Johnny Depp will have to shiver Captain Jack Sparrow's timbers somewhere other than Long Point.
Developers have finally shanghaied the Rancho Palos Verdes site, location for the first two "Pirates of the Carib-bean" movies and a slew of other big-budget sea films for the past several decades.
The coastal bluff home to the theme park Marineland of the Pacific before its rebirth in the late 1980s as a Hollywood filming locale was sold to developers in 2004 and will be transformed into luxury vacation villas and a hotel. Location managers, scouts and film aficionados are mourning the loss of the popular local beachfront filming site.
"What was unique about it was that big flat area, with that big Pacific Ocean backdrop," said Amy Lemisch, executive director of the California Film Commission. "It's someplace location managers all knew about and loved to use for the size, the space, the vista, elevation and base camp parking."
Demolition of the remaining structures on the 102-acre site began last week to make way for Lowe Enterprises Inc.'s $320-million Terranea Resort development, comprised of 82 vacation villas and casitas, a 400-room hotel and 25,000-square-foot spa, restaurants and recreation grounds.
The resort's groundbreaking is on track for October, and Terranea is slated to open in winter 2008.
The scenic appeal of the future site of the Terranea Resort is clear. The development sold out of its first 51-unit offering in just two-and-a-half hours last December. Buyers shelled out an average of $2.4 million to buy vacation properties at the site. The 36 seaside casitas and 15 villas fetched a cumulative $120 million from buyers looking to get into an income-producing vacation property and coastal luxury resort.
For the city of Rancho Palos Verdes, the tax money generated by the new resort will far exceed the film permitting fees brought in over recent years. Long Point is situated in the 30-mile zone established to keep Hollywood filming in-state, in which production companies can shoot without paying travel expenses or a per-diem. The Sony Pictures feature "Fun with Dick and Jane," for example, brought the $29,000 in permit fees. Last year's "Pirates" film and "Hidalgo" brought in about $15,000 each, relatively little compared with the funds brought in by the development. City officials say Long Point's significance as a film site doesn't mean that much to most visitors.
"Long Point hasn't really functioned as a landmark for tourists," said Gina Park, assistant to the city manager. "For locals, it had more sentimental value as the former Marineland. I think the community is excited about new development that's going to be there."
The location's loss shouldn't hurt the Los Angeles filming industry financially, though many of the sea epics filmed there had budgets of well over $100 million and spent months at the site and there aren't many local spots that match Long Point's size, vistas and convenience.
The closure's impact might be felt more in terms of the industry's perception that L.A. which has been battling runaway production for years is losing its stature as the center of the filming universe.
"You can't stop the world," Lemisch said. "What can we do? Things change."
Other locations like Vasquez Rocks, Malibu's Paradise Cove and stalwart Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains are still going strong. Another longtime Hollywood filming favorite, however, took a hit recently. Pioneertown,
a site about 25 miles west of Twentynine Palms and northwest of Joshua Tree National Park once popular for classic Westerns, was damaged in a brush fire last month.
"As locations like Long Point leave, other ones are going to pop up it just takes creativity on the part of location scouts," said John Grant, secretary of Location Managers Guild of America.
Harry Medved, a Hollywood public relations professional who has co-authored "Hollywood Escapes," a book on California's notable cinematic landmarks, said the cultural value of prime locations like Long Point isn't cultivated properly.
"As more and more people move to Southern California, we have to continually fight to preserve our cultural heritage," Medved said. "The real shame is that Southern Californians don't often recognize that we have a very specific cultural heritage here, and too often we're not aware of these places as movie landmarks."
Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles Economic Development Corp., said the challenge of luring visitors to much-used filming sites is that there are destination attractions like theme parks competing for their attention.
"Locals will eventually forget you and out-of-towners want to go to the bigger entertainment draws," Kyser said. "A lot of the utterly charming locations here even like Catalina Island face the same challenge, which is to keep themselves out in front of people. It's very competitive."
For Medved, though, it's less about preservation than seeing that sites like Long Point get a credit for all their film work.
"L.A. is very easily the most versatile character actor in the movies," Medved said. "You don't know the name of the place, but you've seen the face hundreds of times."
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