Financial terms of deal for historic studio facility not disclosed

The Church of Scientology has just bought a bigger pulpit.

The church has cut a deal to acquire the historic Los Feliz studio lot that has been home to pubcaster KCET-TV Los Angeles for the past 40 years. In a lengthy statement, the church said the deal allows it to “establish one of the most advanced centers used by religious broadcasters with the ability to harness 21st century broadcast technology and production power to deliver its message to the the largest international audience possible.”

The statement said the lot and its satellite uplink facilities would serve as “a central media hub” for its network of churches around the world. The KCET lot will concentrate on “the production of television programs, short-form information films and Internet content to further Scientology’s religious and charitable purposes” while its existing Golden Era Prods. outpost in Hemet, Calif., will continue to focus on producing “informational and educational films” for use among members and as part of its “social betterment and humanitarian programs.”

The church also said it “welcomed the unexpected opportunity” to acquire the lot.

Financial terms of the pact were not disclosed. The 4.5-acre lot encompasses two soundstages, plus a standing news/talkshow set and post-production facilities. Sale comes on the heels of KCET’s split from the national PBS network as of Jan. 1 after four decades as its flagship West Coast affiliate. KCET said it would relocate to a new production site in the L.A. area within the next year.

KCET has reportedly struggled with fundraising since it lost marquee PBS programming. But KCET prexy Al Jerome said the pubcaster has evaluated its options for selling the lot several times over the past 15 years.

“This is the second stage in our transformation from a PBS affiliate,” Jerome said of the sale.

He said the proceeds from the sale will allow the station to invest in new original programming and acquire new equipment “that will allow us to take advantage of rapid changes in technology.” Jerome added that PBS has five pilots in various stages of development, on top of its existing slate of originals such as news program “SoCal Connected.”

The sale to the Church of Scientology is sure to raise eyebrows in industry circles. The church rooted in the writings of L. Ron Hubbard has long counted some showbizzers as members, but its image suffered a blow in February when the New Yorker published a lengthy story on helmer-writer Paul Haggis’ decision to break from Scientology after more than 30 years. The story painted a picture of a cult-like org with waning worldwide membership.

The KCET lot’s ties to showbiz date back to 1912, when Philadelphia-based Edison distributor Lubin Co. first lensed in the area. Over the ensuing decades it was home to numerous small film companies, including Essanay, Mayfair Pictures and Monogram Pictures. KCET acquired the lot for $800,000 in 1970. It was named an historic cultural monument by the city of Los Angeles in 1978, a designation that limits the ability of any owner to alter the original buildings.

Scientology said it intends to “not only maintain but enhance the rich history of this venerable studio by fully and meticulously restoring the property’s remarkable historical structures.” It’s already working on plans “for renovations and new equipment installations for the church’s unique use so that work can commence immediately upon KCET’s move.”

The statement noted that the lot in the 4400 block of West Sunset Boulevard is down the street from its Los Angeles headquarters and a few blocks away from a church-owned recording studio in Silver Lake.

“This new studio is a turnkey setup that provides the church the means to move into broadcasting for both the religion and its many social betterment and humanitarian programs,” the statement said. “Utilizing the studio’s existing satellite uplink, we will be able to provide our churches and affiliated groups globally with instantaneous access to a wealth of content, all in high definition, ranging from the church’s six annual international events to new educational and introductory films and even video updates for the public informational displays located in churches around the world.”

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