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Edendale and the Beginning of the West Coast Film Industry

Posted by Eric Brightwell, May 29, 2008 06:15pm | Post a Comment


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of the Edendale tract
Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of the Edendale tract


This edition of the Los Angeles neighborhood blog is about historic Edendale. To vote for more neighborhoods, click here. To vote for Los Angeles county communities, click here.
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C
hicagoan William Selig had a background in vaudeville and, as a teen, was part of a traveling minstrel show. In 1894 he witnessed a demonstration of Thomas Edison's Kinetoscope at an exhibition in Dallas. Upon returning to the Middle West, he set up his own photography studio and began researching how to make movies in a way that wouldn't get him in trouble with the notoriously patent-protecting Edison who wasn't above hiring armed goons to stop anyone from infringing on his cartel.

   

             Francis Boggs                                        Selig-Polyscope Studio                                          William Selig

 In 1896 Selig set up the Selig Polyscope Company with director & actor Francis W. Boggs. They began filming actualities, industrial films and travelogues.  Francis Boggs was from Santa Rosa or Newman, California (there were no census records). 


La Jolla cliffs

In December, 1907 Boggs persuaded Selig that they should shoot some scenes of Boggs' eight minute Count of Monte Christo in Southern California. The cliffs of the Pacific Coast would stand in those of the Petit bout d'île where the protagonist (played by Hobart Bosworth) was imprisoned.



It wasn't the first time motion picture cameras had filmed in California. Years earlier, around 1898, Thomas Edison's company had shot actuality footage on South Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles. Edison owned a Kinetoscope parlor at 311 S. Spring, where the California Department of Health Services now sits. A summary of his footage describes "Various equipages pass, including a tally-ho and six white horses. A peculiar, open-end trolley car comes along; bicycle riders and pedestrians."  Boggs' film, however, was the first movie to be partially filmed in California.

 

The lot behind 7th and Olive where California's first film was made.

In July of 1909 Heart of a Race Tout (filmed in the drying yard of Chun Fon's Sing Kee Laundry- (on Olive between 7th and 8th St.) was released. Filmed in 1908, it was the first dramatic film entirely shot in California.

  

In 1909 Selig and Boggs relocated their movie-making apparatus to Boggs' rented bungalow in Edendale, an historic Los Angeles neighborhood centered in what is now Echo Park and the east end of Silver Lake. Several businesses still bear the Edendale name such as the Edendale Post Office and the Edendale Fire House (now the Edendale Grill). The hub of the neighborhood was in what is now referred to as the Glendale Boulevard Corridor, located where the 2 freeway ends. Boggs' home/the studio was located at 1845 Allesandro (now Glendale Blvd).

 

In June of 1909,  In the Sultan's Power (filmed at the new studio in Edendale) was released, a month before Heart of a Race Tout, making it the first California-filmed movie to play to the public.  Over the next four years, Boggs made over 200 one-reel films.

Selig was attracted to California by the weather, the varied landscapes (e.g. mountains, farms, beaches, desert, ranches, orchards, cities, and more) and the several-thousand-mile distance from Thomas Edison. Soon, many other studios followed. As the trade publication Motography wrote in 1911, "Edendale...is a very beautiful suburb of Los Angeles.  It is the motion picture center of the Pacific Coast.  With clear air and sunshine three hundred days out of the year, conditions are ideal for perfect picture making. The scenic advantages of the location, too, are unique. From [Edendale] can be seen the Pacific Ocean, twenty-two miles to the west, and the broad panorama of Southern California, with its fruit and stock ranches, its snowcapped mountains and its tropical vegetation, to the east, north and south.  Within a short distance of Edendale may be found every known variety of national scenery, seemingly arranged by a master producer expressly for the motion picture camera."  

             

The building which housed the studios was completed in 1910 and had a facade modeled after the San Gabriel Mission. It was the first motion picture studio in Los Angeles. Roscoe Arbuckle also made his film debut at Selig in Boggs' Ben's Kid (released July 1, 1909). Tom Mix became a famous cowboy who made countless films for the studio. Eventually he built his own western set on a four acre lot over the hill on what's now Silver Lake. His lot was named Mixville and his original horse, Old Blue, is buried there.



Within months, the New York Motion Picture Company moved to Edendale and, rechristened as Bison Studios, churned out westerns at their location at 1719 Allesandro.

 

        

Three years later, Mack Sennet bought the studio and filmed his Keystone Cops. The studio is still there, now a self storage facility behind Jack In the Box. Soon, Mack Sennet expanded operations across the street.

In Charlie Chaplin's autobiograpy he wrote, "It was lunchtime and I watched the men and women in their makeup come pouring out of the bungalow, including the Keystone Cops. They crossed the road to a small general store and came out eating sandwiches and hot dogs. Some called after each other in loud, raucous voices: 'Hey, Hank, come on!' 'Tell Slim to hurry!'" That building is still there, the deli now a small market.



On October 27, 1911, Selig was in a meeting with Boggs. The studios' "gentleman janitor" Frank Minematsu entered the office and shot Boggs four times with a gun he grabbed from an actor's studio.  Boggs died and Selig survived a gunshot to the arm. Minematsu told arresting officers, "Mr. Boggs was my best friend. He was always very nice to me. But a man told me he was evil and had to die."
Minematsu lived out his 26 remaining years in San Quentin, where his visions suggested that he could make billions of dollars in gold rain down from Heaven.

The same day that Boggs was killed, Nestor Studios opened over in the nearby, dry, Methodist hamlet of Hollywood. Within two years, more than a dozen studios would do the same, signaling the end of Edendale's dominance in film-making and the emergence of Hollywood in its place.

   

                                                                                                                       William Fox

In 1913 Selig obtained 32 acres of land in nearby Lincoln Heights where he erected a zoo to house animals for his popular jungle serials. In 1917 Selig leased his old studio facilities to William Fox, the founder of Fox Film. That same year, A Noise from the Deep (1913) was filmed at the Mack Sennett studios. In the film, Mabel Normand tosses a pie into the face of Fatty Arbuckle, which made it the first film with a pie toss, therein making comedic history.


The next year, in 1914, Norbig Film Company moved to 1745 Allesandro in Edendale with Hal Roach, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd making films for them.


*****


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