Universal Studios Hollywood: Movies, Monsters and Banana Breath
by, 05-25-2011 at 08:19 PM
I know, I know. . . Disney is the big cheese around here at SAMLAND and the subject of much discussion on MiceChat. But sometimes I need to get out and explore something else. For example, did you know that the Universal Studios tour goes back to 1964? Actually, it has its roots all the way back to 1915 but '64 was the beginning of the theme park that we know today.
Inside the main administration building at Universal Studios Hollywood, there is a terrific display that speaks to the history of the theme park (Disclosure time: I work at USH part-time). Every time I pass by this magic spot I have to stop and soak up a bit more. Another hidden gem for history buffs, and available to the public, is on the Lower Lot and called the Universal Experience (which was once the I Love Lucy tribute). Both the films and the theme park are covered in this little building. You can find it just past Panda Express and to the left. Just aim for the giant Transformers construction zone (a blockbuster attraction coming next year). Last time I was in there it was chilled to the point where you could hang meat. Just the perfect spot to relax for a while on a hot San Fernando Valley day.
So let’s take our seats in a virtual Back to the Future Delorean and zoom through a quick history of Universal Studios Hollywood. The foundation for this timeline is the official line from Universal with a quite a few embellishments from myself.
- 1915: Universal City opens. German immigrant Carl Laemmle decides to incorporate a city that is dedicated to making movies. He invites the public to watch the silent films being made. For a mere 25 cents you could get a seat in the grandstands. Add 5 cents and you can also enjoy a box lunch.
- 1961: The debut of the TramTours. Universal first hires Grey Line buses, but decides to operate the tours themselves. The original idea for the tour came from the Studio Commissary. They felt that they could really get a boost in business if people could tour the back lot and then eat lunch. Not all that different then what Carl Laemmle had going on back in 1915.
- 1964: Universal Studios Hollywood becomes official and begins running the world famous pink and white-striped GlamorTrams. Admission was $2.50 for adults and $1.50 for children. The trams were designed by Harper Goff. Goff was also responsible for large swatches of Disneyland including Adventureland and Main Street as well as the basic concept for the World Showcase at Epcot.
- 1967: The $5 million Entertainment Center opens, as does the first versions of the Animal and Wild West Stunt Shows.
- 1968: The Flash Flood set is added to the Tram Tour. Al Roker’s commentary came much later.
- 1969: The Sheraton Universal opened to accommodate guests in Universal City.
- 1970: The Screen Test Comedy Theater makes it’s first of many appearances. This theater is currently the home to Shrek 4D.
- 1971: The Torpedo Attack and Submarine set added to the Tram tour.
- 1972: The studio tour gains two iconic experiences. The Red Sea will part for the first time and the Collapsing Bridge will tumble and rebuild itself again and again right before your eyes. I can still see the Six Million Dollar Man running across it. The Universal Amphitheatre debuts as an outdoor venue. The first theatrical production is Jesus Christ Superstar.
- 1974: The Runaway Train and the Rockslide are added to the Tram Tour (both sadly gone now).
- 1975: The Ice Tunnel is added to the Studio Tour. It is inspired by the Clint Eastwood movie The Eiger Sanction. This would be the first of many lives for this illusion.
- 1976: The hit movie Jaws was the inspiration for a couple of additions. The Jaws Experience begins terrorizing guests on the Back lot with a 25-foot mechanical shark and the original Bruce the sharks is mounted on the Upper Lot.
- 1977: The Six Million Dollar Man/Bionic Woman Testing Center special effects demo opens in the Lower Lot. Can you lift a car? Of course you can.
- 1979: The Battle of Galactica is introduced to the Studio Tour. Your tram enters a space ship and you find yourself caught in the middle of a laser battle. This experience replaced the Rockslide which in turn would eventually become home to The Simpsons.
- 1980: The Castle Theater opens and it would be home to many, many different shows. The debut was the Castle Dracula show. The Universal Amphitheater closes for renovations.
- 1982: The Universal Amphitheatre reopens with a brand new roof.
- 1983: The Castle Theater debuts a new show called the Adventures of Conan: A Sword and Sorcery Spectacular. Arnold look-alikes rejoice and find employment.
- 1984: The A-Team Stunt Show opens in the same arena that is now used for Waterworld. The Knight Rider car is added to the park.
- 1986: Bob Gurr’s incredible Audio-Animatronics of King Kong begins terrorizing guests on the Studio Tour in his own 26,000 square foot New York themed soundstage. He would be cremated on this spot in 2008 in a huge fire on the Universal back lot. The memory of banana breath still lingers. Kong would not be gone very long.
- 1988: The Star Trek Adventure replaces the Screen Test Show. The Miami Vice Stunt Spectacular replaces the A-Team Stunt Show. Many of the special effects would be carried over to the Waterworld stunt show a few years later.
- 1989: The grand opening of Earthquake – The Big One. According to the display on the wall of the administration building, this part of the tram tour would become the most successful attraction debut in Universal Studios Hollywood history only to be surpassed in 2010 with the debut of King Kong 360 3-D.
- 1990: The focus this year was An American Tail. Fievel’s Playland, a playground and live show based on the movie opens on the future site of T2:3D.
- 1991: The Studio Center opens and trams begin departing out of the lower lot. The original tram terminal still remains and has been transformed into a Nickelodeon shop. To get guest down to the Lower Lot, the Starway escalator also opens. The interactive E.T. Adventure debuts on the Lower Lot. Listen closely for E.T. saying your name at the exit. And the second half of the ride is the most psychedelic theme park interior this side of Disneyland’s Adventures Thru Inner Space. The Blues Brothers show debuts on the Upper Lot.
