitcoms as ABC’s “Grace Under Fire,””Roseanne,” NBC’s “Seinfeld” and HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show”– was badly hit. As of late Monday, there was no word as to how the production of those comedies would be affected.

On the Westside lots, the new MGM/UA complex appeared to have suffered the greatest external damage. Emergency teams cordoned off the Santa Monica complex, where glass windows were shattered and the poured concrete on the corner of 2425 Colorado Blvd. had cracked and fallen free from the structure. The Sony Music Building only a few blocks away looked from the exterior to have weathered the quake much better.

Sony Pictures Entertainment in Culver City looked largely intact after a cursory inspection. A Guardsmark Security man at one studio gate told Daily Variety that executives were being allowed onthe lot to inspect their offices. Monday ayem, however, there were only a handful of luxury cars parked on the lot.

While electricity returned to most of the Westside midmorning, the Fox lot remained powerless all day and resembled a ghost town. A series of red construction cones blocked the Pico Boulevard entrance. At “Front Page,” the Fox Broadcasting Co. newsmagazine, executive producer David Corvo had sent his troops out with Hi-8 video cameras to start gathering footage for this Saturday’s broadcast.

The extent of any damage at New Line Cinema, one of the only outfits open for business, was unknown late Monday afternoon.

Lucia Alvelais, spokeswoman for the Dept. of Water & Power, was unsure Monday afternoon if any power would be restored to any of the studios, most of which were without power for much of Monday. And because of the damage to underground cables and electrical towers, power may flicker on and off for a while. “There are probably problems we don’t know about,” Alvelais said. “If you have power now, don’t get comfortable.”

Roadway prognosis

With the collapse of sections of the Santa Monica Freeway (10) and resulting congestion on adjacent surface streets, traffic around the Westside studios will undoubtedly increase. Also, increased traffic in the San Fernando Valley will make midday trips between Valley and Westside studios time-consuming. Public officials said it will be six to eight months before all roads are repaired. Until then, “going over the hill” could be synonymous with going to hell and back.

Percenteries did not suffer nearly as much damage as studios. International Creative Management and the William Morris Agency were closed for the King holiday. Creative Artists Agency was open, but the switchboard was down until around 1:40 p.m., when sources said operators there were flooded with calls.

By Monday night, exhibitors had not yet decided when to reopen. Sources from the General Cinema Corp. multiplex in the Northridge Galleria — the one nearest the Northridge epicenter of the quake — said it was unlikely the theaters would be open for business Monday, and that decision was sealed by the curfew. A spokesman for the multiplex added that other GCC theaters would likely remain closed indefinitely until patrons returned to work.

Meanwhile, the Bel-Air Hotel above Sunset Boulevard became a four-star shelter for celebs whose homes were damaged during the upheaval. While declining to name actors and actresses, a spokesman for the hotel confirmed they were seeing a large amount of celeb walk-ins.

Showbiz homes as far as 100 miles away from Northridge were hit badly at 4:31 a.m. Sources said the Santa Barbara home of Chuck Norris’ brother, helmer Aaron Norris, was severely damaged, just like that of his producer, Andy Howard, who lives in Calabasas. CBS execs told Daily Variety that CBS entertainment prexy Jeff Sagansky’s house in Pacific Palisades also took a hit.

A huge clean-up is expected to get under way on the lots and around town today. And while many Angelenos were boiling tap water Monday to avoid infection , sipping designer water is one emergency survival skill that’s old hat for the industry.

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