Saving Stage 28

The walls of Stage 28 at Universal Studios, constructed in 1924 for Phantom of the Opera with Lon Chaney Sr., are still paneled with the recreation of the Paris Opera House auditorium made for that famous silent movie. But how much longer will they remain? Rumors say Stage 28 is slated for destruction and those who cherish Hollywood’s oldest surviving set have petitioned the White House to save it, asking that the place be given “the unique and staying distinction of National Historic Landmark Status.”

The petition was posted August 26 but at this writing has only 827 signatures.

How one of Phantom’s most dramatic scenes was engineered on Stage 28 is described at Silents Are Golden:

The chandelier, which the Phantom cuts loose upon the unsuspecting audience, was an exact replica of the one in the Paris opera house. Weighing in at 16,000 pounds and measuring 40 feet in diameter, the chandelier was an impressive sight and, no doubt, probably caused a few extras in the audience to question the strength of the chain holding it in place (the set could seat up to 3,000 extras). When it came to filming the crash of the great chandelier, Universal was obviously not thrilled with the prospect of letting a very expensive set decoration be destroyed, not to mention the potential hazard to the extras seated below. Cameraman Charles Van Enger solved the problem by having the chandelier lowered to just above the extras’ heads. When the cameras started cranking away, at a very slow speed, the chandelier was pulled back up to the ceiling. The shot was reversed in the developing lab so that when it was projected at the proper speed, the chandelier appeared to come crashing down upon the audience, yet the extras and the huge ornament emerged without a scratch!

Thestudiotour.com has an excellent photo gallery of Stage 28. Here is a good YouTube video of the interior.

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