Los Angeles, California is the epicenter of the movie-making industry, so it should come as no surprise that the US military had its own studio in LA. Known as Lookout Mountain Air Force Station, or Lookout Mountain Laboratory, what made this studio special is that the films produced there were all classified.
For twenty-two years, the military operated its own studio on Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon, the former home of many artists and the 1960’s folk-rock scene that included The Doors, Joni Mitchell, the Mamas and the Papas, as well as filmmakers like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas.
Like any other film-making compound in Hollywood, the 100,000 square foot, fully-operational studio featured soundstages, screening rooms, film-processing labs and even an animation department. But still a military compound, it also featured a bomb shelter, a helicopter landing pad, 17 climate-controlled vaults and two underground parking garages.
The studio was secretly established in 1947, though the Air Force has since stressed that the facility was used solely for the Atomic Energy Commission. During this time, cameramen, who referred to themselves as “atomic” cinematographers, were hired to shoot footage of atomic bomb tests in Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and the South Pacific. While the Air Force contends that these atomic features were the only movies made, it is believed that some 19,000 “films” were produced on Lookout Mountain between 1947-1969. That’s 500 more films than Hollywood produced during the same period, and only a few dozen of them have been declassified.
Less scandalous, there is evidence that the military conducted many advanced research experiments for Hollywood studios, such as developing 3-D techniques and Vista Vision. Employees from big studios, such as Warner Brothers and MGM, were also known to frequent the lot. Additionally, Hollywood stars like Walt Disney, Marilyn Monroe, and even Ronald Reagan were given special clearance to use Lookout Mountain’s facilities, though the reason for their visits remain undisclosed.
Though the studio employed over 250 people, its existence remained unknown to the general public until the 1990s. The studio was decommissioned in 1969. Today the 2.5-acre studio is a private residence and belongs to actor/musician Jared Leto, who is known for throwing parties in the area that echo the 1960s Laurel Canyon vibe.
Know Before You Go
From Laurel Canyon Blvd, turn left onto Lookout Mountain Blvd and then slight right on Wonderland Ave.