The town of Mayberry, overhead shot, as constructed on the 40 Acres set in Culver City, CA

‘40 Acres’—Where Mayberry Was Built

"40 Acres" is the misnomer applied to what was actually some 29 acres of land in Culver City, California, first used as a movie studio backlot in 1926 by Cecil DeMille, after he leased the property from Italian immigrate Achille Casserini (on March 22, 1926). DeMille's production company utilized the backlot for numerous silent films, including The King of Kings (1927), for which a large Jerusalem temple and town were constructed, The Fighting Eagle (1927), The Forbidden Woman (1927) and The Godless Girl (1929), DeMille's last silent, and for which a large reform school set was built on the lot. In 1928, DeMille's Culver City studio and backlot were acquired by RKO Pictures, whose films which employed the backlot included Bird of Paradise (1932) and the 1933 classic, King Kong. In 1937, David Selznick acquired the property in a long-term lease, and used the backlot to re-create a Civil War-era Atlanta for his 1939 epic Gone With The Wind (after filming the burning of numerous leftover sets on the lot, including the King Kong gate, to depict the burning of Atlanta in the film).

Under a variety of owners over the next two decades, the backlot appeared in dozens of films, and by the early 1950s, the lot began to appear in television productions, including The Adventures of Superman. (Pictured here is an aerial view from 1958, when the backlot had just changed ownership to Desilu Studios. A number of "40 Acres" landmarks are visible, including the "Mayberry" courthouse [right edge, center] and the mansion from Scarlett O'Hara's plantation, Tara [just right of upper left corner.] For the next ten years, the backlot would provide outdoor locales for Desilu's own television productions, as well as for series produced by others, the most notable of all being The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968), for which the streets of Atlanta constructed for Gone With The Wind served as the town of "Mayberry." Paramount Pictures eventually bought out Desilu, and in 1968, sold off the Culver City studio facilities. As the studio continued to change hands, the "40 Acres" backlot fell out of use and into disrepair in the early 1970s, and in 1976 it was bulldozed and the land sold to industry.


Don Knotts, Andy Griffith and Jim Nabors on the Mayberry set at 40 Acres

By 1958, RKO Studios and the 40 Acres backlot had already changed ownership several times, including ownership by Howard Hughes from 1948 to 1955. In 1958 the studio and backlot acreage was purchased by Desilu Productions, the studio formed in 1951 by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. For the next ten years, 40 Acres would provide exterior locations for the company's television productions, including The Untouchables, Star Trek, Mission: Impossible, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse and Guestward Ho! Other production companies also regularly leased or occasionally rented the backlot for exterior filming in television series such as The Andy Griffith Show, Adventures of Superman, The Real McCoys, My Three Sons, Gomer Pyle, USMC, Hogan's Heroes, Miami Undercover, Batman, Bonanza, Land of the Giants, That Girl, Mayberry R.F.D. and The Green Hornet. The backlot would also continue to see occasional use in films during this period, including in 1963 for the production of The Greatest Story Ever Told, whose set for the city of Jerusalem had to be reconstructed at 40 Acres after a series of freak snowstorms halted on-location production in Arizona.

(from "40 Acres, The Lost Studio Backlot
of Movie & Television Fame (1926-1976)” at The Retroweb Studio Backlots site, profusely illustrated and annotated at
http://www.retroweb.com/40acres.html.)