CBS Columbia Square
A Hollywood entertainment icon received a much-needed rehabilitation and upgrade, exemplifying how historic sites can return to their former glory while meeting current needs.
On Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood sits CBS Columbia Square, a complex that once housed the West Coast headquarters of television and radio giant Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS).
Completed in 1937, the campus contains three buildings: the Radio Building, Studio A, and the Commercial/Television Building.
William Paley, then head of CBS, hired renowned architect William Lescaze to design the studio’s West Coast headquarters right at the center of Hollywood, with the hopes of positioning CBS as a progressive and innovative company.
Lescaze designed CBS Columbia Square in the International Style, softened for Los Angeles with elements of the Streamline Moderne.
CBS broadcast its star-studded groundbreaking ceremony nationwide, with big names such as Bob Hope and Cecil B. DeMille. The complex went on to host significant broadcasts in radio and television history, including the taping of the pilot episode of I Love Lucy.
As the heyday of radio ebbed, the complex ushered in television and recording. Legendary artists who recorded there included Janis Joplin, Simon and Garfunkel, Led Zeppelin, and the Beach Boys, who loved the echo chamber.
In the 1960s, the famous Studio A became the newsroom for Channel 2 news. In 1968, all CBS-owned radio stations--including KNX--transitioned to a new format: all news. Local news and radio flourished for decades, and innovations continued as always, from L.A.'s first female TV reporter to groundbreaking live coverage of major events.
After sixty-seven years as "the voice of Hollywood," KNX moved to a new studio in 2005. The local TV affiliates left two years later.
While Hollywood Heritage secured local landmark designation for the property, it languished for years.
By the time the current owners acquired the complex, the site was deteriorating: it had been underused and suffered from incompatible alterations and deferred maintenance. Previous owners painted over the concrete exterior and enclosed the motor court, as just a few examples.
The project team rehabilitated the complex, returning it to its former glory while updating it to meet current needs.
The team re-landscaped the courtyard and opened it up for pedestrian use, restored the canopy at the entrance of Studio A, and removed incompatible additions. They also reconstructed the aluminum-framed glass walls at the ground levels of the Radio and Commercial/Television Buildings, which had been removed by previous owners.
The iconic steel sash ribbon windows on the exterior of the complex, rendered inoperable by layers of paint and missing hardware, were painstakingly returned to working condition.
After removing multiple layers of paint from the exterior walls, the team discovered that the original concrete was irreversibly stained. They recreated the look of the original concrete finish with warm gray paint.
The team also introduced thoughtful, compatible additions. Even though the owners inherited permits allowing larger additions, they chose not to use them, in order to remain true to the spirit of the historic complex.
CBS Columbia Square was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2009, and it is eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Its rehabilitation earned a Conservancy Preservation Award in 2017.
CBS Columbia Square beautifully exemplifies how historic sites—even those that have seen better days—can return to their former glory and adapt to current needs.