profile

The Birth of Porn Valley: 1

David Houston
Thirty minutes deep into the San Fernando Valley from Hollywood stands a nondescript, 50,000-square-foot warehouse that churns out a million pieces of merchandise a month for adult film industry giant Metro.

Next door looms a similar behemoth belonging to Sin City, another large adult film company. Two other industry leaders, Wicked Pictures and Vivid Video, have their warehouses within hollering distance.

Thirty years ago, orchards and ranches consumed this industrial area of Chatsworth, Calif. Now it is the nerve center of the nation's $12 billion porn industry — and nothing like it exists anywhere else in the world. Metro's and the other warehouses are as automated as a Proctor and Gamble soap factory.

"We're just like any other company in an industrial complex running our business," Mara Epstein, a Metro marketing executive said.

But how these companies and dozens more ended up in Southern California's San Fernando Valley — or "Porn Valley" as many call it — and particularly in Chatsworth, is anything but an ordinary story; and it is a tale worthy of study as technology pushes the adult industry into new realms.

In Big Bang-like fashion, a pair of legal decisions combined with the advent of home video equipment almost instantaneously gave the porn marketplace legitimacy and forced producers and directors to build an infrastructure that hadn't previously been necessary when the industry was little more than a band of gypsies trying to stay one step ahead of the law.

Valley Soundstages, Warehouses
"All of a sudden, they needed soundstage space, a place for equipment and somewhere to put the merchandise. The Valley was available, and it was cheap," said Jeffrey J. Douglas, a Santa Monica, Calif., lawyer who has advised Vivid, Wicked and other companies on indecency and free speech issues for two decades.

That transformation began with the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1973 decision in Miller vs. California, which essentially legalized porn. But it wasn't completed until 1988, when the California Supreme Court handed down its People vs. Freeman decision that put the brakes on local prosecutors trying to get around Miller by charging pornographers with pimping and pandering.

"Miller made porn protected, but it was Freeman that made sure you could produce it," Douglas said.

Before Miller, porn had only a range of books and magazines, and those businesses were all located on the East Coast.

"When they started making movies, they tried to do that on the East Coast too, but they quickly realized that all the stuff they needed to make the movies was in California," Douglas said.

The first big porn companies were not in the Valley.

VCA was in a building off Sepulveda Boulevard in West Los Angeles, just down the street from Brentwood and across the street from Sports Club L.A., where some of the city's titans sweat it out.

"I don't know if our neighbors even knew we were VCA, but that's where we were," said Epstein, who got her start in the adult industry at that location. "Eventually, when [video] came out, things became cumbersome, and we had to head over the hill."

Jim South, head of World Modeling Agency, the oldest and even now one of the biggest talent agencies in the business, had his offices on Hollywood Boulevard, across the street from Mann's Chinese Theatre.

"Back when I started, it was illegal to shoot X-rated movies," South recalled. "We had to teach the girls how to know if they were followed, and we wouldn't tell them until the night before where the shoot was going to be."

"When we were in our illegal heyday, we never made a movie on Friday because we didn't want to spend the weekend in jail," said Bill Margold, whose Sunset International company was in the Hollywood Boulevard building with World Modeling.

In part two we'll look at how infrastructure needs drove the industry to settle in "Porn Valley."

More Articles

trends

Content Is King: Paysites Evolve as Porn Pushes Technology

Stephen Yagielowicz ·
profile

Q&A: Paxum CEO Octav Moise Shares the Wealth

Alejandro Freixes ·
educational

S2S Postbacks: Getting Ad Stats in 1 Place

Juicy Jay ·
opinion

Tips to Master Customer Subscription Retention

Cathy Beardsley ·
opinion

A Primer on How to Integrate Paysite Processing

Jonathan Corona ·
educational

Trademark Ruling a Victory for Adult Products, Services

Marc Randazza ·
profile

Q&A: Rich Girls CEO Cristina Enriches Cam Models

Alejandro Freixes ·
profile

Q&A: LiviaChoice Embraces Grand Camming Destiny

Alejandro Freixes ·
opinion

Refined Protocols Reduce STI Risks for Performers

Eric Paul Leue ·
educational

Camming 101: Establish Boundaries to Keep the Fantasy Alive

Steve Hamilton ·
Show More