A major studio has announced plans to greatly increase its footprint – er, Mouseprint – in Santa Clarita’s entertainment industry.
Disney/ABC is planning to build a dozen sound stages and several auxiliary production facilities on its Golden Oak Ranch property in Placerita Canyon, a move that will bring thousands of jobs into the area both during the construction phase and once production commences in the new studios.
As news of Disney’s plans spread, congratulations began pouring in, including a note from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a politician with more than a passing familiarity with the entertainment industry.
“I want to thank Disney for their continued long-term commitment to California’s motion picture and television production industry and congratulate them on this outstanding news. This move will create quality jobs and a great deal of direct economic activity – all right here in California – the best place in the world to shoot films and television.”
The new development, which is right outside the city limits, is a cause for optimism from county officials as well.
“The land-use application filed by Disney to expand the Golden Oak Ranch in the unincorporated Santa Clarita Valley is a positive proposal for Los Angeles County that re-affirms the entertainment industry’s commitment to retaining filming in the County,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich. “The proposed expansion will be a significant economic boost for the Santa Clarita Valley. Although the County must review and analyze Disney’s application, it is encouraging that one of the world’s largest and most successful entertainment companies is making this commitment to film here in Los Angeles County.”
“It’s more than just about the people in the city,” said Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Pulskamp. “What it does is there are hundreds and hundreds of people virtually every day that leave the Santa Clarita Valley to work in the film industry in other parts of Southern California and for them to be able to have more of them work in the Santa Clarita Valley is a great improvement in the quality of their life.
“Instead of having to spend three hours a day on the freeway, they can spend that time with their families,” he continued. “And it keeps people off the roads, which helps with congestion. And it means more of those dollars spent on production get spent on businesses here in the Santa Clarita Valley.”
Executives at Disney/ABC said they hope to start construction in about two years, but acknowledge that the planning and approval process can take awhile.
“We’re at a very, very early stage, filing the initial applications today, that starts off a very long review process with the County,” said Richard Ballering, Executive Director of Production for ABC Studios. “The review process is hard to pin down an exact time, but it’s probably at least a two year process if everything goes absolutely perfect.”
Ballering said that residents in the area have begun receiving information from Disney/ABC about the development and so far, the feedback has been positive.
“We’ve begun an outreach to the surrounding communities, calling the homeowners associations and reaching out to neighbors directly to start informing them about the project and starting a dialog on any questions they might have on it,” he said. “We plan to continue that throughout our process with the county, engaging the local residents and making sure they fully understand what we’re doing and answering any questions they might have.”
The project also includes a new entrance for the project area that will take traffic straight off the 14 freeway into the new development so that trucks never have to use Placerita Canyon Road.
“The main entrance for the proposed development is actually going to be immediately adjacent to the (Placerita Canyon Road) offramp, you will come off the freeway and immeditatly enter the site, keeping as much truck and car traffic off the local roads as possible.
“Once they’re on the site of the new development, there will be access from there to all parts of the ranch, so that when we’re taking advantage of the synergy between the indoor and outdoor production, everyone will be able to stay on campus and there will be no need to go out onto the local roads to get to other parts of the ranch.”
It’s easy to assume that Disney/ABC chose the Ranch expansion because it was a property they already owned, but Ballering said it was much more than that.
“It’s really because of the unique array of creative opportunities that that property provides,” he said. “It is a property that Disney has owned for 50 years and has used as a movie ranch for 50 years but the exciting thing is being able to co-locate the efficiencies of sound stages next to that 195 acres of movie ranch and really take advantage of a new cost model for production.”
“We’ve been working with them for more than a year,” said Jason Crawford, Economic Development Manager for the City of Santa Clarita. “This is an amazing thing for us, it’s the biggest project for this area that I’ve ever seen as far as having a direct impact on the economy and jobs. This project, for both the community and the film industry, is huge for us.”
The project, entitled Disney/ABC Studios At The Ranch, is in the beginning of the planning process with the County of Los Angeles. Input from the public will be sought and environmental impact reports remain to be completed.
According to the website studiosattheranch.com, the plans include the aforementioned soundstages, administrative and production offices, talent bungalows, production shops and storage (for sets, props and costumes), support facilities and a commissary.
The sound stages are planned on a 56-acre parcel of the ranch immediately adjacent to the 14 freeway, most of it cleared by Caltrans when the freeway was built in the 1970s. The studio estimates that construction of the product will create 3,152 jobs and at full operations, will employ 2,854 people and drive $533 million in annual economic activity throughout the County.
According to business websites, the Walt Disney Company is the world’s #2 media conglomerate (behind Time Warner) with assets encompassing movies, music, publishing, television, and theme parks. Its TV holdings include the ABC television network and 10 broadcast stations, as well as cable networks including ABC Family, Lifetime Entertainment (50%-owned), and ESPN (80%). Walt Disney Studios produces films through such imprints as Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone, Pixar, and Miramax. In addition, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts is one of the top theme park operators in the world, anchored by its popular Walt Disney World and Disneyland resorts.
Historically, Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch has been a fixture in the community since 1959, when Walt bought the old Placeritos Ranch, a film location established by filmmaker Trem Carr in 1922. Carr’s set designer, Ernie Hickson, started a collection of old Western buildings that Carr used for his movies, but when the money ran out in the 1930s, Hickson moved most of the buildings up Placerita Canyon to establish the Monogram Ranch that evolved into Melody Ranch.
Disney’s interest in the property was piqued in the early 1950s when he leased portions of it for the “Spin and Marty” segments of the popular “Mickey Mouse Club” TV show. He bought 315 acres of the ranch for $300,000 in 1959 and more than doubled the ranch size in the next few years to 700 acres.
When the Antelope Valley freeway was being designed in the 1970s, initial plans showed the freeway running right through the ranch. Disney prevailed upon state officials and convinced them to put the freeway behind a mountain, which provided a natural barrier to noise and visibility, something that has become one of the ranch’s best selling points to location managers.
Some of the permanent sets and features of the ranch are a Western town built for the miniseries “Roots II,” a covered bridge over a man-made lake featured in “Little House On the Prairie,” a colonial set used in “The North and The South” and a running waterfall.
Near a church building is an oak tree from which the ranch gets its name. In 1842, farmer Francisco Lopez pulled up some onions near the roots of an oak tree, finding gold flakes clinging to the roots. His discovery was the first of the precious metal in the state, pre-dating John Sutter’s find near Sacramento by seven years. Legend has it that the tree on the Disney Ranch is the one under which Lopez was resting, rather than the tree marked by state and county officials located a stone’s throw away in Placerita Canyon County Park.