Farewell To A Place Now Gone

Yesterday morning I met my father for breakfast in Pasadena. He was in town most of last week teaching a seminar at the Hilton, just outside of Old Town. We were saying our “goodbyes” before his flight back home to Florida. After a buffet of scrambled eggs, hash browns and some assorted melons, I left at about 9:45am to drive back to my apartment in Burbank.

As I was heading north on the 5 freeway, I noticed that the two Holiday Inn towers that dominate the surrounding buildings were obscured by some kind of haze. We have had some thick fog the last several mornings but most of it had burned off by that time. All that was left was some low-hanging clouds around the Verdugo mountains. It seemed unlikely that there would still be fog around a couple of buildings and no where else. Then I noticed what appeared to be diagonal white lines coming from the haze.

Within a minute I was close enough to realize what I was looking at: A low building south of the Holiday Inn was on fire. The haze was the smoke and the white lines were the water spraying from hoses at the top of extended ladders on fire trucks. In another minute I was coming up on the exit for Olive and passing the burning building. I had a sudden shock when I thought I knew what building it was but I had to get closer to be sure.

I got off at the Olive exit and immediately started to encounter police road blocks. Three blocks around First Street and Santa Anita were cordoned off. By driving around the perimeter I saw that my initial thought was correct. International Recording was burning. I was filled with a strange sadness. Not the sharp pain of a personal loss but still a melancholy.

International has among other things a few dub stages. Four years ago I spent a lot of time there when they mixed several films I worked on: “Play It To The Bone”, “My Dog Skip”, “Urbania”, and “The Contender”. Bill Schlegel, the owner, was always a nice enough guy to me and it was sad to see all his hard work disappear. In fact International was an even larger accomplishment for Bill than one might expect. He and a few engineers hand-built most of the components and wiring used by the two main stages. It took an enormous amount of time and energy to put together his post-production facility but it was something he could truly call his own.

International Recording is probably best known to the rest of the world as the stage where “Dances With Wolves” was mixed. In 1991, Jeffrey Perkins and Gregory Watkins mixed the sound for Kevin Costner’s film and the Academy acknowledged their excellence by awarding them the Oscar for Best Sound.

I had my camera with me so I took a few pictures. Being three blocks away, I couldn’t see much more than the fireman at the tops of their ladders directing streams of water into billowing clouds of black and white smoke, the news vans scattered around the scene, the policemen directing traffic and the few gawkers like myself. It seemed that there should be something more to mark this solemn moment. Something more than curious bystanders and a police officer telling me, “I don’t know what it is—some kind of post-production place.” Something that said, “Bill put his life into this place and now it’s gone.” My writing certainly doesn’t do it justice but I wanted you to know.

Fireman on the ladder

Two firemen fight the fire from above