Monday, November 10, 2014

The (Real) Home of Comfort TV

 
There is a fantasy shared by many of us who love Comfort TV, and that is the prospect of visiting the fictional worlds created in classic shows. What would it be like to attend one of those martini-drenched cocktail parties hosted by Sam and Darren Stephens? Or listen to the Partridge Family rehearse in their garage? Or to see snow falling over Major Nelson’s house in July, and realize that Jeannie is at it again? 

Impossible, of course. But there is a place that would bring one closer to realizing this dream than any other in our mundane real world. It’s in Burbank, California, on a section of the Warner Bros. Ranch known as Blondie Street. If classic TV has a home, this is it.

At first glance it looks like any other gently-curving street you would find in suburban cities throughout the United States – single family homes with attached garages and neatly-manicured lawns out front, some with a white picket fence surrounding the property.

But if you know your classic TV shows, it won’t be long before every house on the block begins to look familiar. Start with the Blondie home, built for use in a series of 1940s films based on the long-running comic strip. For TV fans, however, it is famous as the home of the Andersons in Father Knows Best, as well as the home of Major Nelson on I Dream of Jeannie



This is also where you’ll find the homes used on Hazel and Gidget, and the Oliver house that was home to both the Stones on The Donna Reed Show and the Mitchells on Dennis the Menace. Next door to the Blondie home is the Partridge Family home  – note the driveway on the right where the iconic bus was often parked. 



At the end of the street is the Higgins house, most famously used as the Stephens residence on Bewitched



There is a park on the other side of the street, which has appeared in all of the above shows and hundreds more. Its most famous feature is a circular, white stone fountain that should also be familiar to every TV fan. It was prominently featured in the opening credits of Friends
, but sharp-eyed viewers can spot it in dozens of other shows, from The Waltons to The Monkees.



If you want to know the full history of the Warner Bros. Ranch, there is an excellent website that details every aspect of the property, from its initial construction to the movies and television shows filmed there. Mischa Hof, with whom I’ve exchanged a number of emails over the past 10 years, created the site. It’s a labor of love for him, and I can’t imagine how much time and money he’s devoted to research and interviews that celebrate its pop culture heritage.

A few months ago I received an email from a woman named Janet who works on the Blondie Street part of the property. She asked if I would be willing to write a blog on the site and on Mischa’s work.

I immediately accepted, having wanted to visit the place for years. I’ve walked the perimeter of the property during more than one trip to Los Angeles (there’s a pretty good pizza place across the street), and peeked through the chain-link fence where you can glimpse some of the houses. 

Unfortunately, just two weeks after Janet extended the invitation, she was laid off after 10 years on the job.

I didn’t know much about Janet then –  I have since learned that she was much loved by her coworkers and those fortunate enough to tour the lot in her presence. 

It’s important that those who work in special places have an appreciation for their history, and for what they mean to people. This should be true whether it’s a metropolitan art museum, a Broadway theater, a venerable old sports arena, or Blondie Street. 



Janet got that. At the time of her dismissal she was working with Mischa on a “Friends of the Ranch” program that would have opened the street to visitors for the first time in its history. Now, that probably will not happen.

I’ll get there one day. I have a few somebodys who know somebodys who will be able to set something up. And as Blondie Street is still a valued part of the studio (you’ll also see it in more recent series like The Middle), I do not fear for its future. But it is without a caretaker now, and that concerns me.

There’s a reason we bestow landmark status on exceptional places. It elevates them above mere property controlled by a corporation, and protects them against the whims of the bureaucrat, the robber baron and the unenlightened. Blondie Street is a place to walk in the footsteps of television’s most beloved characters. It has the ability to reconnect adults with the blissful days of their childhoods.

Perhaps that’s not sufficient for the kind of safekeeping afforded to the Ryman Auditorium or the Old North Church. But if the home of Millard Fillmore can make the cut, so can the home of Samantha Stephens. 

5 comments:

  1. Perhaps I was just naive but I didn't realise those houses were just sets. I just assumed they used real houses for the exteriors (which is often the case for shows made in Australia. Budgets rarely extend to the luxury of custom-made house exteriors)

    Would love to go and see the Bewitched house. Is the Kravitz house across the street?? :)

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  2. That does happen here as well - shows from The Brady Bunch to Mork and Mindy to Family all used actual homes, which is a mixed blessing for their current owners.

    The Kravitz house is also the Partridge Family house so yes, it's in the same neighborhood just a few doors down!

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    1. Our longest running TV soap, Neighbours, is about to hit its 30th anniversary. The owners of the real-life houses used as the exteriors for production were told when the show started that it might run a couple of years at best (given the then track record for Aussie dramas). Nobody predicted that the show would become a hit in 60 countries (most notably the UK) and be still running 30 years later. But apparently the home owners get paid handsomely (though a figure has never been made public) for the inconvenience of having production crews, security staff and English tourists lurking outside their houses every week... and not be able to do any external changes to their houses without consulting producers for fear of disrupting continuity!

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  3. The Beverly Hillbillies mansion became so popular with tourists the owners refused to lease it for use in later seasons.

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    1. Many years after production ceased, and the show was cancelled, the Beverly Hillbillies mansion was purchased. The new owners had the structure leveled to the ground, and a new, more modern mansion was built in its place.

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