CBS Television City recommended for historic-cultural monument status by a Los Angeles commission

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The Los Angeles City Cultural Heritage Commission reviewed an application that was filed by the nonprofit Los Angeles Conservancy last year amid reports that the sprawling complex may be put up for sale by CBS. Adrian Scott Fine, director of advocacy for the conservancy, told the commission that the organization wanted to amend the application, which CBS had deemed too “broad” and harmful of the facility’s ability to be a functional TV studio. Instead, the proposed designation would be limited mostly to the exterior of the main building in an effort to allow the site the flexibility it needs to be a working, active entertainment studio.
The sprawling 25-acre facility was originally opened in 1952, but has had many secondary buildings constructed over the years among its three parcels, along with the interiors having been significantly altered as 166 different television shows have been filmed there over the decades, according to CBS.
Amy Forbes of the law firm Gibson Dunn, which is representing CBS, told the commission that CBS was concerned that a historical designation for the entire facility, including the interiors, would limit its ability to be a working studio that needs to constantly remodel to meet the needs of new productions and the latest technology. “That ability to continually respond to market conditions is one of the main drivers in making this nomination workable,” Forbes said. “It would be an ironic outcome if the very act of designating it is what makes this building no longer functional and drives it to a different use ultimately.” Both CBS and the Los Angeles Conservancy reported they had negotiated an amended application which limited the designation, and the commission approved the changes on a 5-0 vote. Fine told City News Service that if the City Council approves the designation, any changes to the exterior of the main building would need to go through a review process, any demolition plans would be delayed for a year, and the developers would have to prove that all preservation options had been considered. He also said that because there are three parcels of land at the site, and the designation only protects the main building — which is actually two connected buildings — on one parcel, development of the site could take place while also preserving the main building. “We appreciate the careful discussion on an issue that is important to both CBS and the surrounding community,” a CBS spokesman said in an email after the vote. “The unified nomination with the conservancy recognizes the cultural and historical significance of the building, while preserving our ability to operate CBS Television City as a modern television production facility. This is a very good outcome.”

The Los Angeles Times reported in 2017 that real estate developers have been eyeing the complex, which could fetch an estimated $500 million to $900 million. CBS said in a letter to the commission that “there is no pending project at the property.” But Fine told CNS that “In terms of our conversations, we aren’t sure what they’re doing, in terms of whether they sell or not.” The monument application must first pass the City Council’s Planning and Land Use Management Committee before coming for a vote before the full City Council.Former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has voiced support for preserving the facility, which has been home for many iconic shows, including “The Jack Benny Program,” “The Carol Burnett Show,” “All in the Family” and “The Price Is Right.” “Los Angeles should not let developers turn the historic studio complex into a mini Century City,” Yaroslavsky wrote in an op-ed in The Times.
The staff of the Cultural Heritage Commission has recommended that the site be named a monument for several reasons, including the fact that it’s a notable work of master architects William Pereira and Charles Luckman. Staff also found the site noteworthy for its numerous connections to important historical figures, its association with the television industry and its significant role in the economic development of Los Angeles.
Broadcasting pioneer William S. Paley built Television City as the first large-scale facility designed specifically for television production. CBS has moved most of its operations to the CBS Studio Center in Studio City and is now more of a landlord at Television City, renting out most of the available studios to non-CBS shows such as HBO’s “Real Tim With Bill Maher” and ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.” Some programs that air on CBS still shoot there, including “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful,” but only one program owned by CBS, “The Late, Late Show With James Corden,” shoots at Television City, which could be part of the network’s motivation to consider a sale, according to The Times.

By CRAIG CLOUGH City News Service

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