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It was the backdrop for many of the Columbia Pictures movies and Screen Gems/Columbia Pictures Television shows, including Father Knows Best, The Donna Reed Show, Dennis the Menace, Hazel, Bewitched, Gidget, I Dream of Jeannie, The Monkees, The Flying Nun, Here Come the Brides, The Partridge Family, Lost Horizon, High Noon, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, You Were Never Lovelier, The Wild One, and Autumn Leaves. Only the front facades of the houses and buildings were built; the interiors were always shot at other locations or studios. The streets were constructed and arranged in such a way as to allow shooting at multiple angles to create the illusion of a much larger area, though the lot only spans across about six city blocks.
The Ranch started in 1934, as a 40-acre (160,000 m2) plot purchased by Harry Cohn head of Columbia Pictures Corporation. The Studio, with its headquarters located at Sunset & Gower, in Hollywood, made numerous movies, but had to rent neighboring movie studios 'Back-lots' for outdoor shooting due to the lack of space at the Sunset lot. By the end of 1934 this problem was solved as Columbia had acquired a 40-acre (160,000 m2) lot on the other side of the Hollywood Hills in Burbank, at the corner of Hollywood Way and Oak Street, on what is said to have been the Burbank Motion Pictures Stables. It was the perfect movie ranch as it was still rural enough to be landscaped as the studio needed it to be.
Columbia Pictures used the Ranch as a backdrop for almost all their outdoor scenes required. Many serials such as the original "Batman", "Superman", "Captain Midnight", "Blondie" and "The Three Stooges" were filmed on the lot. In the 1960s, the Ranch was booming with business. Not only were movies being filmed on a regular basis, Columbia formed a television division (Screen Gems) and used the Ranch to film these shows.
In 1970, a catastrophic fire destroyed a quarter of the lot. Half of the Western set, the Colonial/European set and parts of Blondie street burned down, including Blondie house itself (which also was used as the "Father Knows Best" home). Although quickly rebuilt, two additional fires destroyed much of what was original to the Ranch.
By mid-1971, Columbia and Warner Bros. studios decided to combine their forces in order to combat the financial troubles either one encountered and formed a merger under the name The Burbank Studios. In doing so, the Ranch became a true "Back-back Lot" as Warner Bros already had a massive backlot.
In 1990, Columbia Pictures moved its production facilities to MGM's lot in Culver City. As a result, Warner Bros. gained ownership of the lot and renamed it Warner Ranch. The ranch, which now contains additional soundstages, is still in active use. Its permanent fountain in the park, built around 1935, was seen in the opening credits of Friends.