L.A.'s KCET-TV Sells Landmark Hollywood Studios to Church of Scientology

KCET Property Exterior 2011
Chris Godley

UPDATED: The largest independent public TV station in the country is leaving its 4.5-acre property at 4401 W. Sunset Blvd.

KCET-TV, the Los Angeles public television station that split from PBS in January, has closed a deal to sell its landmark Hollywood studios to the Church of Scientology for an undisclosed sum.

As a result, KCET, the largest independent public TV station in the country, will leave the 4.5-acre property at 4401 W. Sunset Blvd. It is currently surveying the Los Angeles area for new studio space.

"This is part of the new era for KCET; this is part of the second stage of the transformation of KCET from an affiliate of PBS to an independent media center," KCET president and CEO Al Jerome told The Hollywood Reporter. "We are in active discussions with several facilities. We are looking for the right environment for our future."

The station will remain at the 300,000-square-foot Sunset Boulevard facilities, which date to 1912 and have been home to several movie studios, for as long as a year before moving to new digs. Jerome said the station's next headquarters will likely be a "little bit smaller" than its current property. 

The Church of Scientology plans to use the property -- which includes two sound stages, post-production facilities and offices -- for the production of videos and other content, according to a statement issued by the group. It will use the property's existing satellite uplink to transmit high definition video to its facilities around the world. The organization is already a large property owner in Hollywood and owns several other historic properties in the area, including four notable buildings on Hollywood Boulevard.

"It is a perfect fit, in both size and location, for the expansion of the Church of Scientology’s production of religious and social betterment audiovisual properties, and we welcomed the unexpected opportunity to acquire it," the group said in a statement.

Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes the property, has expressed concern over a change in the facility’s use.

“I hate to lose a production studio,” LaBonge told THR. “I don’t know what the intent of the new owners is. I have talked to our historic preservation people to make sure that whoever buys the property follows the guidelines.”

KCET is said to face financial troubles after severing its relationship with PBS; prior to the split, the station had fought over dues with the programming provider. As a result of the change, the station no longer carries shows such as Charlie Rose and Sesame Street and has filled it schedule with news programs and documentaries. Since January, Orange County’s KOCE-TV has operated as the local PBS outlet.

Jerome wouldn't pin the decision to sell the property on financial problems, noting that KCET planned for a dip in viewership in the aftermath of splitting from PBS.

"When we left PBS in January, we knew this was a [period of] transition for us," Jerome said. "This is the third time in the 15 years I've been at KCET that we've evaluated whether the present studio lot is the right fit for us going forward. It's not a new issue."

The Sunset Boulevard property has functioned as a studio since it first opened and formerly housed Monogram Pictures and Allied Artists. The station purchased the site in 1970 for $800,000 and added several buildings to the property while maintaining several original brick structures. The facility was designated historic by the city of Los Angeles in 1978. Its status as a Historic-Cultural Monument protects the property from alteration. 

Linda Dishman of the Los Angeles Conservancy said that the Church of Scientology should be a good steward of the property.

“Given how well Scientology has maintained and restored their other historic buildings I think they will do a great job,” said Dishman, executive director of the Conservancy, a nonprofit advocacy organization that works to preserve and recognize the historic architectural and cultural resources of Los Angeles County. “I think they have a very strong preservation ethic and have demonstrated that repeatedly.”

Commercial real estate broker Paul Stockwell of CB Richard Ellis Group, who represented KCET, declined to comment. Broker John Repstad of Binswanger/Realty Advisory Group, who represented the Church of Scientology, also declined to comment.

Email: Daniel.Miller@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller