Edendale

Edendale, Los Angeles, California

Edendale is a historical name for a district in Los Angeles, California, northwest of downtown, in what is known today as Echo Park and the eastern edge of Silver Lake. In the opening decades of the 20th century, in the era of silent film, Edendale was widely known as the home of most major film studios on the West Coast. Among its many claims, it was home to the Keystone Cops, and the site of many film firsts, including Charlie Chaplin’s first film, the first feature-length comedy, and the first pie-in-the-face. The Edendale film studios were mostly concentrated in a four-block stretch of Allesandro Street, between Berkeley Avenue and Duane Street. Allesandro Street was later renamed to Glendale Boulevard (and a smaller nearby street took on the name Allesandro). Edendale’s hilly streets and nearby lake lent themselves to many silent film gags. The district’s heyday as the center of the film industry was in the 1910s. By the 1920s, the studios had moved elsewhere, mostly to Hollywood, which would come to supplant it as the "film capital".

Edendale was known as such at least until 1940, as the Pacific Electric Railway operated an Edendale Line of its famous "red cars" that ran the course between downtown Los Angeles and the top of Edendale. The red car ran down the median of Allesandro Avenue (Glendale Blvd), which was double-tracked, and even triple-tracked between Sunset and Effie, as the tracks were also used by the interurban Glendale-Burbank Line. After 1940, the Edendale Line as such ceased, though service continued in the form of local service on the Glendale-Burbank Line. Rail service on that line ended completely in 1955, and the tracks have been abandoned.

The name Edendale is no longer used as a place name, and is little known today. Two of the few remnants of the name are the local post office (officially called Edendale Station) and a public library branch. Although many of the structures from the 1910s remain and can be identified by careful comparison with old photos, this district today is an unremarkable commercial zone called the “Glendale Boulevard Corridor” known mostly for its function as a commuter thoroughfare between the southern end of the Glendale Freeway and downtown Los Angeles. (See vintage and modern site photos)

Film industry in Edendale

A 1911 film trade publication described Edendale this way: "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.

Selig-Polyscope Studio

In 1909, the Selig-Polyscope Company established the first permanent Los Angeles motion picture studio. The company was founded by Colonel William Selig in Chicago, and it was his associate, Francis Boggs who first established the Los Angeles studio in Edendale. Within a few years, Selig had shifted most of his operations to Los Angeles. The famous cowboy film star Tom Mix made his first films with Selig-Polyscope out of their Edendale studio. The studio was originally completed in 1910, and featured a mission-style façade on the front entrance patterned after the bells at Mission San Gabriel. This mission-style entrance set a style that was echoed by other Edendale studios.

In 1913, Selig acquired 32 acres of land a few miles away in Lincoln Heights and began shifting his operations to that new location. By 1917, he had leased out his Edendale location to William Fox.

Bison Studio

In 1909, Selig-Polyscope was shortly followed into Edendale by the New York Motion Picture Company, making mostly one-reel westerns under the brand name Bison Pictures. The original studio was located at 1719 Allesandro St., a “tract of land graced only by a four-room bungalow and a barn”. Originally under the management of Fred J. Balshofer, the directorial reins were taken over a couple years later by film innovator Thomas H. Ince. Ince made only two or three one-reelers at the Edendale studio. Shortly after arriving in California, Ince acquired a lease on 18,000 acres (73 km²) of land in Santa Ynez Canyon, above Santa Monica, and shifted the operation of Bison Pictures to that location (which became known as “Inceville”). By 1912, Bison’s Edendale lot (such as it was) was taken over by Mack Sennett.

Mack Sennett / Keystone Studios

After a rough start in New Jersey, film maker Mack Sennett and his Keystone Comedies arrived in Edendale in September, 1912, and took up the studio lot that had been left by Bison Pictures when they decamped to Inceville. Though he started in Edendale with a run-down and mostly vacant lot, he soon achieved great success, and took up five acres on both sides of the street within a few years. Between 1913 and 1917, comedy was synonymous with Keystone. There, Mack Sennett was the first important producer and director of screen farce, where speed, irreverence, exaggeration, sight gags, and bam-bam-bam delivery defined comedy. "You had to understand comic motion," Sennett once told an interviewer, whereupon he pushed the interviewer into a swimming pool. "That is comic motion." Sennett was famous for his Keystone Cops, who bumbled all around Echo Park, and his "bathing beauties" (who included Gloria Swanson and Carole Lombard). Fatty Arbuckle made many of his famous movies at Keystone, and Charlie Chaplin was discovered there. His great female lead was Mabel Normand, his sometime girlfriend (who inspired the 1974 Broadway musical Mack & Mabel, as well as the character of Norma Desmond in the 1950 film Sunset Boulevard).

Coy Watson, Jr., who grew up in Edendale in its heyday, recalls:

Life in Edendale was truly exciting. Mack Sennett needed to produce a two-reel comedy every week which was 12 to 15 minutes long. These were the original slapstick, belly-laugh-a-minute flickers. They made the world laugh as the dignified were made to look ridiculous. The best-dressed folks got hit in the face with the biggest pies. Fat ladies sat down on break-away chairs or fell on the funniest, littlest guy on the set.

We kids watched them shoot the first fast-moving chases with horses and wagons, automobiles, fire engines, bicycles and baby buggies running wild all over Edendale and into Echo Park Lake. The Keystone Cops rode in their little police patrol wagon skidding on the soaped streets. Dressed in ill-fitting New York policemen's uniforms, they hit fruit stands, popcorn wagons, telephone poles and chicken coops. They took pratfalls and lifted their knees high as they ran and took corners on one foot, waving their billy clubs over their heads. They were always called to restore law and order to some impossible, funny scene hurriedly created by the quick wit of Hollywood's first comedy gagmen. The director had the story line in mind, but the gags came from everywhere as the shooting progressed. When the crew learned the themes of the story, each one was encouraged to come up with a funny thought or idea that might suggest an additional gag to help the picture get yet another laugh. Each idea gave birth to another one. Those early comedy idea men set the formula for the way movies, radio and television comedy would be written for years to come. Edendale became one great big background set for comedy. Folks there watched how it was done right in their own backyards. Early film makers didn't build street sets. To save money, they just used the actual stores, shop buildings and neighborhood homes.

A 1917 article in The Moving Picture World described the Keystone Edendale studio thus:

When the Keystone once got going its rise was rapid. Today [1917] the open air stages of the Keystone Film Company cover five acres. In addition to this are buildings of wood, brick and concrete, housing all the industries to be found in the average city of several thousand population, including a five-story planing mill and restaurant.

Another feature of the Mack Sennett Keystone studios is the big open air plunge, which is electrically heated. When not in use for pictures it is at the disposal of the actors, who may bathe in it whenever they desire. A modern cafeteria is conducted by the company. Here everybody employed at the plant may obtain the best of food at prices considerably lower than are demanded downtown.

In the planing mill is made everything from patrol wagons to the various sections of Swiss-chalet bungalows and skyscrapers. The painters supply the realistic touches, which are given finish by wall paper and designers' department. All kinds of mechanical devices are made in the machine shops, and in the big garage the scores of autos used in the Keystone's activities are housed and kept in repair. Many touches of humor are added to the comedies by the sign painters' staff. The plumbing department is kept busy providing water and sewerage connections wherever necessary.

Separate buildings are maintained for the general offices, scenario and publicity departments and for other activities allied with the manufacture of motion pictures.

The studios compose quite a city within a city, thriving with industry and giving employment to more than a thousand people, in one capacity or another.

Another famous feature of the Keystone Studios was the "cyclorama", where a background scene was painted onto a huge rotating cylinder that rotated while actors ran in place, creating the illusion that they were moving across the landscape.

