Staff Reporter

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. has completed an ambitious $200 million renovation over the past year, adding three new buildings to its Pico Boulevard lot and refurbishing a number of vintage structures from Hollywood's golden age.

Under any circumstances, such a project would be an impressive undertaking. But Fox raised the bar even higher it completed the construction without suspending or significantly disrupting regular studio operations.

A new Network Center, for example, was erected within 40 feet of the sound stages where "Chicago Hope" was shooting.

"Unlike construction on a virgin site, we're constructing upon ourselves," said Gary Ehrlich, senior vice president of studio operations. "No matter when or where we were constructing, some production was encompassed in the project site. Superintendents at the construction site were entwined at the hip with unit production managers."

Construction workers also were forced to suspend their work adjacent to an exterior shot for "NYPD Blue" for a few moments until the take was finished.

But now the dust has finally settled, and things slowly are returning to normal.

The last of the new structures, the executive building, is now complete and is expected to be fully occupied in November. Workers also have been putting the final touches on new landscaping, pedestrian paths and a remodeled entrance at Pico Boulevard and Motor Avenue.

The studio has also completed a major restoration of historical building exteriors, while interior renovation work of the post-production facilities and screening rooms continues.

"We've preserved one of the few great studios erected in the '20s and restored it to its former glory," Ehrlich said. "The ambiance of the lot is greatly enhanced. It's cleaner, more consistent and updated."

With Fox's explosive growth and limited space 53 acres in Century City, where more than 2,000 people work restoring pre-existing facilities wasn't enough. The property needed new, higher-density development.

The expansion, as well as extensive restoration work at the 59-year-old movie and TV factory, is the culmination of a process that dates back seven years, when Fox structured a development agreement with the city that entitled it to build 770,000 square feet of mixed-use space.

The three buildings erected over the past year contain 590,000 square feet. In addition, Fox has constructed a 1,370-space parking structure and a subterranean parking structure on the lot. With demolition credits, Fox still could build about 300,000 square feet, Ehrlich said.

In the coming months, Fox officials will decide what to build next. While Ehrlich said plans for the next phase remain in preliminary stages, any additional construction likely would occur on the studio lot's last substantial vacant parcel, a surface parking lot at the southeast corner of the property.

"We're attempting to keep up with development of a strong multimedia corporation," Ehrlich said.

The Fox Network Center, which was completed late last year, houses the production and transmission facilities for Fox Sports Net and Fox Digital, as well as two sound stages. The Crafts Center, completed in April, houses the fabrication, wardrobe, props, stage, service and archival departments and storage facilities.

The new executive building is for Fox Broadcasting Co. and part of News Corp., and is where one of Rupert Murdoch's offices will be. The building is now about 80 percent occupied.

The restoration portion of the project involved removing additions that detracted from the original historic structures, as well as restoring the structures' original designs.

"The design components over the years were covered up, destroyed," Ehrlich said.

The historic buildings are widely diverse in design and function, including everything from bungalows to sound stages. In all, 60 building exteriors were restored.

"I truly believe (the lot) is a significant architectural history of L.A.," said Tom Goffigon, vice president at the architecture firm Gensler in Santa Monica.

Gensler has been designing new post-production facilities and remodeling screening rooms in compliance with historical guidelines, as well as upgrading them to accommodate modern sound standards and projection equipment, Goffigon said. That work should be completed by next summer.

Studio officials also hope to have a new day care center opened by the end of next year, Ehrlich said.

He added that because of measures the studio has taken to mitigate noise and other disruptive impacts from the construction work, there have been few complaints from nearby residents. Representatives of L.A. City Councilman Michael Feuer, who represents the area, confirmed the dearth of complaints.

"We have adhered to every last mitigation and very stringently monitored construction projects," Ehrlich said.

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