An In-Depth History of the Backlots At the Columbia Ranch Where ‘Bewitched’ ‘The Partridge Family’ & More Were Filmed
With the recent news that some of TV’s most beloved homes at the Columbia Ranch backlots are being demolished, we thought we’d dig in a little deeper to the backstory of the historic lot. We reached out to the “unofficial” Columbia Ranch Facebook page and website, which is ran by Mischa Hof.
When asked how he became so passionate about the subject, he said, “Having been a television sleuth since childhood, and catching many of them in early reruns, the passion for shows and to know how television was made has always been a major part of my life. Starting with shows like Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Gidget and The Partridge Family, I grew curious as to where this street, which seems to be in every one of them, was located.”
Discovering they were not in places like Cocoa Beach, Florida, or Westport, Connecticut, but instead on a tiny little lot that Columbia Pictures owned in Burbank, California, his quest began. Being that it was pre-internet when his adventure started, the only source material he had was his favorite show, Bewitched.
“Bewitched was my favorite show and I created one of the few first websites about the show and everything to do with it,” Mischa said. “Of course, that also meant that it included where the Stephens’ house really was located and the street it was on. That, in turn, led to include the Partridge house, as it was where the Kravitzes lived on Bewitched. Next door to the Stephenses was Danger O’Riley’s house, which is also where Gidget lived, as well as where Hazel served the Baxters! It did not stop there, and soon I felt the need to create a website solely for the ranch itself.”
And down the rabbit hole he continued. Here is what he told us about the history of the ranch:
The original 40 acres that became the Columbia Ranch, currently known as Warner Bros. Ranch Facilities, was not purchased until 1934 by Harry Cohn, founder and president of Columbia Picture Studios. Columbia was established in New York back in 1919, and then called CBC (Cohn-Brandt-Cohn). The studio did not move to Los Angeles until 1924, where it became Columbia Pictures Corporation. It was housed at the corner of Sunset and Gower in downtown L.A. Being a small studio, it did not have its own outdoor facilities to film, and thus had to rent from other studios. Not until 1935 did it have its own backlot, the ranch, where it began filming its serials and movies. Modern Street, New York Street and a small portion of what would become Blondie Street were developed early on in 1936. This was followed by Western Street and Brownstone Street later that year.
Over the decades, many structures and facades were added, with some of them being the most famous views of screen and television. Hazel, Gidget, Donna Reed, Samantha Stephens, Jeannie, the Partridges and the Monkees resided there. Even Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand, Humphrey Bogart, Grace Kelly and Marlon Brando walked the dirt paths and pavement!
In the late 1960s, the ranch was bustling with productions. Everything from Bewitched to Here Come the Brides to Funny Girl and Head was being filmed. Every facade was being used. The ranch became part of the merger between WB and Columbia in 1971, becoming Burbank Studios. Although productions continued, they slowly tapered off as most of them were being shifted to WB’s main lot.
Coincidentally, the ranch also suffered four major fires in this decade, the first and last destroying over half the lot. Although the first fire’s destruction took nearly all of the Western Street sets, they were quickly rebuilt, albeit with slight alterations. The last fire, causing nearly eight acres to be destroyed, did not receive the same good fate. Gone were New York Street, Brownstone, Modern, Tenement/Skid Row and Boston Streets. All of them had been there since pretty much the beginning.
The ranch underwent several changes and lost quite a few well-known structures throughout. One of the largest standing facades, the oldest at the time, the Deeds Mansion, was demolished in 1989, with the Western Streets being bulldozed in 1993. One of the main features that made it through the decades was the park and its fountain. Although it had been through a few incarnations, the basin of the fountain was put in place in 1935 and remained there until WB uprooted it and moved it to its main lot back in 2019. It can be seen as early as The Three Stooges shorts from 1935, all the way through Bewitched, Wonder Woman, Life Goes On, Hocus Pocus, The Middle and, yes, Friends! That’s 89 years!
In 2018, it became known that WB made a deal with the Worthe Real Estate Group, who purchased the ranch in trade for WB’s occupancy of the two new office buildings being constructed adjacent to WB’s main lot. The ranch, now owned by Worthe, will demolish the entire remaining 32 acres to construct several new soundstages and production offices. With no need for any existing facades or structures, the most famous homes (some of which have survived for nearly 90 years) through the ’50s, ’60s and all the way up to recent years (The Middle‘s Heck residence and Young Sheldon‘s Cooper house) will be no longer!
There is a ton more history and background on both his website and Facebook page so be sure to check it out!
Mischa Hof, originally from the Netherlands, came to the U.S. at the age of 16. His passion for behind-the-scenes television and film started at a very young age and has not stopped since. He has been researching the history of the former Columbia Ranch since the ’90s and maintains the website www.columbiaranch.net and its Facebook page of the same name. He has lent, aided and facilitated with his knowledge several books, including Steven Bingen’s Warner Bros.: Hollywood’s Ultimate Backlot and Jim Pauley’s The Three Stooges: Hollywood Filming Locations.
All photos unless noted courtesy of www.columbiaranch.net.