Lookout Mountain Air Force Station
|Lookout Mountain Air Force Station|
|Part of Military Airlift Command (MAC)|
Lookout Mountain Air Force Station
Location of Lookout Mountain AFS, California
|Type||Air Force Station|
|Controlled by||United States Air Force|
|Garrison||1352d Photographic Group|
Lookout Mountain Air Force Station (LMAFS) is a former defense site which today is a private residence in the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. The USAF military installation produced motion pictures and still photographs for the United States Department of Defense and the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) from 1947-1969.
The 100,000 sq ft (9,300m) facility was built on 2.5 acres in 1941 as a World War II air defense center to coordinate Los Angeles area radar installations. When the studio was established in 1947, its purpose was kept secret. The studio consisted of one large sound stage, a film laboratory, two screening rooms, four editing rooms, an animation and still photo department, sound mixing studio, and numerous climate controlled film vaults. Using the latest equipment, the studio could process both 35mm and 16mm color motion picture film as well as black and white and color still photographs. It was declared Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument number 1098 in 2015.
Beginning with Trinity, the very first nuclear test in 1945, there was an obvious need to document nuclear testing with still and moving pictures photography. The film was needed for the study and understanding of the behavior of nuclear weapons. In 1946, in support of Operation Crossroads, the first atomic bomb test in the Pacific, the joint task force conducting the test had pulled together a provisional photographic unit of still and motion picture photographers to document the test. Most of these photographers were part of a small detachment of the 1st Motion Picture Unit from Long Island, New York.
At the conclusion of Operation Crossroads, it was determined that a permanent photographic unit, providing specialized photography and sound recording, should be established, trained, equipped and organized to obtain scientific, technical and documentary photography of recurring atomic bomb tests. Brigadier General P.T. Cullen, who had commanded the Air Photo Unit on Operation Crossroads, was directed to find a site in the Los Angeles area suitable for the accomplishment of motion picture documentation of Joint Task Force 7 (JTF-7), Operation Sandstone. After an extensive survey of the Los Angeles area, the General chose the Air Force facility at 8935 Wonderland Avenue. The facility had been constructed on two acres of land in 1943 at a cost of $132,000 to house the Los Angeles Flight Control Center. After World War II, the Los Angeles Flight Control Center was closed and the grounds and building declared surplus to the needs of the Air Force. In the fall of 1947 the 1352d Motion Picture Squadron was activated at Lookout Mountain.
In January, 1948, the building was acquired from the War Assets Administration by the Air Force and the Atomic Energy Commission for the Lookout Mountain Laboratory for use in support of JTF-7. Extensive remodeling commenced by the Los Angeles Office of the Army Corps of Engineers and was paid for by the AEC. One major modification was to install five individual fireproof vaults with a storage capacity of 3,500,000 feet of 35mm film. Office equipment came from Air Force supply at San Bernardino, CA and technical equipment, in excess of $500,000, was obtained from the First Motion Picture Unit in New York and various Air Force photographic units.
During the period when Lookout Mountain Laboratory was used in support of JTF-7, it was under the command of the Second Air Division, which was commanded by General Cullen of the Strategic Air Command. Personnel consisted of 8 officers from the Air Force, USA, Navy and Marine Corps. Civilian photographers with Top Secret clearances were supplied by the Air Materiel Command and the Strategic Air Command on a Temporary duty assignment (TDY) basis, their salaries paid jointly by the AEC and the Air Force.
In the fall of 1949, Lt. General Curtis LeMay decided that the production of motion pictures was not a proper function of the Strategic Air Command. Lookout Mountain Laboratory and all its staff were transferred to the Air Proving Ground under the command of Lt. General William E. Kepner.
In December, 1949, Lookout Mountain Laboratory and the 4881st Motion Picture Squadron were assigned the responsibility for accomplishing all documentary photography for Joint Task Force 3, Operation Greenhouse. This was the first time that a photographic unit, specifically staffed and equipped for documentation of an atomic weapons test, existed during the planning stages of such test. As a result, it was possible to pre-plan the photography.
In June, 1950, the Atomic Energy Commission, later the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), made funds available for further construction at Lookout Mountain Laboratory. Between June, 1950 and January 1, 1953 a new 100,000 square foot building was constructed, new motion picture processing equipment installed, more humidity controlled film vaults built, editing and screening rooms updated, a new still processing lab build and a sound stage added to the multistory building, much of which was underground having been built down into the mountain. It was agreed that the AEC would have the privilege of storing all existing AEC film pertaining to atomic weapons tests and development programs at Lookout Mountain free-of-charge. In 1953, the new Lookout Mountain Lab facility had an estimated value of $1,500,000.
Formation of 1352nd Motion Picture Squadron
On April 1, 1951 the Air Force established the Air Pictorial Service (APS) with the primary photo unit being the 4881st Motion Picture Squadron. All photography of atomic bomb tests was quickly transferred from the Air Proving Ground to the Air Pictorial Service which was under the command of Military Air Transport Service (MATS).
