Universal to Demolish ‘Phantom of the Opera’ Soundstage, But Preserve Silent Film’s Set

Phantom of the Opera Set

As it upgrades its production facilities and expands its theme park, Universal Studios is planning to demolish Stage 28, one of the oldest on the lot, while preserving a 90-year-old set housed in the space and used in the original 1925 silent film “Phantom of the Opera.”

Universal’s plans were unveiled in a newsletter sent to employees last week, but rumors of the soundstage’s removal have spurred a petition drive, with nearly 2,000 signatures urging the studio to save it.

The studio, however, said that the “difficult decision” to remove the stage, built in 1924, came down to logistical challenges. For one, noise is an issue, as it is located just next to Universal’s Transformers theme park attraction.

“It was determined that the amount of investment needed to upgrade this stage will be better used in the future to bring additional production capabilities to the lot,” Universal said in the newsletter. The area will be cleared to make way for theme park expansion.

Universal said that it was in the midst of a multimillion-dollar preservation effort to save the set from “Phantom of the Opera,” above, and move it to another location. The studio is in discussions with museums and institutions, hoping that it will be accessible for public view wherever it ends up. Universal says that 50% or less of the set is from its original construction, with sections altered from the ’30s to the ’60s.

“Initially, we were unsure if the set, with portions that are nearly ninety years old, could be removed and reassembled in a new home,” the studio said in the newsletter. “Now, with the help of a team of expert preservationists, our own archivists, forensics and some amazing 21st century tools like three-dimensional imaging, we have begun the delicate and precise work of ensuring that much of this set becomes accessible and a lasting part of film history.”

Stage 28 is not the oldest on the lot. Three buildings — stages 3&4, 5&6 and 16&17 — were constructed in 1916.

Studio representatives briefed officials from organizations including the American Film Institute and Hollywood Heritage Museum on their plans, and have contacted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, which is planning to create a motion picture museum at Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue.

Bryan Cooper, president of the Hollywood Heritage Museum, said that their focus has been to save historic studio buildings from demolition, and asked if the stage could be preserved and the set featured as part of the studio tour.

But he said that, from his discussions with Universal executives, it came down to an issue of real estate as it remakes its property.

“I see both sides of it, honestly,” he said.

SEE ALSO: Universal Veers From Superhero Trend for a Monster Plan

But he gave Universal credit for making the effort to save the set, a rare surviving set piece from the silent era. “The fact that they are taking the time to find a home for it says a lot,” he said. “They are spending a lot of money to preserve this. They could have easily dismantled it and be done with it.”

During the 1970s, studios razed many of their backlot sets, most famously MGM in Culver City, where sets for “Showboat” and the Tarzan movies gave way to residential real estate development. Universal has had reason to save parts of its backlot, as locations for movies like “Psycho” have long been part of the tour, though some facades have been moved to new spots on the lot.

Among the movies that also have shot on Universal’s Paris Opera House set are “Dracula,” a 1943 remake of “Phantom,” “Man of a Thousand Faces” and “The Sting.” Rumors of the planned demolition of the soundstage were posted on numerous blogs this week, including Inside Universal and the Studio Tour.

The studio said that it is investing $500 million on the lot over the next five years, including the recently opened Tom Brokaw News Center. Its expansion plans for its theme park include a the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, currently under construction and expected to open in 2016.

Universal has not announced a date for when the stage will be demolished, as it first will require asbestos removal. It also plans to put the set in storage in the interim.

The studio also is making a documentary on the preservation effort, which it says will be “an invaluable tool in helping future historians understand how film sets were constructed, used, and altered during the first six decades of Hollywood filmmaking.”

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  1. Barbara says:

    Oh please. Universal Hollywood has trashed many of their original sets and props. Per a few local friends I know, the Psycho house IS NOT the original as they demolished it years ago. I’d they are saying the one standing today is the original they are lying.

  2. Well, they SWORE they were putting the stage and all the buildings in storage- now where the hell is it? Penny counting hacks destroyed a 90 year old legend of Hollywood, didn’t actually MAKE any money- and now we cannot find the sets??????

  3. This is what happens when you let accounting hacks manage the business.

  4. jose says:

    maybe its been removed from a different park because in california. Sound stage 28 is on the backlot and still in place as well as the set. While transformers is in the lower lot and harry potter is being made on the upper lot both far from soundstage 28.