- 1992: Backdraft opens. The Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue debuts in an outdoor venue but was later moved into the Castle Theatre.
- 1993: Back to the Future – The Ride attraction opens on the Upper Lot and replaces the space filled by Battlestar Gallatica. Universal reinvents the shopping and entertainment mall with the opening of the first phase of Universal Citywalk. The center was designed by architect Jon Jerde and was built over a former parking lot.
- 1994: The Flintstone’s Musical Revue replaces the Star Trek Adventure.
- 1995: Third time’s the charm. Waterworld – A Live Sea War Spectacular takes the place of the Miami Vice show and remains the most popular show in the park’s history. Remember to put your children in the green seats while you sit on the silver benches. Be prepared to laugh at them as they get drenched.
- 1996: Jurassic Park - The Ride opens on the lower lot. With this new addition, the studio tour moves once again nearer the Upper Lot at a new Tram Dispatch facility.
- 1997: Two new shows debut at the park: The Land Before Time and Totally Nickelodeon. The shows replace the Flintstone’s. On the other side of the spectrum, Halloween Horror Nights debuts. The Ice Tunnel is rethemed to Dante’s Peak.
- 1999: Terminator 2/3D opens on the Top Deck and replaces a children’s playground. Just below is the Frankenstein parking structure.
- 2000: Rugrats Magic Adventure replaces Totally Nickelodeon. The Studio Tour is enhanced with DVD playback. Lucy: A Tribute opens on the Lower Lot. Halloween Horror Nights goes on hiatus until 2006. Citywalk is expanded and now connects the first phase to the movie theaters.
- 2001: The Mummy Returns Maze opens in the former Victoria Station/Marvel Mania restaurant. The Nickelodeon Blast Zone is opened. This was the former location of The Warlord Tower.
- 2002: Special Effects Stages replaces the Cinemagic sound stages and Spiderman Rocks debuts in the Castle Theatre.
- 2003: Say goodbye to the Rugrats and hello to Shrek 4D. Got to love the Cast Member costumes. Kind of evil really.
- 2004: Universal Studios Hollywood gets its first rollercoaster with The Revenge of the Mummy. The attraction replaces The E.T. Adventure. Therefore, the Mummy Maze is rethemed to Van Helsing. Spiderman Rocks closes.
- 2005: Once again the Castle Theatre gets another show when Fear Factor Live opens. The very creepy War of the Worlds set is added to the Studio Tour.
- 2006: Halloween Horror Nights returns but the Wild West Show closes. A cowboy stunt show has been around since the beginning. The former arena site is now flexible space for special events.
- 2007: The Universal House of Horrors maze replaces Van Helsing.
- 2008: The Simpsons Ride replaces the Back to the Future. Watch for the tribute while on the ride. On the Lower lot the Universal Experience replaces Lucy: A Tribute. Samland readers would really enjoy the museum in a column he would one day write for MiceChat.
- 2009: Creature from the Black Lagoon Musical replaces Fear Factor and then quickly runs back to the swamp.
- 2010: Universal Studios Hollywood has its biggest year ever fueled by King Kong 360 3-D and new HD monitors on the Studio Tour. Plus the park debuts a new Special Effects Stage show.
- 2011 and beyond . . . We'll update this time line in another 96 years
For a look at the Universal Studios of today, we recommend this link to Fishbulb's VIP Tour of Universal Studios Hollywood which ran in last week's In The Parks.
Many of the images in this article are from the wonderful site, thestudiotour.com which is dedicated to the history of Universal Studios.
We invite you to join Sam and MiceChat at the Huntington Gardens in July
“LOS ANGELES: INVENTED SPACES OR AUTHENTIC PLACES?”
Saturday, July 9, 2011 at the Huntington Library and Gardens
Presented by the Los Angeles Region Planning History Group in cooperation with the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West Huntington Library and Gardens, Friends’ Hall Saturday, July 9, 2011 Coffee & Pastries: 9:30 a.m. Colloquium and Lunch: 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
The Los Angeles region has evolved as much from out-sized dreams and inventions as from traditional rules for establishing human settlements. Carey McWilliams called Los Angeles an “improbable” place not destined to succeed, but determined to do so. As Southern California developed, the visionaries who built this region knew it was less about location and more about destination. The enormous popularity of “invented” or themed destinations – Venice of America, Olvera Street, Disneyland, Third Street Promenade, CityWalk, The Grove and many others – has provided planners, designers and developers with inspiration and lessons on both success and failure. What is the difference between those places that have a “unifying vision” and those that celebrate a “messy vitality”? Where do “invented” places end and “authentic” places begin? In a land where set designers build houses, architects design movie sets, and many of our most cherished “public” spaces are privately owned and operated, anything is possible. A distinguished panel, moderated by author and planner Sam Gennawey, will address these questions.
- David Sloane, Professor, USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development
- Hassan Haghani, Community Development Director, City of Glendale
- Vaughan Davies, Principal and Director of Urban Design, AECOM
- Tim O’Day, O’Day and Associates
- Neal Payton, Principal, Torti Gallas and Partners
Cost is $40; for students with valid student ID, $20
Fee includes coffee and pastries, lunch, parking, and day pass to the Huntington
Seating is limited; please RSVP to:
Alice Lepis, Secretary
[email protected] (preferred) or at 818.769.4179 no later than
Tuesday, July 5, 2011