Rare Chaplin Scenes in Downtown Los Angeles

The Wiley B. Allen Co. sign appears beneath the window.

In my book Silent Traces, I explain how during His Musical Career (1914) Charlie Chaplin and Mack Swain play piano movers who filmed scenes in front of an actual piano store, the Wiley B. Allen Co., located at 416 – 418 South Broadway.  The shop window reflects the distinctive window pattern of the extant (although severely truncated) Grant Building across the street located on the northwest corner of Fourth and Broadway (see pages 47-48).

Thanks to the sharp imagery of the new Chaplin at Keystone DVD Collection, we are now privy to a bit of early movie magic.  Although the piano shop appearing in the film stood at Broadway near 4th, the next shot of Charlie and Mack loading up the wagon, presumably in front of the same shop, was filmed five blocks away, on 9th Street looking east towards Main Street, and the Tom Mack Café and the Marsh Strong Building, which both appear in Chaplin’s prior film The New Janitor (1914).

Click to enlarge. Looking east down 9th Street towards Main, His Musical Career to the left, The New Janitor to the right. The Tom Mack Cafe building (red box) stood until recently at the corner of 9th and Main. The vertical yellow box to the left marks the edge of the Marsh Strong Building, the building from which Charlie nearly falls out of the window (right). The far left yellow box marks a billboard for the Garland Building, appearing in a later photo below.

In The New Janitor, Charlie nearly falls out of the Marsh-Strong Building while washing windows, as four onlookers lean out to watch the filming.  On the far corner is Tom Mack’s Cafe, located at 858 S. Main Street, or 9th and Main.  The cafe had a full length mahogany bar, fine oil paintings, and chandeliers, as well as a 24-seat counter and ice cream tables.  The Tom Mack Cafe building was still standing at the time my book was published, but Google Street View confirms the corner building is now gone, apparently to make way for a new building.

The seven arches east beyond the corner of Main still remain. Google Street View (c) 2010 Google Inc.

The building due east of the Tom Mack Café site is still standing, with its seven arched windows along the second floor still in place.  The Marsh Strong Building was completed in 1913, the year before Chaplin filmed there.  The back of the Marsh Strong appears during scenes from Buster Keaton’s short comedy Cops (1922), as Buster paces back and forth while driving his wagon of furniture.

The right box marks the Wm. Garland & Co. sign facing Main Street marked with a box below.

Looking north up Main from 9th. The back of the sign (yellow box) appears during Chaplin's scene above. The traffic island marks where Spring Street merges into Main Street. USC Digital Archive California Historical Society.

The two-story William May Garland Building at the NW corner of 9th and Main was replaced with a thirteen story height-limit William May Garland Building in 1923.

The Tom Mack Cafe building (red box) was still standing in 2006. The narrow yellow box marks the edge of the Marsh Strong Building, matching the narrow yellow box in the movie frame above. Between the red and yellow stands the Garland Building completed in 1923. This Bing Bird's Eye View looks to the southeast, as Main Street runs south from the lower left to the upper right. The chevrons painted on the street mark the site of the former traffic island where Spring merges into Main.

Bing Maps Bird’s Eye – © 2010 NAVTEQ, Pictometry Bird’s Eye © 2010 Pictometry International Corp., © 2010 Microsoft Corporation.

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