By Alice Allen
Many people have heard the story of how the De Mille Barn was moved from its original location at Selma and Vine, to the studio complex on Marathon Street. But few people know that this move was nothing compared to the move from the Lasky Ranch to Paramount Ranch. Newspaper accounts of the day tell the story in rich prose, but first, a little background is necessary.
In 1916, Jesse Lasky, of the famous Players-Lasky Corporation, and Carl Laemmle of Universal Pictures, co-leased 1,000 acres of land just west of Griffith Park. At first, the site was dubbed the Universal Ranch, possibly because of its proximity to Laemmle's Universal studio. Over the years, the site became better known as the Lasky Ranch. The investment of $1.5 million in infrastructure on the ranch by the Famous Players-Lasky Company may have influenced the its designation.
Even with the availability of the co-leased land in Burbank, Famous Players-Lasky sometimes used other sites for some of their movies. One site was a tract of 1,500 acres on West Roscoe Boulevard in Canoga Park, and the other was an even larger tract west of Calabasas.
Famous Players continued to grow. By 1927, the company was known as Paramount Famous Lasky Corporation, and had moved into the production complex on Marathon Street in Hollywood. Paramount Land Corporation opened negotiations for purchase of the open land west of Calabasas. The deal was completed on July 22, 1927 and 2,461 acres were purchased for $412,000. For a few months, development of the new production facility at the ranch progressed quietly. Then in November, Paramount and the Los Angeles Times enthusiastically let the public know what was happening. In the Paramount Studio News, Paramount's employee newsletter, the new ranch was described as "the largest single piece of property held by any motion picture company," and the Times dubbed it a suitable "companion for the twenty-six acre plant of enclosed stages and multi-storied wardrobe and technical buildings that is in the very heart of Hollywood." The Times continued:
Just as [Paramount] is recognized as one of the most modern motion picture production plants in the world, so with the new ranch be classified according to plans announced by Paramount officials. An improvement program that means the expenditure of $ 1 million is now under way at the newly acquired acreage.
The Studio News elaborated on the development:
Little has been said or announced concerning the new ranch, but its development for film purposes has been going ahead quietly for the past several months Construction of permanent buildings has been under way ever since Paramount secured title to the property. There are now ten permanent structures on the ranch and a permanent bridge has been built over Medla [sic] Creek. The buildings completed include the ranch departments, pump house, and sawmill, and there are several large corrals, in addition to two 20,000 gallon water tanks, supplied from wells which Paramount has developed and the plans are now being drawn, with work on the street scheduled to begin as soon as the plans are ready.
The buildings being constructed on the ranch were only part of the story. As the Times announced on November 20, 1927:
"Paramount Famous Lasky is on the move. The old Lasky ranch, as it is known, leaves a heritage of history and romance. Great and brilliant stars of yesterday traipsed its distances in their business of making screen entertainment for the world. Bill Hart rode his way to fame over the crest of its hills. Wallace Reid cycloned down its dusty roads in those unforgettable comedies of mad motoring. Excuse My Dust, The World's Champion, Too Much Speed and many others that made him beloved to audiences the globe around. It was on the old Lasky ranch that William Desmond Taylor directed parts of Huckleberry Finn, Jennie Be Good, Anne of Green Paramount Ranch History Gables and others of the fourteen pictures he made during his creative career.
With one gesture a 1,000 acre ranch is being abandoned and a new area, nearly three times as large, is being fitted out to take its place. For all the old exterior settings which were practicable are being moved the thirty miles along the Ventura Highway. It is a huge undertaking. This wholesale shifting of settings, and a colorful one, full of romance. Some of the greatest pictures that Paramount has made came to being as the cameras ground footage of these expatriated splendors."
A brief passage from the Times offers an insight into the detail and serviceability of movie sets:
One of the largest of the settings that soon will find itself in unfamiliar territory is composed of the French farmhouse, barns and sheds that were used for the filming of Pola Negri's Barbed Wire. Changed here and there as needs develop it will be used again and again. Paramount's famous Western street is benefiting by the change. In its next edition it will be a proud array of saloons, hotels, blacksmith shops, assay offices and clap-board homes. Here cowboys will shoot and . . . swear beyond all limits of the law, but not to exceed the limits as megaphoned by an anxious-eyed director.
Movie ranch residents also moved to the new Paramount Ranch, according to the Times:
Some of the finest cattle ponies in the West already have become accustomed to their new quarters in a modern stable and corral. That beautiful beast, Flash, reigns asking of swift hoofs that carries Gary Cooper, Land Chandler, and Jack Lunden, Paramount's western stars, through the Zane Grey stories. Flash's new kingdom embraces a diversity of subjects. Bison, oxen, a camel or two, goats, sheep, and even Roscoe, a trained privileged hog, are in their new home. Bozo, the high-school goose that piled up laughs in You Never Know Women is also there.
Paramount invited its employees to see its new home. "The ranch is an impressive place and should be seen to be appreciated. The only way to actually cover it at the present time is on horseback, although a considerable portion of the new roads planned has already been completed. Drive out there some time soon. It's worth it.