Framework

Capturing the world through photography, video and multimedia

May 8, 1952: A model of Los Angeles City Hall is blown up during filming of special effects for 1953 movie "War of the Worlds." This is a cropped version of the third photo in this gallery.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

May 8, 1952: A model of Los Angeles City Hall is blown up during filming of special effects for 1953 movie "War of the Worlds." This photo was published in the May 9, 1952, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times

May 8, 1952: A model of Los Angeles City Hall is blown up during filming of special effects for 1953 movie "War of the Worlds." This photo was published in the May 9, 1952, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

May 8, 1952: A model of Los Angeles City Hall is blown up during filming of special effects for 1953 movie "War of the Worlds." This photo was published in the May 9, 1952, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times

May 8, 1952: A model of Los Angeles City Hall is blown up during filming of special effects for 1953 movie "War of the Worlds."

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

May 8, 1952: A model of Los Angeles City Hall lies in ruins after being blown up during filming of special effects for 1953 movie "War of the Worlds." This photo was published in the May 9, 1952, Los Angeles Times.

PHOTOGRAPH BY: Phil Bath / Los Angeles Times Archive/UCLA

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Martians destroy Los Angeles City Hall

May 8, 1952: Los Angeles Times staff photographer, using a high-speed 35-millimeter camera, was present during special effects filming for the movie “War of the Worlds.”

A story in the May 9, 1952, Los Angeles Times explains:

The City Hall was blasted apart yesterday by invading Martian monsters!

Not the real City Hall, of course, by a six-foot Paramount Studio model that provided startling sequence pictures of what a direct A-bomb hit might do the the city’s tallest building if war ever comes.

The blast was shot as part of a scene in George Pal’s forthcoming production, “The War of the Worlds,” the same H.G. Wells story which Orson Welles produced on radio years ago to scare the wits out of the Eastern Seaboard.

Paramount has modernized the story to tell of the nationwide invasion by Martians, with the first of the strange monsters landing in Southern California and environs with deadly rays.

The City Hall being a prime and recognizable target, it was marked for demolition in the script.

Gordon Jennings, special effects director, was given the job of disintegrating the towering structure. His success can be seen in the sequence pictures taken by Times cameraman Phil Bath in this issue.

The exact model of the City Hall was built of “breakaway” plaster, and loaded with prima cord.

After hours of final preparation, Jennings shouted, “Action!” and a series of blasts crumpled the model spectacularly against a background of swirling smoke and flame–and sprayed plaster particles across the set like shotgun pellets.

When the smoke cleared, stage hands came from behind their shields to find the City Hall nothing but a crumpled mass of debris.

Four photos from the above photo gallery were published in the May 9, 1952, Los Angeles Times. This explosion was included in the 1953 version of “War of the Worlds.” The scene is in this YouTube clip: Aliens Destroy L.A.

The original 35-millimeter negatives, part of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive at UCLA, were recently scanned.

The photo on this previous From the Archive post, L.A. City Hall backlit by nuclear weapon test, was published in the May 8, 1952, Los Angeles Times. The next day, the photos above were published with headline,”If A-Bomb Wrecked City Hall, Blast Might Look Like This.”

scott.harrison@latimes.com

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Thumbnail view to all From the Archive posts.

2 Comments

  1. October 12, 2013, 12:12 am

    I was in the theatre to see War of the Worlds and when the Martian space ships grind to a halt on the streets of Los Angeles, the script causes the actors to question what happened? What caused the Martian ships to stop in there tracks while tne surviving Angelenos were all huddled in a church. I will never forget that someone in the audience yelled out. "The smog got them"

    By: aalan1@ix.netcom.com
  2. October 12, 2013, 3:09 pm

    Classic!

    By: Scott Harrison

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