From the Archives: Martians destroy Los Angeles City Hall

on Sep20

Los Angeles Times staff photographer Phil Bath, using a high-speed 35-millimeter camera, was present during special effects filming for the movie “War of the Worlds.” Four of these photos were published in the May 9, 1952, Los Angeles Times. An accompanying story explains:

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

Not the real City Hall, of course, but 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.

This explosion was included in the 1953 version of “War of the Worlds.” The scene is in this YouTube clip: Aliens Destroy L.A.

On May 8, 1952, Los Angeles Times published a photo of Los Angeles City Hall backlit by a Nevada atomic bomb test. The next day, these photos were published with the headline “If A-Bomb Wrecked City Hall, Blast Might Look Like This.”

This post was originally published on Oct. 11, 2013.

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