RKO Forty Acres

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RKO Forty Acres
RKO Forty Acres.jpg
1965 aerial photo of the Forty Acres property, looking west. Desilu Studios can be seen in the background
General information
TypeFilm backlot
LocationCulver City, California
Technical details
Size28.5 acres (11.5 ha)
Studios in charge
Cecil B. DeMille (leased from Harry Culver) 1927
RKO Pathé 1928–1948
Selznick International Pictures (leased from RKO) 1935–1939
RKO under Howard Hughes 1948–1955
RKO General under General Tire and Rubber Company 1955–1957
Desilu 1957–1966
Paramount 1967
Perfect Film and Chemical 1968
OSF Industries Limited 1969–1976

RKO Forty Acres was a film studio backlot owned by RKO Pictures and later Desilu Productions located in Culver City, California. Best known as Forty Acres, or "the back forty",[1] it had other names such as "Desilu Culver",[2] the "RKO backlot" and "Pathé 40 Acre Ranch" depending on which studio owned the property at the time. For nearly fifty years it was known for its outdoor full-scale sets such as Western Street and Atlanta Street or Main Street and was used in films like King Kong (1933) and Gone with the Wind (1939), and television shows like Bonanza and Star Trek.[3]

The property was a triangular parcel of land that measured 28 12 acres (11.5 ha),[4] located a few blocks from RKO-Pathe (later Selznick, Desilu-Culver, now "The Culver Studios")[5] which was situated to the west. It was bounded by Higuera Street to the north, West Jefferson Boulevard, Ballona Creek and Culver City Park to the south and Lucerne Avenue to the west. In 1976 it was razed for re-development and is known today as the southern expansion of the Hayden Industrial Tract.[6] A number of the buildings in the industrial park have been converted to television studios. One of the shows produced at the park is Hell's Kitchen.


The property on which the backlot was located was originally intended to be a lease for Cecil B. DeMille’s production of the film The King of Kings (1927).[5] On it he constructed the historical City of Jerusalem, which remained for the RKO production of King Kong (1933). By then it was known as Forty Acres and owned by RKO Pictures.[citation needed]

In 1935, David O. Selznick leased the property from RKO for his new studio, Selznick International Pictures. For his production of Gone with the Wind (1939), the plantation Tara, the Atlanta Depot (based on Atlanta's 1853 Union Station), and other Atlanta buildings were constructed on Forty Acres. The depot and many of the Atlanta buildings became permanent fixtures on the property until its final days, while the set of Tara was sold in 1959 to investors who planned to open a theme park in the Atlanta area (see Tara (plantation)). From 1943 to 1958, a separate part of the 28.5 ac (11.5 ha) known as the African jungle set, located on the opposite side of Ballona Creek, was used extensively for the Tarzan series by RKO, and later for The Adventures of Jim Bowie television series by Desilu.[4] Following years of turnovers by several owners, including Howard Hughes, the backlot was practically deserted and cinematic productions declined. It was purchased in 1957 by Desilu with the intention of filming for the burgeoning television industry.[7][8]


Forty Acres is best remembered for providing the backdrop for the fictional town of Mayberry on the television series The Andy Griffith Show.[9] Many of the street scenes and buildings on the backlot were seen regularly on television screens across America and became quite familiar to viewers. The original Town of Atlanta set, comprising a New York style street, a town square and a residential area to the east, was situated in the center of the property and was used on shows like Adventures of Superman,[3] Ozzie and Harriet,[3] Batman,[3] The Green Hornet,[3] and Mission: Impossible.[10] The town square was also used on Star Trek in three episodes entitled "Miri", "Return of the Archons" and "City on the Edge of Forever", while another area of the lot, the "Arab village", was used in "Errand of Mercy" and the first pilot, "The Cage". Sharp-eyed television viewers could note many visual cues that crossed over from one series to the next, including the structures themselves or signs on doors and windows. In Star Trek's "The City on the Edge of Forever" for example, a crossover from The Andy Griffith Show can be seen by noting a window sign for "Floyd's Barber Shop" in a particular scene involving Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and Edith Keeler (Joan Collins), who were strolling by.[10]

