Saturday, November 18, 2023

Universal Studios, June 1987

After an annoying computer glitch, I have been doing my best to recover, eating weak tea with plain toast and taking long naps on the divan. Meanwhile, today's 1987 scans from Universal Studios have been sitting in a folder for a long, long time, and it seemed like it was finally time to use them (while I try to make up for lost time rescanning other stuff). 

As some of you know, Universal Studios (in Hollywood) has an "upper lot" and a "lower lot". The lower lot has most of the actual backlot sets, as you can see in this view. Toward the top of the image you can see the 101 Freeway, and some of the beautiful L.A. River (all concrete thanks to the Army Corps of Engineers) to the extreme top left, and just above the River is Warner Bros. Studios. There are what appear to be medieval structures, city streets, and more, but I don't have a clear idea of what's what, unfortunately. Modern maps are not much help since the lot seems to catch fire every ten or fifteen years.

In the lower right(ish) we can see the back of some of the buildings on Colonial Street (later "Wisteria Lane"), including what was once the Munster home. I don't know why, but I'm always intrigued by those apartments so close to the studio, though I am sure that living there is probably pretty ordinary. Mr. T hardly ever stops by.

Just beyond the backlot structures is part of Lakeside Golf Club, where you can hit golf balls into the hazards just like I do. "Bingo! Right in the middle of the sand trap!" (Polite clapping from nearby golfers). 

It's a bummer that this one is a little bit blurry - the Glamor Tram is about to head into the thrilling Battlestar Galactica "Battle of Galactica" attraction, which I experienced, but barely remember. According to, This high-technology attraction featured animatronics and live actors in a spectacular laser battle. The ride building replaced the short-lived Rockslide attraction, and was replaced in 1992 by the foundations of the Back to the Future (now The Simpsons) show building.
The Battle of Galactica was the first themed attraction to feature audio-animatronic characters outside a Disney park, and was the first dark ride to combine sophisticated animatronics and lasers with live actors. My main memory is of a Cylon splitting right down the middle as if chopped by a samurai sword.

I'm afraid I don't know anything about this next picture - but it has to be one of many variations on an  attraction that Universal Studios had over the years, in which an audience member (or two) could star in their very own movie scene. Presumably that blue screen became a star field (or a moonscape?) behind the astronaut. The lucky participant probably got a VHS tape of their scene to take home and show to the relatives.

It's a post-apocalyptic city scene! When the sun goes down, the vampires (who are sleeping inside the buildings) will come out to eat us. Or, they can just use those overhead tarps to make an artificial night!

Marty! It's the courthouse in Courthouse Square, only two years after "Back to the Future" made it one of the more famous landmarks on the Universal lot. Of course all buildings are constantly being redressed for new productions; the triangular pediment is missing here, probably stolen by darn teenagers who need haircuts.

This part of the backlot is dressed as a little Chinatown, I guess. Maybe Matlock had to go into the big city! Yeah, probably not. I had no idea that the tram tour would be X-rated, but now that I can see some underwear hanging on the lines, I am duly shocked.

I hope you have enjoyed your visit to Universal Studios.


"Lou and Sue" said...

Major, I would definitely enjoy the tour if you were the have the descriptions spot-on. And it's interesting that you mention the does seem like buildings go up in flames on a regular time table.

I'll be back to read the comments, later, but I wanted to wish Mickey Mouse a Happy 95th Birthday, and mention that TokyoMagic has a great birthday post for Mickey. See HERE.

Thanks, Major.

JB said...

The astronauts rigging makes them look like marionettes, which I suppose is fitting since the spacemen can only do what the wires make them do.

I think the "post-apocalyptic city scene" is the New York street... at least, those are the NY streetlamps.

The BTTF courthouse doesn't look nearly as cool without the pediment on top.

Thanks for the trip through the backlot, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

Universal Studios in the 80's....radical, man!

Major, I believe that large medieval structure in the first pic, is the same one we saw here in your post from August 6, 2022. It's just been altered over the years (like the courthouse building):

In the bottom right corner of the second pic, we can see the Chicken Ranch from "The Best Little Wh*rehouse In Texas." I have no problem saying (or typing) that word, but I know Major will remind me that this is a family blog! ;-)

Sue, thank you for the shout-out! And yes, happy birthday Mickey. You don't look a day over 92!

TokyoMagic! said...

Oh, and as for that "Battlestar Galactica" pic, there were two Cylons sitting in that contraption with the gun pointed at the tram. They are being blocked out by one of the tram's posts. I did a blog post five years ago, which included postcards, and pics that my dad took (in 1988) of the "Battle for Galactica" tram experience. Also at the end of the post is a video of the "battle" inside the spaceship, with the animatronics and the live actor. In case anyone is interested:

Bu said...

I only made it to the tourist part of Universal once past the early 80's, in the early 2000's: on a "team building" thing...which as you all probably know: is generally a super painful experience. I remember nothing except boarding the Glamour Tram...which at that point, I think they had been TRE'd already. In the late 90's it was just "place to work". It was kind of odd to be in the lot "loose" the trams rolled right past you everyone gawking and trying to figure out if you were a movie star or not. I was not, but I was leaning on Angela Landsbury's car once and she came out of her office and gave me a "look"..... Driving around the lot, those trams are kind of "ugh". Kind of like the Cable Cars in SF. Very charming...but in the way. I stayed at the Universal Sheraton (former home of Telly Savalas) a few weeks ago...the glamour trams now take you from the bottom of the hill on Lankershim to the top of the hill so you don't have to walk up the steep hill. I think it's for employees-maybe for those arriving by subway across the street.... I tried to take a photo from my car, but wasn't fast enough. For those wanting a convenient hotel that is really centrally located to "both sides of the hill: Hollywood, the Valley, Burbank" and easy access to the 101, 134....this is a very convenient place to stay with easy parking. This is not an ad: I've been staying there for decades. Sandra Dee,Bobby Darrin, Tippi Hedren and Ernest Borgnine did the ground breaking: the hotel is not new, but it's updated. The apartment complex across the street (Barham Blvd) is..or was...Oakwood Apartments. It was a short stay/long stay apartment complex and was NOTORIOUS...I'll leave it there and you can connect the dots: Everybody who was anybody and nobody was in there. Walls were paper thin. It's a convenient location, again, to both sides of the hill. The body of water past the golf course is the rarely seen lake of Toluca Lake. Former neighborhood of Roy E Disney, Bob Hope, Amelia Earhart, Mary Astor, Boris Karloff....etc. There are some very nice older properties in there. It's a gated community, so actually getting your eyes on this lake is very rare. Bobby Darrin and Sandra Dee also lived in Toluca Lake...which brings us full circle. Thanks for the morning rabbit hole Major!

JG said...

Imagine the difficulty getting themed trash cans for that back lot, a different style on every corner.

Ah, Toluca Lake. My grandfathers farm was near here in the teens and twenties (nineteen teens), when most of the valley was still farm land and this development was brand new. Thirty acres, as I recall, some of it was an apricot orchard. Of course he sold it about forty years too soon.

Thanks for the Universal pics Major!


Melissa said...

These pictures make me think of that scene in Sunset Boulevard where Joe and Betty wander through the empty backlot, Betty reminiscing about playing there as a kid.

One of my new favorite YouTubers is Antonia Carlotta, the great-niece of Universal founder Carl Laemmle. She makes videos about the early history of the studio, and she did one of the last interviews with her aunt Carla, who was the last surviving cast member of Dracula and Phantom of the Opera.

I am permabummed that I never got the chance to see the "Battle of Galactica" attraction. I was (and still am) a huge fan of the original series. I used to sit in the woodbox and pretend it was a Colonial Viper on deep space patrol. Now I'm off to read TokyoMagic!'s old BSG blog post and new Mickey's birthday post!

Major Pepperidge said...

Lou and Sue, ha ha, I’d have to BS the whole tour! But maybe that would be fun. I’ve seen TM’s MIckey post and left a comment!

JB, since we all know that all space walks and moon landings were faked, we can deduce that they were probably filmed at Universal Studios. It all makes sense! Yes, I agree that that one photo shows NYC street(s). And without the pediment, the Back to the Future courthouse is almost unrecognizable!

TokyoMagic!, oh interesting, now that you say it, it does look like it might be the same structure. I forget who it was now (sorry to whoever that was), but they linked to a photo of Lon Chaney Jr. on the steps of that building as Frankenstein’s Monster, it was very cool. I’ve never seen “The Best Little *Bleep* House in Texas”, mostly because I assume that it is lame. Even though I like Dolly Parton.

TokyoMagic!, thank you for the link to your 2018 article, it brought back a lot of forgotten memories! It’s amazing to think that “The Battle of Galactica” was the first non-Disney attraction to use animatronics.

Bu, I suppose that a trip to Universal could help with “team building”, but it seems like an excuse to go do something that wasn’t work. I can’t believe that you leaned on Angela Landsbury’s car, you are lucky to be alive. You could have been the recipient of a deadly karate chop. I do enjoy trips to Universal, but the tram tour is at times really lame (anything to do with “The Fast and the Furious” is incredibly awful on the tram tour) or cheesy fun. “Norman Bates” walking toward the tram with a butcher knife was fun. I live close enough to Universal Studios that I don’t need a hotel, though it would be kind of fun to stay in the Sheraton, I’ve seen photos from people’s rooms, they can look down into parts of the park and see various explosions and such. I still remember being on the top level of a parking garage at Universal City Walk, and I could watch (and hear) the “doomed fisherman” in the Jaws portion of the ride get dragged underwater over and over, and then reset. I went to the Smokehouse in Toluca Lake and somebody told me that at the end of the street the guard gate led to Roy E. Disney’s old place. Toluca Lake can be kind of a charming area, which means rich folks love it.

JG, wow, I’m sure many people have similar stories about owning land that became valuable, but thirty acres in the Toluca Lake area?? Holy moly.