Fox Studios

By 1916, Selig, having relocated to Lincoln Park, leased out his original Edendale studio lot to rising film director William Fox. At the Edendale studios, Fox made films with Theda Bara (including Cleopatra) and Tom Mix (whom Fox also bought out from Selig). However, his success quickly outgrew the three-quarter acre lot, and within a year, he opened his own Fox Studios on a 15 acre lot at Sunset and Western.

After Fox moved on from Edendale, the original Polyscope lot, with its distinctive mission-style entrance, served a series of studios, including Clara Kimball Young and Garson Studios (1920), and Marshall Neilan Studios (1925). In 1930, the lot, then abandoned but with its facade still standing, was the scene of an infamous rape. Within the next year, the site was demolished. The lot has hosted various commercial buildings, most recently BertCo Graphics, but is currently empty. A historical plaque installed on the site in 1954 commemorated Mack Sennett (whose studio was actually two blocks south), but the plaque was removed in September 2007 when the BertCo Graphics building was demolished.

Mixville

Tom Mix, a popular and enduring star of early western films, was famous for trick riding, fancy stunts, and flashy clothes. He started his career with Selig-Polyscope, was taken over by William Fox in 1917, was picked up by FBO (a precursor to RKO) in 1928, and made the jump to "talkies" with Universal in the 1930s. Tom Mix, managing his own films under Fox, acquired a parcel of land just over the hill north of Edendale’s main strip, and built a whole western set there that became known as Mixville. In her memoir The Fabulous Tom Mix, his wife recalls Mixville:

When Tom reigned as William Fox's biggest star in the postwar [World War I] period, he had an even more elaborate organization for the production of his pictures than with Selig. Production activities were carried on at a special studio lot covering twelve acres of ground near Edendale, California. This home of Tom's Fox pictures was appropriately called Mixville. Tom was undisputed "King of Mixville," just as he was the king of the screen cowboys.

Many of the interior scenes were made at Mixville. Almost everything pertaining to the Old West could be found tucked away somewhere in this unique little settlement; indeed, the vast lot was a miniature West in itself. There was a complete frontier town, with a dusty street, hitching rails, a saloon, Jail, bank, doctor's office, surveyor's office, and the simple frame houses typical of the early Western era. Only the signs on the buildings were changed from picture to picture, and some rearrangement of the furnishings.

There was an Indian village with several lodges nestled in a flat piece of land at the rear of the lot. From the range of plaster-of-Paris mountains surrounding the village Tom led many a convincing attack on a tribe of warriors, the whole thing looking ferociously real when the picture reached the screen.

There was a plot of simulated desert too, through which Tom and Tony wandered on many an occasion on their search for the "bad man"; for although Tom preferred actual locations, the Fox executives always held the budget over his head.

Among other things at Mixville there were a ranch house, sans any ceiling of course, a corral that would hold a hundred horses, and a great barnlike structure to hold props, such as saddles, uniforms, guns, and various items of furniture that conformed to the Old West tradition.

Tom Mix's original horse, Old Blue, was buried on the lot, which today is occupied by a couple of banks and shops in an undistinguished commercial strip at the NE corner of Glendale Blvd and Silver Lake Blvd.

Norbig Film Company

At 1745 Allesandro, on the block between the Selig lot and the Sennett lot, another studio was set up during 1914-1919 by the Norbig Film Company. Norbig was a rental film studio that provided a home for many director/producers who were just getting started (a business model that today would be called an "incubator"). Director Hal Roach worked here, making films starring Harold Lloyd as "Lonesome Luke". (Hal Roach was well-known in this period, but would become even more famous in the 1920s with hits including the "Our Gang" / "Little Rascals" series, and would build his own studio in Culver City.) Charlie Chaplin also worked here briefly, under the Lone Star Studios moniker, before setting up his own studio at 1025 Lillian Way in Hollywood. Other studios that operated here included French & Forman, Bronx, Reaguer Productions, Western Arts, Westwood Productions, and Harry Keaton.

Pathé West Coast

The Pathé West Coast Film Company had offices at 1807 Allesandro (NW corner of Branden), but it is not known that any films were made there.

Notes

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