Until the latter half of the 1930s, commercial radio was primarily based in New York and Chicago because the technology that made radio programming possible was oriented for east-to-west transmission making it prohibitively more expensive to broadcast a show in the opposite direction. The regulations changed in 1935, sending radio rushing to Hollywood just as moving pictures had done in the 1910s.
Ironically, therefore, the new structure erected to house the new Pacific Coast headquarters of the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) would be built on the site of the first film studio in Hollywood.
By 1936, CBS was expanding it’s Hollywood presence, broadcasting from various leased theaters including the Figueroa Playhouse at 940 S. Figueroa St. (now the Variety Arts Theater) in downtown Los Angeles, the Wilshire Ebell Theater, The Music Box Theater at 6626 Hollywood Blvd., and the Vine Street Theater at 1615 Vine St., which it renamed CBS Radio Playhouse (now the Ricardo Montalban Theater). CBS continued to use the latter space until 1953.
In April 1936, CBS purchased local KNX radio station, which operated out of a building at 5939 Sunset Boulevard. Beginning December 29, 1936, all CBS programs, previously heard locally over KHJ, would be broadcast by KNX. The new arrangement was celebrated with a 2-hour special on January 2, 1937, the first hour broadcast from New York, the second half from the Music Box theater in Hollywood.
On October 16, 1936, local papers reported that CBS was planning a $1 million new home, revealed by Donald Thornburgh, CBS VP in charge of Pacific Coast operations. Having seen that the competition, NBC, was already outgrowing its new Hollywood home on Melrose Avenue, CBS was going big- huge even. The location was to be the north side of Sunset between El Centro and Gower streets. William Lescaze was to design the building; Earl T. Heitschmidt of Los Angeles would be in charge of the actual construction.
The site chosen for the radio home, addressed as 6121 Sunset Boulevard, had been the Nestor Film Company’s Hollywood studio, established here in a converted tavern on October 27, 1911, and the Christie studios. Demolition of the former studios began in February 1937.
The groundbreaking ceremony, held April 27, 1937, was broadcast nationally over CBS and KNX at 12:45pm.
The CBS home, known as Columbia Square, officially opened April 30, 1938 with star-studded, all day national coverage.
The finished building had an office tower, 8 broadcasting studios and an auditorium that could hold over 1000 people.
The eastern half of the complext housed a restaurant, retails shops and a bank.
Harry Brittingham Radio Center Restaurant, addressed as 6111 Sunset and later 6113 Sunset, served as both a commissary for station employees and open to the public. It held its grand opening at the same time as CBS: April 30, 1938.
The interior features a “radio in review” photo montage mural depicting radio personalities, designed by Martin Stern wnd executed by Ray DeBose and Harry Peters of the Hollywood Blueprint Co.
Also opening April 30, 1938 was an outlet of J. Sidneys Sidney’s, Ltd. menswear shop. “Sid’ had opened his first shop at Fox in 1929. In 1938 he operated shops at Paramount and at MGM. The Columbia Square shop, addressed as 6105 Sunset Boulevard, would be his third. The MGM shop would later close and one at Hollywood and Vine.
By early 1951, CBS was expanding its television operations and running out of room at Columbia Square. It was forced to not renew the leases of the businesses operating within the complex so that the space could be used for CBS’ own broadcasting needs. As it had in the early days of radio’s westward expansion, CBS also leased theaters around town, including the Earl Carroll Theater at 6230 Sunset.
Sydney’s, Ltd. announced in March 1951 that it was going out of business. Brittingham’s Radio Center restaurant lease was up in April 1951. The restaurant’s fixtures and equipment were sold at auction in May 1951.
CBS moved its television operations to its huge new CBS Television City in November 1952, KNX moved to new quarters in 2005. Columbia Square was recognized as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2009.