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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The story of a misplaced silent movie monument

For about 40 years a short obelisk with a plaque dedicated to silent film pioneer Mack Sennett sat near the southern tip of the 2 Freeway. It proclaimed that this spot on the border of Echo Park and Silver Lake was the birthplace of motion picture comedy. The funny thing, it turns out, is that spot never had anything to do with Sennett or his comedy-making machine.

The weed-filled lot where the Sennett monument once stood was the site of the Selig-Polyscope, the city's first permanent movie studio. Sennett, whose films features stars like Charlie Chaplin and the Keystone Cops, operated his own studio a few blocks further south on Glendale Boulevard in a community then known as Edendale. Sennett's concrete studio building, which now houses a Public Storage facility, is still there and has been declared a city cultural historic landmark. So, how did that monument to Sennett end up in the wrong place?

For a few years, at least, that monument did sit in the right place at 1712 Glendale Boulevard, explains Hollywood film historian Marc Wanamker. It was installed on the grounds of the former Sennett studio in 1954 when the television show "This Is Your Life" produced a program on the filmmaker. But about 10 years later, the property, occupied by a moving and storage company, changed hands, and the owners looked for a new home for the monument, said Wanamaker. They found one, up the street, on the former site of the Selig-Polyscope studio, which was then occupied by a printing company. The printing company owner agreed to place the obelisk in a garden in front of his building. And that's where it sat until about two years ago when those buildings were demolished to make way for a failed condo development. "I have always been telling people it was in the wrong place," Wanamaker said.

Wanamaker said a member of Hollywood Heritage was able to rescue the plaque, which is being stored at the group's museum in Hollywood. The plan is to return the plaque to the place where the Sennett studio actually stood, Wanamaker said.

Photos by Dateline-City of Angeles

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