I think of them as a national landmark. If you could name eight wonders of the movie world, they certainly would comprise one of them.
They’re the beautiful, surprisingly romantic classical colonnades stretching down Washington Boulevard in downtown Culver City, California.
The Colonnades and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
For nearly 100 years, the colonnades have been the very representation of moviemaking mystique, right up there in significance with the Hollywood sign.
And for more than 60 of those years, the Greco-Roman columns comprised the grand studio facade of, and main entrance to, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Those are the colonnades you see in the freeze above. Once you roll the video, the columns turn up at 2:34 (or 00:11:24 on the clip’s burned-in time code). This film dates to 1925, when the recently-formed MGM had just purchased the property and opened its doors.
Movie Pioneer Thomas Ince: Father of the Colonnades
However, the colonnades actually date to 1916. They were built by moviemaker Thomas Ince, whose Triangle Pictures opened the studio property that later would be MGM. Triangle was Ince’s partnership with a couple of guys named Griffith and Sennett.
(Thomas Ince often is credited with devising many of the factory-style production techniques later adopted by the larger American motion picture industry. He died under suspicious circumstances aboard William Randolph Hearst’s yacht. Speculation continues today as to the cause of his demise at age 42.)
I live less than a mile from the colonnades, which still stand proudly today, nearly 100 years later, on that otherwise anonymous, drab stretch of road. Just seeing them as I drive past makes my movie-driven heart skip a beat.
Sony: Corporate Savior of the Colonnades
The legendary MGM sign (and accompanying picture of Leo the Lion) came down from atop a soundstage in 1986. That’s when the fabled lot became known as Lorimar Pictures, best known for TV’s Dallas. In 1990, Sony Pictures bought the property, moving in its own Columbia Pictures unit as a roommate.
To Sony’s credit, the Japanese conglomerate has been beyond respectful of the property. Sony has spent millions preserving and upgrading the facility. And Sony has shown particular reverence for the colonnades, restoring the wrought iron gates at the east end, along with the columns themselves and adjoining structure stretching westward down Washington.
Surprisingly, the magnificent colonnades look exactly as they did in 1915. Or maybe better. While they always appeared kind of grimy in old newsreels and stills, Sony now paints them regularly; they gleam in the morning sunlight over a now sadly-overbuilt Culver City.
In a world where tsunamis erase whole communities in moments — and places like L.A., where buildings over 10 years old are routinely subject to the wrecking ball — it’s reassuring to see my majestic columns, representing nearly a century of moviemaking, standing tall.