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The Fire of Sept 8th 1974

The 7th and 2nd largest fire the Ranch experienced , happened on Sunday morning, September 8 1974 around 3 am and was the last fire that occurred on the Lot. 

 

The Ranch was host to the very first Burbank Community Fair being held that Saturday and Sunday. It was a major event as the public, city officials, Council of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, then Mayor Vincent Stefano Jr. of Burbank, Miss Burbank 1974, Helen LeDonne and many others were in attendance.

 

The Fair stretched out to almost all of the Ranch. A few areas were off limits but people were able to walk almost every street available and see the structures up close. Although the initial start of the Burbank Community Fair was slow, as the day progressed, attendance grew larger and by the end of the day it was estimated that some 4000 people visited the Ranch.  

 

It is believed that the fire started in a corner section of Stage 31, which was located behind the Kirby Building and Brownstone facade at the corner of New York and Brownstone Street. An electrical short of a heating Lamp, surrounded by flammables might have been the cause of the initial fire. Security Guard Frank Baray spotted the flames in the vicinity of the sound stage, but unfortunately it was already to late. 

 

Above: The Kirby Building and Brownstones facade hides Stage 31 where the fire started.

 

Right: the aftermath of the same location.

According to newspaper reports, Stage 31 did not have any Sprinkler systems installed, causing the fire to rapidly spread to the adjacent structures.  The fact that the Community Fair's rides, exhibition booths and several antique cars were parked all along New York Street, Brownstone Street, Tenement/Skid Row and Modern Street, caused the fire to spread to the facades all along those streets including Stages 33 and 34 as well.

Flames from the fire shot more than 200 feet in the air according to reports and the intense heat could be felt by residence living in the surrounding area. The eight-acre blaze sent huge columns of white smoke willowing into the air as more than 60 firemen battled the stubborn flames for four hours before bringing them under control, news article reported. It took firefighters over 4 hours to get the huge blaze under control and by 7:30 am that Sunday morning, but smoldering timbers continued for almost another 12 hours. It was clear that 99% of the city streets on the Ranch were diminished to mere rubble and ashes. The Community Fair also lost almost everything it had. Only a few concession stands and booths on Blondie street survived. 

 

Many of the owners and operators of the rides and stands were spending the night on the Ranch and slept either in their cars or in some of the practical interiors of the facades, which were turned in to makeshift accommodations for the event.

 

Robert Hagel, the President of then called 'The Burbank Studios', at the time said that only the  production of Apple's Way was filming on the Ranch and all other productions had shifted to the main (Warner Bros.) Lot.  It was mentioned in numerous newspapers that he/the studio were going to rebuild the facades and Sound Stages as they were and be back in to production mode that same year. Unfortunately it never happened and the 8-acre area was completely cleared and sat vacant for several months. 

 

A close-up view of the cleared area around November of 1974. The new 6 acre shopping center is well underway and outer edges of where Brownstone Street and Tenement/Skid Row streets once were, is now a new Berm along the perimeter.

 

Over the next 5 years, several plans and ideas were tossed around to develop the now vacant area. Some plans included a new business Street, a residential street and  waterfall. None of these plans come to fruition.

 

In mid 1976 however, a new lagoon and a 'Beach Front' setting, complete with a mini Lighthouse and brightly colored facades, were created for a new show called Code 'R'. The show it self did not last but the 'Beach Front' set and semi lagoon survived for a few years and can be seen in episodes of Wonder Woman and Fantasy Island.

 

By the mid 80's the 'Beach Front' set was no longer being used and was removed but the perimeter Berm stayed. A new office structure was put on the location of what used to be the Kirby Building and in the late 90's, the Berm was removed as well, the WB animation department had new offices placed on what once was Modern Street and a new entrance to the Ranch was created off of Hollywood Way, going directly across where the Boston Row Homes used to stand. Very little visually remains of the once magnificent city streets the Ranch housed. Below is what the entire area looks like today.