10 Degrees Cooler
Hollywood”™s Top Secret Film Studio
By Joann Deutch
Dec 18, 2011 - 9:01:01 AM

LAUREL CANYONThere is still intrigue surrounding the Cold War military installations in the Santa Monica Mountains.  The idea of military installations embedded in civilian areas has to cause us pause, however it would seem that war in our backyards was seen by the military as a distinct possibility.


There is the Nike Anti-Missile installation at the intersection of Mulholland and Encino Hills Drive.  The compound is now maintained by the SMCA (l onto the website for the Westridge Canyonback Park). You can climb the stairs to the radar tower platform for a spectacular view of the city and beyond. There are original signs warning that the Russians and Khrushchev are out to change the American way of life. The missiles themselves were probably loaded into the silos covered by metal hatches on the eastern end of the park.

In response to the Red Scare, the 1352nd  Photographic Group of the U. S. Air Force was installed on Wonderland Park Avenue. The facility was built in 1947, and in operation though 1969. Our government had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.The government wanted to study, understand and develop more sophisticated weapons, believing the Russians were right behind the US.

All of the personnel at Wonderland carried “Q” (Top Secret) level security clearances.  Wonderland’s budget was $160,000,000.00. The extraordinary campus had two screening rooms; editing facilities; animation facilities; film vaults; facilities to write scripts and score music.  What went on behind the walls?  The men and women who worked for the 1352nd  were charged with filming the US’s experiments with A bombs and H bombs; test detonations above ground; wahoo testing underwater; underground testing in Utah; hydrogen bombs tested on Weetaw, the Bikini Islands in the Pacific and in Utah’s desert, 150 miles outside of St. George. For the two Bikini Island blasts, they used 500,000 pounds of film equipment and fully one-half of all available film stock in the world.  

50 years later, the films, photos and work of Wonderland were declassified. Documentary film-masker Peter Kuran stepped in and made the film "Hollywood’s Top Secret Film Studio."  This amazing film is available on DVD.  It shows team members protected by flimsy overalls, taped at the wrists and ankles within 1.5 miles of some of these blasts. The film narrator noted that soldiers got even closer to the blasts. One employee remarked that whenever their safety radiation tags showed overexposure, they would be sent home. He cavalierly chuckled that he was always being sent home.   One explosion filmed the damage done to buildings, crumpling steel structures as if they were toothpicks, and flipping over school buses as if they were toys.

The filmmakers set up hundreds of cameras for each test blast; some clicking off individual exposures ”““don’t worry about the light readings - one of them will have to be properly exposed," others operating movie cameras - all controlled remotely. To accomplish their mission they had to invent new film technology which was resistant to gamma rays.  They worked with Eastman to develop the XR film which was subsequently used to film the lunar landing.

They were hired because they were the best of the best. They stepped up for a harrowing assignment. Out of their work emerged such technological advances as 3D, vistas vision, surround sound and cinemascope.

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