Forty Acres was also the backdrop for an episode of My Three Sons entitled "The Horseless Saddle" (1961), and five episodes of the TV series Bonanza where the backlot’s Western Street, next to the Garden of Allah (1936) set, served as a trail town. An added feature was the fact that some portions of the backlot were occupied by fields and scrub and provided the ideal conditions for filming a western. The Tara set, which sat on a sloping rise at the north western corner of the property, was torn down in 1959 to eventually become the Stalag 13 set for Hogan's Heroes.[3] Most of the sets, which included Camp Henderson on Gomer Pyle,[3] were situated primarily in the center, south and west end of the property. The narrower east end was the site of a western town set at one time, and was later home to an unusual, narrow alley set lined by two long facades facing each other. The alley set was constructed for the Robert Wise film Star! (1968) with Julie Andrews in the lead role, and it also later made a brief appearance in the film Switchblade Sisters (1975), as did the streets and buildings of the central town area.

Overall, the property was an undulating plateau with a southern slope (by the town square) that led to Ballona Creek. Trees screened the northern and southern perimeter of the property.

List of familiar backlot buildings[edit]

Core structures that stood for decades and appeared in many productions are listed here, most of which were constructed to represent, in Gone with the Wind, the antebellum Town of Atlanta, and later used for the fictional Mayberry. This portion of the backlot was the most permanent, and thus the most repeatedly recognizable, existing from 1939 until 1976. Other structures like the Jerusalem set, which was torched[5] to make room for the Atlanta set, or Tara, which was replaced with the Hogan's Heroes stalag set, did not survive as long. The western/European set at the east end of the backlot also did not survive past the mid sixties.

The two main arteries that traversed the Atlanta/Mayberry set were Atlanta or Main Street, which ran east/west and opened at one point onto a town square, and North Street, a cross street that bisected it at the four corners[10] just west of the square.

Image Structure flrs Location years Seen on Seen as
church 2 SE end of town square 1947–76
  • All Souls Church[10]
RKO backlot - Mayberry courthouse.jpg courthouse 2 NE of town square 1947–76
  • Mayberry Courthouse[10]
residence 2 across from church 1939–76
RKO backlot Mayberry bank.jpg bank 2 SE corner Atlanta/North 1939–76
  • Mayberry Bank[10]
  • National Hotel[11]
  • where Kirk & Spock emerge[12]
store/cafe 3 NW corner Atlanta/North 1939–76
  • Weaver's Department Store[10]
  • Norcross Merchandise[11]
RKO backlot - main hotel.jpg main hotel 2 center, town square 1945–76
RKO backlot - tall hotel.jpg tall hotel 4 NW of town square 1947–76
  • Mayberry Hotel[10]
  • Allegheny House
  • fire escape overlooking alley[13]
  • ...where Kirk steals clothes[10]
  • where Kirk finds Miri[10]
theatre 2 NW of town square 1939–75
  • Grand Theatre[10]
  • Paradise City Arena
  • 21st Street Mission[10]
  • Smallville depot/Daily Planet[9]
RKO backlot buildings.jpg buildings 2 rear of courthouse 1955–76
  • feed grain store[10]
  • Bartlett stable[10]
shop 2 E of town square 1955–76
  • Biggs used furniture[14]
  • Onlie's hideout[12]
RKO backlot - Floyds barbershop.jpg store plaza 2 N of town square 1955–76
  • Floyd's Barber Shop[10]
  • Still labeled "Floyd's Barber Shop"
RKO backlot Atlanta railway depot from Gone With The Wind.jpg depot 1 west of town 1939–71
  • Atlanta Railroad Depot
store/cafe 3 SW corner Atlanta/North 1939–76
  • Lake & Lewis Hardware[11]
Tara 2 NW portion of backlot 1939–59
RKO backlot building.jpg office 3 NW end of Atlanta St 1939–76
  • Atlanta Examiner[10]
  • where McCoy emerges[10]
RKO backlot cafe bank.jpg cafe 2 S side of Atlanta St 1938–76
hotel 2 SW of town square 1938–76
  • Travellers Hotel
  • Bijou Theatre[13]
  • Hotel Silsby / hospital[9]
townhouse 2 top of North St 1950–76
RKO backlot - Red Hour clock.jpg town hall 2 bottom of North St 1950–76
  • Headquarters 5th Air Force
  • "The Red Hour" clock[10]

