Radford Studio Center in Studio City is an unassuming location, tucked away on Ventura Boulevard surrounded by a few small motels and strip malls on one side and a quiet residential neighborhood on the other.
Yet for nearly 100 years this 55-acre backlot (which gave Studio City its name), has housed some of the most storied soundstages in Southern California. These studios and outdoor sets are where iconic shows from Seinfeld and Big Brother to Gunsmoke and Leave It To Beaver were filmed.
Now, with new owners and a recently announced $1 billion overhaul, IBEW 40’s brothers and sisters are beginning to lay the foundation for a historic renovation that will transform Radford into a state-of-the art production facility.
“Hackman Capital Partners are the same property owners that are doing Television City along Fairfax,” IBEW 40 Business Manager Stephan Davis said. “These are both historical projects for the Local. It’s going to mean thousands of construction jobs just on the buildout and then, obviously, it’ll mean increased jobs once the facility is complete. So, it’s going to create great work opportunities for our members.”
One of the major questions for Local 40 when Radford Studios was bought by Hackman Partners in late 2021 was whether it would remain a union signatory.
“That was one of the interesting things that was a little uncertain when [previous owner] Viacom CBS was selling the campus,” Davis said. “CBS had been a signatory with the Local for decades. We weren’t sure if the new owners were going to continue to employ our folks, and whether it would stay union.”
Hackman Partners did, in fact, recognize the long history of work performed by Local 40 there and agreed to continue Radford as a signatory. “So, they didn’t miss a beat,” Davis said.
Radford’s $1 billion upgrade and expansion announcement was made in February, 2023 so plans are just beginning to take shape.
“They’re still in the entitlements phase so it’s just conceptual, grand plans,” said Jorden Andersen, Local 40’s senior director of mechanical and electrical services. Radford will be operational throughout the overhaul, which means the renovation will roll out in phases over several years.
“If I’m lucky enough to stay here for the course of the renovation, I would be happy – just to see that my work is what helped to make this renovation look nice,” said Local 40 first-year apprentice Marcos Oropeza.
Joe Mendoza, who recently became a journeyman, said the lot overhaul is long overdue.
As he replaces an HVAC system in one of the studio’s office buildings, (noting the AC unit is older than he is), Mendoza said much of the studio was patched together over the years – a makeshift addition here, a temporary structure now decades old there.
“It makes things more complicated because it’s a lot of Band-Aids, but we get it to work,” Mendoza said.
Much of the overhaul will be an update of the sound stages.
Scott DiGiuseppe, Local 40 electrical foreman, said that Disney wanted to shoot The Mandalorian at Radford, but their electrical needs were too great for its aging system to handle.
“They build a whole backdrop wall where it’s all LEDs, and it requires a massive amount of power to the stage,” DiGiuseppe said.
If Radford wants to attract new productions, it needs to keep up with new technology and the power demands they generate.
That urgency can occasionally lead to some appropriately sitcom-level moments.
“We had a producer who had in her contract that she needs an EV charger for her car on the lot,” DiGiuseppe said. When he asked management when the producer was starting he was told, “Tomorrow.” DiGiuseppe immediately installed a charging station he had couriered in from Redlands that evening and installed at the producer’s parking spot the next morning. “When she pulled in, she told me, ‘Oh, I actually sold that car a while ago.’”
By Oren Peleg