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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The birthplace of Hollywood goes unnoticed at the end of an Echo Park offramp

The southbound drivers who descend down the 2 Freeway where it melds into Glendale Boulevard are greeted with a weed filled lot and the shell of an abandoned building. It's not pretty but this is the birthplace of the Hollywood movie industry. Really. One hundred years ago this summer, Chicago-based Selig-Polyscope came to this spot in a community then known as Edendale and began churning out silent pictures in the region's first permanent movie studio. Other early filmmakers, such as Mack Sennett, also set up shop along what is now the border of Echo Park and Silver Lake. But don't go looking for any monuments or signs marking this homely historic spot There is none, and the site of the Selig-Polyscope seems destined to be forgotten.

The most recent effort to build a monument near where the Mission-style facade of the Selig-Polyscope studio once rose came from a developer who planned to build condos on the lot, said film historian Marc Wanamaker. But the real estate bust snuffed out that project and the developer was never heard from again.

"It was sad," said Wanamaker, who has long dreamed of a Selig-Polyscope monument. "I had my hopes up."

It's not like Hollywood has not completely forgotten about the Selig-Polyscope studio, which later served as the home for William Fox, Garson and other studios. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is marking the centennial of Los Angeles film studios with an exhibit in Hollywood. Hollywood Heritage is also planning an event for October and the Echo Park Historical Society (I'm a board member) will screen silent films later this month to honor the 100th anniversary of the first Edendale studio. But with the exception of Wanamaker and a few others, no one has expressed much of interest in placing a monument sign near 1845 Allesandro Street (now Glendale Boulevard), where film pioneer Col. William Selig established his West Coast outpost. Writer Allan Ellenberger in his Hollywoodland blog describes the city's first movie studio lot:

"Edendale soon became Selig-Polyscope’s headquarters. Selig sparred no expense in fitting up the permanent studio. The company built the exterior, which faced Allessandro (Glendale) Street, to represent an old Spanish mission and used genuine adobe. In the interior was sunk an enormous water tank. The studio itself, composed entirely of glass, was the second largest of its kind in the world at the time. It contained stages, dressing rooms, offices, and a modestly sized film laboratory. The total cost of the studio renovations was estimated to be a quarter-million dollars."

In October 1911, the Selig lot was the site of another historic Los Angeles event, the movie industry's first celebrity murder. The shooting death of director Francis Boggs by a studio worker came one day after the first film was shot in a community to the west called Hollywood, notes Ellenberger.

"Sadly, the site of the former Selig-Polyscope studios is now an empty lot in a mostly industrial area," writes Ellenberger. "The community that surrounds the spot and the people who pass by are most likely unaware of the historical significance of the site."

Many residents may recall seeing a small obelisk standing on the former Selig-Polyscope lot when it was the site of a printing company. That was indeed a monument to an Edendale film maker but not Selig-Polyscope. That monument was a misplaced tribute to a Sennett, whose studio, a city landmark, was actually located a few blocks further south on Glendale Boulevard (see related story).

Wanamaker and Hollywood Heritage still hold out hope that one day a Selig-Polyscope monument of some kind will be installed near the lot. At this point, Wanamaker would be happy with just some plaque embedded in the sidewalk. But, with the fate of the property up in the air and a freeway project in the works, it's not certain when or if the studio site will ever be recognized.

"It's a wait-and-see thing to see when the property is more stable," said Wanamaker. "But we are committed to doing something. One day."

Bottom images from AlanEllenberger.com


  1. interesting. kind of sad. infinitely more interesting than reading the usual yuppies vs. gang bangers drivel.

  2. Keep up the good work. I just recently discovered that there is a staircase to no where that used to lead to Coogan's Bluff where people used to peer into the Polo Grounds in New York. At the base of the stairs is a plaque dedicating the stairs to then owner John Brush 1913 - amazing this even survived but even worse that we have no regard. Thanks for this! Rick