List of known productions at Forty Acres[edit]



See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Back 40" is a term used colloquially in America to describe a parcel of land, specifically, forty acres (16.2 ha) or one sixteenth of a section, constituting the smallest unit of agricultural land commonly surveyed ("back 40", "front 40"); "back 40" also refers to an undeveloped plot of land (as on a farm, ranch, etc.) of unspecified size. Further reading: Public Land Survey System
  2. ^ Asherman, Alan (1989). The Star Trek Compendium. Pocket. ISBN 067168440X. Amazon.com
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "Radok Corporation, (©1998 – 2003)". Retrieved 2008-02-28.
  4. ^ a b c d e Musso, Joseph (1993). Forty Acres: A History of RKO Backlot Films (article). Burroughs Bulletin #14. Burroughs Bulletin
  5. ^ a b c "The Culver Studios (©2006)". About Us - Studio History. Archived from the original on 2008-03-25. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  6. ^ "Wikimapia.org (2006)". Hayden Tract Culver City. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  7. ^ "The Back 40 Lot: Part 1…Just Before "Tara" Was Dismantled – Eyes Of A Generation…Television's Living History". eyesofageneration.com. Eyes Of A Generation. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  8. ^ "40 Acres - The Lost Studio Backlot of Movie & Television Fame - The Desilu Years". www.retroweb.com. RetroWeb. Retrieved 17 March 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d "Garrett, Randy (2001)". Metropolis and Mayberry. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq "Teague, Kipp (©2008)". RKO 40 Acres photo tour. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  11. ^ a b c "Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc". Gone with the Wind (1939). Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  12. ^ a b "CBS Studios Inc". Star Trek: The Original Series - The Complete First Season (1966). Archived from the original on 2008-04-20. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  13. ^ a b c d RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. - The Set Up (1949)
  14. ^ "Cuccia, Mark (April 11, 2002)". E-mail to Jerry Krumm. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  15. ^ a b c d e "Occidental College (©2008)". Forty Acres. Archived from the original on 2008-05-11. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  16. ^ a b "Miller, Frank - Turner Classic Movies (no date)". Spotlight: The Little Minister. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  17. ^ Michael G. Fitzgerald, Boyd Magers (1989). Ladies of the Western, pg 9. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-1140-6. Google Book Search
  18. ^ "Stafford, Jeff - Turner Classic Movies (no date)". Spotlight: The Big Steal. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  19. ^ "Wood, Bret - Turner Classic Movies (no date)". Spotlight: Macau. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  20. ^ G, O. A. "Erickson, Hal - Allmovie (2008)". New York Times review. Archived from the original on 2011-05-20. Retrieved 2008-04-11.
  21. ^ "Stafford, Jeff - Turner Classic Movies (no date)". Spotlight: Death of a Scoundrel. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  22. ^ Krumm, Jerry (no date) "Batman and Forty Acres" JimNolt.com
  23. ^ a b c d "The 1966 Batman TV Tribute Site". 40 Acres Backlot. Archived from the original on 2008-02-23. Retrieved 2008-03-25.
  24. ^ "Robertson, Ed (©1996, 2006)". Television Chronicles: Interview with Robert Stack. Archived from the original on May 18, 2006. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  25. ^ "MovieFreak.com (©1999)". Mission Impossible. Archived from the original on 2007-11-10. Retrieved 2008-03-07.
  26. ^ "RM & Bonanza (©2000 – 2004)". Bonanza - Scenery of the Ponderosa. Retrieved 2008-03-07.

Coordinates: 34°01′19″N 118°22′56″W / 34.021942°N 118.382277°W / 34.021942; -118.382277

External links[edit]