There’s a little known corner of the Disney empire located in the Los Feliz district of Los Angeles called Prospect Studios. It’s been around in one fashion or another since 1915, figuring prominently into entertainment history. But ask most people around L.A. about Prospect and you’re likely to be greeted with a blank stare.
Prospect Studios, located at the corner of Prospect and Talmadge Streets east of Hollywood, began life as Vitagraph Studios in 1915. One of the first actors to work on the lot was Stan Laurel long before pairing up with Oliver Hardy. Dozens of silents were cranked out here during its first decade after which it was acquired by an upstart company called Warner Bros. At the time, WB was a second-tier producer working out of Hollywood’s “poverty row”. In 1925, they took their biggest gamble to date in acquiring Vitagraph. The purchase gave them the lot here at 4151 Prospect Avenue and another in Brooklyn.
The Warners soon gambled again, this time on sound, with the release of 1927’s The Jazz Singer. The studio used their Vitaphone sound process for their early talkies, which capitalized on the Vitagraph name.
The old Vitagraph lot was renamed The Warner East Hollywood Annex and was used for many years to stage some of WB’s bigger films, like The Public Enemy (1931), Gold Diggers of 1933 (1933), and Captain Blood (1935). It was also here where the ill-fated 1928 epic Noah’s Ark was filmed. The climactic flood scene in that movie actually drowned three extras! (Reportedly, John Wayne and Andy Devine were two of the lucky extras that survived that day.)
WB sold the property to ABC in 1948 and it was renamed the ABC Television Center. For decades it served as the west coast headquarters for the network. It became the Prospect Studios in the mid-90s when Disney acquired ABC and moved most of the network’s operations to Burbank. For decades it has been the home of several long-running game shows, soap operas, dramas, and sitcoms. Today, Prospect houses several shows, including General Hospital and Grey’s Anatomy.
Incidentally, if you still want to see a visible link to the Vitagraph days, go to East 15th Street and Locust Avenue in Brooklyn’s Midwood section to the site of the old east coast lot. The name “Vitagraph” still graces a smokestack there.
To learn more about the early days of Hollywood and Warner Bros., check out my new book Early Warner Bros. Studios, which I co-wrote with noted Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker.