Fox Archives: A look at the history of the Fox lot’s Building 86, dressing room to the stars

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This photo, taken in 1934, shows the site where Building 86 would be built:

The formal French garden, flanked by Avenue E on the left and Avenue D on the right, has “Movietone City” (the original name of the Fox lot, so named in honor of the sound-on-film process patented by Fox) sculpted in the shrubbery. The Sound Engineering Building (replaced by the Fox Plaza parking structure in the 1980s) is on the right and the Commissary is just out of the picture on the far right.

The photo has a wonderful view of the backlot that existed on the north side of Olympic Boulevard. The beautiful chateau on the right was built for “Caravan” (1934) starring Loretta Young and Charles Boyer, and the stately plantation home on the left was built for “Carolina” (1934) starring Janet Gaynor. That set became known as the “Colonial Home” and was one of the longest-standing backlot sets. It was subsequently used in dozens of films, including several starring Shirley Temple.

Following the merger of Fox Film and Twentieth Century Pictures in 1935, the studio began an ambitious expansion project that included the construction of Stages 10, 11, 14, 15 and 16, as well as a new administration building (#88), a new prop building (#89), an expansion to the Commissary (then known as the Cafe de Paris) and a new building to house dressing rooms for the major movie stars. When the permanent buildings on the Twentieth Century Fox lot were constructed in 1928, the bungalows and the dressing-room buildings were all located on the southeast corner of the lot close to the Tennessee Gate, which served as the main entrance to the studio. Those continued to be used, but the biggest stars were given suites in the brand new Building 86 located near the Commissary, which soon became known as the “Stars’ Building.” This is a photo of the western elevation soon after construction, circa 1937.

The Stars’ Building was asymmetrical on the west side but completely symmetrical on the east side. The building consisted of 14 suites (seven on each floor) that had a sitting room, a dressing room and a full bathroom. The building was a marked departure from the Spanish Colonial style of many of the buildings on the Fox lot. The architect modified a streamline moderne look with 18th century English accents. Note the stars found above each window casement.

If you had a suite in the Stars’ Building, you knew you were at the top! Here Loretta Young gets ready to be chauffeured away on the west side.

Each suite was decorated by the Art Department according to the tastes of the occupant. This was Betty Grable’s suite done in an opulent Victorian theme. Note the photo of her husband, bandleader Harry James, on the table at left.

Apparently Maureen O’Hara doesn’t believe that it never rains in southern California! Here she is standing on the north end of the building. The Commissary is just behind her.

Maureen chose a restrained English style for her suite.

Tyrone Power inhabited the suite on the south end of the second floor — a very 1940s “man cave.”

Gene Tierney chose a turn-of-the-century style for her suite.

This is a photo of the most famous of all of the suites: Dressing Room “M” located on the south end of the first floor. It was first inhabited by Alice Faye but would eventually be occupied by all of the most beautiful Fox women, including Betty Grable and Marilyn Monroe. This modern decor was done for Joan Crawford during her sojourn here for “Daisy Kenyon” (1947). It remained furnished like this up until the mid-1960s. Sadly, the porthole window seen in this photo was removed when the suite was divided into offices.

Barbara Eden, who had a substantial film career at Fox before she hit mega-stardom in the “I Dream of Jeannie” TV series, poses on the west side of the Stars’ Building.

In addition to housing stars, Building 86 has gotten to be a star in several films and TV shows over the years. Here it is all dressed up as a French bank. During the 1960s, it served as the Bank and Trust in the TV show “Peyton Place.”

In the mid-1970s, the building was turned into production offices. Eventually the open-air loggias were enclosed and the suites were reconfigured into office spaces, drastically altering the original floor plan. The only vestiges of its former use are several of the bathrooms that are still intact. The building now houses the In-Theatre Marketing group.

Look for more photos of Fox’s historic lot buildings in the upcoming book “20th Century Fox: A Century of Entertainment,” which will be published later this year.

The Fox Archives is mandated to collect, catalog, preserve and make accessible the following assets of the 20th Century Fox studios: props, set decoration, photographs, art department and publicity materials from our film and television productions, and from the 20th Century Fox studio itself. We work primarily with internal Fox groups but also from time to time with outside organizations such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.