  5. jose says:

    They didnt take it down or do anything to it and as far as transformers goes. They used the same sound stage from backdraft. Soundstage 28 is still up as well as the phantom from the opera set. I was just there last month for grinchmas. Get it together people.

  6. Charlene M. Johnson says:

    Sound stage 28 is long gone and with it a huge chunk of Hollywood history. Comcast and it’s crusade for the mighty dollar wears a cloak of shame.

  7. LaemmleLand says:

    Variety, thank you so much for covering the removal of Soundstage 28. We are current tour guides; on behalf of our coworkers, we are extremely disappointed in the way the company has handled these situations. Despite this article and others, we were banned from mentioning Stage 28 or any of its productions even before demolition began. Now as the remnants of the building sit in a heap, we feel compelled to pay it the deserved tribute that the company did not give.

    We would like your help in encouraging visitors, especially annual pass holders, to bring black roses (preferably) and throw them as the tram passes by the site. Even if the participation is low, hopefully the message will be received. Our anonymity is obviously important, therefore we are looking for as much support of this underground movement as we can get. Please friend us on Facebook and retweet us on Twitter.

    “If I am the Phantom, it is because man’s hatred has made me so… If I shall be saved, it will be because your love redeems me.”

    https://twitter.com/LaemmleLand

    On Facebook as Laemmle Land

    LaemmleLand@yahoo.com

  8. Michael F. Blake says:

    Does anyone find it ironic that next March marks the 100th anniversary of the Universal studio lot & they are tearing down what is its most famous stage?? Nothing like preserving history.

  9. Geraldine R. says:

    I think it’s tragic that Universal’s current decision makers don’t realize what an asset they have with The Phantom Stage, even if they are aware of its historical significance to both the film industry in California and American film. Stage 28 is a national treasure. It’s irreplaceable.

    It could be a main draw for the studio and park. Instead, they choose to hide it away and keep it in storage, until the occasional VIP tour comes through or the opera box set is needed for a production.

    The history of the site, of the studio lot, is rich. And Stage 28 is one of Universal’s last remaining ties to its early beginnings. The stage and its contents should be cherished, celebrated and looked upon in awe. Instead, on the 84th anniversary of the passing of one of Universal and the film industry’s greatest performers and pioneers, the Phantom of the Opera himself, Lon Chaney, Sr., the studio releases a memo urging the stage’s destruction and the removal of its contents.

    And for what? A ride???

    The Transformer attractions cost $100 million a piece to build, and there is one already in the old “Backdraft” stage (which also made noise), right next to Stage 28. There are also two other Transformer attractions in other parks. Along with the new Transformer attraction that Universal is considering installing, that is a total of $400 million, which will probably be closer to half a billion, by the time they get done.

    Yet, restoring and/or soundproofing Stage 28 is considered by Universal to be cost-prohibitive?

    Asbestos, my a**.

    Stage 28 could easily be converted into a show building: a walk-through attraction, museum or hands-on exhibit/demonstration area on one side, and the Paris Opera House set on the other. The false floor built by Universal that is there now, and is the stage’s only true weak area, could be replaced with one of more stable construction. And all could be cleared out for use of it again as a working stage.

    But sadly, Universal seems to be run now by carnies in suits who just want to build more rides. They don’ t see the value in history nor feel the magic of being in the presence of greatness on the very spot where it took place.

    It’s heartbreaking to the rest of us who realize what they don’t — what they haven’t for years.

    I will take one Stage 28 to 1,000 Transformer attractions, any day. And I am far from alone.

    I hope Universal wakes up, before it’s too late.

  10. Steve Lindsey says:

    Asbestos inside? Come on. They got to do better than that.

    Black mold. Deadly black mold.

    Works every time.

    Worked for taking down much of New Orleans after Katrina.

    It will work here too.

    Nothing works like black mold.

  11. Asbestos inside? How was Universal allowed to film there and expose everyone to that? Same for the public and the VIP tour?

    • Escott O. Norton says:

      There is asbestos in many buildings. As long as it is not moved, or it has been “encapsulated”, it is not a hazard to the public. The danger is when it is moved and particles get into the air. That is why the process of demolition and asbestos removal must be done very carefully.

      • tommy says:

        I hate Harry Potter,it sucks .c’mon Universal u have plenty of money so save the stage and leave it where it is screw transformers Harry potter crap.

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