On April 16, 1952 the Air Pictorial Service was redesignated the Air Photographic and Charting Service (APCS). APCS was responsible for mapping the world and providing accurate aerial charts to military aviators of wherever they needed. It also produced all Air Force training films, public information films and monthly newsreels. On April 28, 1952, the 4881st Motion Picture Squadron was redesignated the 1352nd Motion Picture Squadron effective on May 1, 1952. The mission of the newly formed 1352nd Motion Picture Squadron was: "to provide in-service production of classified motion pictures and still photographs for the Department of the Air Force in support of the Atomic Energy program and to provide such additional production of motion picture and still photography as directed by the Commanding General, Air Pictorial Service." 
In March 1958, Lookout Mountain Laboratory was redesignated Lookout Mountain Air Force Station.
On July 1, 1960 the 1352d Motion Picture Squadron was re-designated as the 1352d Photographic Group with headquarters at Lookout Mountain Air Force Station (LMAFS), 8935 Wonderland Ave, Los Angeles, CA. The offices of the Commander, Executive, Administrative, Comptroller, Manpower, Procurement, Base Supply, Civilian and Military Personnel, and Information Office were located at the "Annex" at 10850 Riverside Drive, Suite 208 of the North Hollywood Federal Building in North Hollywood.
In January, 1966 the Military Air Transport Service became the Military Airlift Command (MAC) with headquarters at Scott Air Force Base, Illinois. The Air Photographic and Charting Service became the Aerospace Audio Visual Service (AAVS) with headquarters at the 1365th Photographic Group, Orlando, AFB, Florida.
In March, 1967, the 1352nd Photographic Group was composed of two squadrons, four Detachments (Det) and two Operating Locations (O/L). The squadrons were the 1369th Photo Sq. at Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA and the 600th Photo Sq, Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Saigon, South Vietnam. The Detachments and Operating Locations were: Det. 2 1352d Colorado Springs, CO, Det. 3 1352d Hickham Air Force Base, Hawaii, Det. 4 1352d El Segundo, CA, Det. 7 1352d March Air Force Base, CA, O/L 1 1352d Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, O/L 1 Det. 3 Yamato, AS, Japan.
From 1960 to 1969, the 1352d Photo Group, Lookout Mountain Air Force Station, was responsible for all documentary photographic capabilities and the maintenance and operation of laboratories and production facilities in the western part of the United States (west of the Mississippi River), the Pacific and the Far East.
In an average year, Lookout Mountain produced 150 reels of finished film, a reel being 10 minutes of film, or roughly 35-40 finished films. In addition, Lookout Mountain provided film input for the monthly Air Force Newsreel, shown to Air Force personnel around the world, and briefing films for HQ USAF and unclassified film clips for the Secretary of the Air Force, Office of Information (SAFOI) to distribute to TV media from film received daily from the 600th Photo Squadron documenting Air Force combat operations in Vietnam.
Many of the Film Reports, Training Films and Special Film Projects featured well known Hollywood actors and voice-over narrators. Among those who have starred in Air Force films shot at "the Hill," as Lookout personnel called the studio, were: Bob Hope, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Preston, James Garner, Juliet Prowse, Gregory Peck, Keenan Wynn, Marvin Miller, Les Tremayne, Kim Novak, Glenn Ford and Lee Marvin. While a Brigadier General in the Air Force Reserve, Jimmy Stewart narrated several films and starred in a series of public service announcements for the Civil Air Patrol. Leonid Kinsky, who had played the bartender in "Casablanca" in 1942, starred in a series of training films with titles like "Kinsky's Report on Frostbite".
Among Special Film Projects were films like on YouTube which told the story of a squadron of F-105 pilots who flew to North Vietnam to bomb strategic targets and often had to fight their way in an out against North Vietnamese MIGS. USAF Combat Photography In Southeast Asia which told the story of the 600th Photo Squadron whose combat photographers documented Air Force operations in South Vietnam and which included the rescue of down pilots from North Vietnam. A Night On Jackrabbit Mesa, explained to civilian authorities, police, fire and rescue, how to secure and handle the crash of an Air Force plane. Escape and Evasion, taught downed pilots how to evade the enemy and live off the land until rescued.
For years, at Christmas, the Air Force provided Bob Hope with air and logistical support for his annual Christmas tours to Vietnam to entertain the troops. As part of this support, Lookout Mountain Air Force Station provide 35mm film equipment and film crews to document Hope's tours. His tours were later broadcast on NBC as Bob Hope Specials.
