Lot’s plot thickens

Sony's Culver Studios off market; redo set

Sony is pulling Culver Studios off the market and giving the historic annex to its storied main lot a mini-makeover.

Move follows a more-than-yearlong search to find a buyer for the stately colonial-style facility, spread over 17 acres just east of the main Sony Pictures Entertainment lot in Culver City. For the past few months, an unspecified buyer had been trying to shore up financing to no avail.

“The people who were pursuing the deal weren’t able to structure a deal we were comfortable with or found acceptable,” said studio operations prexy Gary Martin.

Sony had been in exclusive negotiations with unspecified financial investors, but officials declined to name the party.

Culver Studios — valued at $80 million-$90 million when SPE began shopping the facility — features 14 soundstages devoted largely to network and syndicated TV production. Two of the stages allow studio-participation formats.

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Lot looks more like a Virginia plantation than a California film studio, but classic movies lensed there include “King Kong,” “Gone With the Wind,” “Citizen Kane” and “Raging Bull.” More recently, Paramount filmed its “What Women Want” at Culver, and Sony produced parts of both its “Stuart Little” movies there.

Culver Studios was built in 1919 by film pioneer Thomas Ince and later was used by moguls Cecil B. DeMille and David O. Selznick. In the 1950s, Culver was home to several Desilu skeins, then got a facelift in the late 1980s under Grant Tinker’s GTG Entertainment.

Sony bought the property a couple years after its 1989 move into the main lot, formerly the longtime home of MGM. Combined lore of the properties and their present-day film and TV productions have prompted the host municipality to begin billing itself as Culver City — the Heart of Screenland.

Sony listed the Culver lot with real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield in March 2002. At the time, Sony was scrutinizing its entire physical plant for ways of eking out new cost efficiencies and even briefly considered selling its main lot at one point.

Martin said he’s always been fond of Culver and slogged through the difficult sales process a bit grudgingly. “Finally, I thought, Let’s bring it back into the family here and make it really something special,” he said.

Culver has elaborate fiber-optics links to Sony’s main lot, and up to 60% of its capacity will continue to be used for Sony projects, he estimated. But Martin said he also aims to rejigger some of the office space to make it “more user-friendly” for the rental market.

“One or two stages are currently unoccupied,” said Martin, “but bookings go through the end of the year.”

No cosmetic sprucing up is envisioned. “It’s in pretty good shape the way it is,” Martin said. “This is more of a functional change.”

“I’m elated we have the studio back,” he said. “I think it’s one of the best studios on the Westside.”