Lookout Mountain Air Force Station also supported the AEC with documentation of underground nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site (NTS), Mercury, NV. Beginning in 1951 with Operation Ranger, the first series of atmospheric tests at NTS, photographers from the 1352 Photographic Squadron and the U.S. Army Signal Corps began experimenting with different photographic methods from high-speed to wide-screen. Nuclear tests were filmed in 35mm and 16mm color, in Cinemascope, VistaVision, and even 3-D. One of the last underground nuclear tests covered by Lookout Mountain crews was Midi Mist in June, 1967. Between 1946 and 1969, Lookout Mountain studio produced more than 6,500 films for the Atomic Energy Commission and other government agencies. Many of these films remain classified.
|Operation Ranger: Pictures shot using different techniques|
In the 1960s, Lookout Mountain, AFS was staffed by more than 250 military and civilian personnel. The studio employed many talented civilians as producers, writers, directors, cameramen, editors and animators. Many of these "old timers" had worked at Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Universal and RKO Pictures." W. Donn Hayes (1893–1973), who coined the name American Cinema Editors (ACE), was the past president of the Motion Picture Editors Guild and worked at Lookout Mountain as his last career assignment. Hayes had been in the film and television industries since 1916. Among his credits were Tarzan Escapes (1936), Hitchcock's Rebecca (1940), and Li'l Abner (1940). Another Lookout Mountain editor, William "Bill" Holmes (1904–1978) had edited 54 feature films at Warner Bros. Holmes' credits included: Ben Hur (1925), I Was A Fugitive From A Chain Gang (1932), Dark Victory (1939), They Died With Their Boots On (1941) and Sergeant York, for which he won the 1941 Academy Award for Best Editing. Barry Shipman (1912–1994), one of Lookout Mts' writers, had written serials for Universal Pictures including Dick Tracy (1937) and Flash Gordon Conquers The Universe (1940), and had written for such TV series as Lassie, Ramar of the Jungle, Adventures of Wild Bill Hicock and Death Valley Days. Many of the studio's producers and directors were veterans of Frank Capra's WW II film unit, or had been with combat photo teams of the Army, Navy and Marines.
In 1966 the 1352 Photographic Group took on a new role, the documentation of the growing war in Vietnam. On January 17, 1966, HQ MAC formally advised HQ AAVS and the 1352d Photographic Group that the formation of the 600th Photo Squadron was approved by HQ USAF. The message read:
"HQ USAF has approved the organization of a photo squadron with nine detachments and one OL in SEA (Southeast Asia). To provide lineage, AF advises that the squadron will be an AFCON unit. The 13th Combat Camera Squadron will be re-designated the 600th Photo Squadron activated, assigned to MAC for further assignment to the 1352 Photographic Group effective o/s 8 Feb 1966."
On the 8th of February 1966, Det. 5, 1352 Photographic Group at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, South Vietnam became the 600th Photo Squadron charged with the increased responsibility of all AF photographic services in SEA except reconnaissance photography. This responsibility grew over the years to include combat documentation, automatic gun-camera and high-speed pod and blister photography of ordnance deliveries, still photography, and photographic support of the Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF). The first commander of the 600th Photo Squadron was Colonel James P. Warndorf. By 1968, the 600th Photo Squadron Detachments in Vietnam were:
- Detachment 4 Cam Ranh Air Base, South Vietnam
- Detachment 5 Phan Rang Air Base, South Vietnam
- Detachment 6 Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam
- Detachment 7 Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam
- Detachment 8 Tuy Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam
- Detachment 13 Nha Trang Air Base, South Vietnam
- Detachment 14 Pleiku Air Base, South Vietnam
- Detachment 15 Binh Thuy Air Base, South Vietnam
- Detachment 16 Phu Cat Air Base, South Vietnam
In addition to the 9 detachments in South Vietnam, the 600th PS also oversaw OL-1 (Operating Location 1), which was assigned to HQ Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV) in Saigon. The "MACV Team", as it was known, was free to document all branches of the armed forces in Vietnam per the request of HQ MACV. The MACV team covered stories on the USAF, USA, US Navy, Marines, the Royal Thai Air Force and combat units from Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and the Philippines.
By 1968, the 601st Photo Flight, with headquarters at Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base (RTAB), had also been formed and was operating out of 6 Royal Thai Air Force bases. The 601st Photo Flight Detachments in Thailand were:
- Detachment 1 Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base
- Detachment 2 Takhli Royal Thai Air Force Base
- Detachment 3 Ubon Royal Thai Air Force Base
- Detachment 10 U-Tapao Royal Thai Navy Airfield
- Detachment 11 Don Muang Royal Thai Air Force Base, Bangkok
- Detachment 12 Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base
Between 1966 and 1976, the 600th Photo Squadron lost 11 combat cameramen killed-in-action. Four were killed in 1968 at the height of U.S. combat operations in Vietnam.
In June, 1968, the 1352d Photographic Group at Lookout Mountain Air Force Station was discontinued and all personnel and equipment was relocated to Norton Air Force Base, CA. HQ AAVS relocated to Norton Air Force Base in July 1968. The 1360th Photographic Squadron, the USAF'S Film Depository, also relocated to Norton Air Force Base from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in July 1968. The Air Force's film depository houses over 100 million feet of 16mm and 35mm color motion picture film.
The facility was decommissioned and sold. It has been a private residence for many years. In 2011, the property was put up for sale for over $6 million (USD). When it was placed up for sale in 2011, the facility was a 50 thousand square foot, eight bedroom residence on a 1.5 acre property. As of November, 2012, the former Air Force film studio and laboratory had been leased by the One80Center as a rehab center which, according to broker/blogger Jimmy Bayan, will be used to "house up to 18 residents at a time, who will dish out up to $50,000 per month to live and recover in this historic treasure."  In January 2015, Academy Award winning actor Jared Leto purchased the property for USD$5 million.
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