Chaplin, Arbuckle and The Rounders

The blue line runs from the Rex Arms Apartments, at left, where Charlie and Roscoe play during The Rounders, to the Olive Street side of the LA Athletic Club to the right.   During scenes filmed at the Rex you can see a trolley travel along Figueroa (left oval), the original east termination of Wilshire Boulevard.  Wilshire was later was extended three blocks further east to Grand (right oval).  The right oval touches the pink Wilhelm Apartment, and yellow Casa Grande Hotel, both mentioned below. This image comes from the 1914 Baist Atlas of Los Angeles – HistoricMapWorks.com

All wet – Roscoe and Charlie

I’ve always enjoyed the comic interplay between Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle during their classic Keystone short The Rounders (1914).  Charlie and Roscoe play a couple of good time inebriates, or “rounders,” who empty their wives’ pocketbooks in order to finance another night out.  Much of the action takes place on the steps of the Rex Arms Apartments, as the gentlemen, and their wives, exit and enter the building.

Charlie on the steps of the now lost Rex Arms Apartments.  Notice the name plate and globe entrance lamps.

Rex Arms –               Apartments

Built in 1912, the now lost Rex Arms was located at 945 Orange Street, just half a block west from the “T” intersection where Orange terminated at Figueroa.   Thanks to the image quality of the Chaplin at Keystone collection from Flicker Alley, I was able discern part of the brass name plate (see left).  Although the first word was ambiguous, it looked like the second word was “Arms.”  A quick search at the LA Public Library online city directories gave me the Orange Street address, but I was still baffled until I realized that Orange Street later became part of Wilshire Boulevard.  When The Rounders was filmed in 1914, Wilshire Boulevard terminated at the west side of Westlake Park (now MacArthur Park), and Orange Street, its symmetrical counterpart, commenced on the east side of the park.  When Wilshire was later extended through the park in the 1930s to hook up with Orange Street on the other side, the Orange name was subsumed into the Wilshire name.  Wilshire Boulevard was also later extended further east, three blocks closer to downtown, past Figueroa where Orange once ended, and now terminates at Grand Avenue.

The Rex Arms Apartments –  USC Digital Archive

The Rex Arms (oval) across from the 1,300 room Statler Hotel. Security Pacific National Bank Photograph Collection/Los Angeles Public Library.

The Harbor Freeway was built immediately adjacent to the Rex in the 1950s, but the apartment was spared, and stood a few more decades in the shadow of the massive Statler Hotel that opened in 1952.  With 1,300 rooms, the Statler was the largest hotel to open in the United States since the Waldorf Astoria in 1931.  As Steve Vaught writes in his blog Paradise Leased, the Statler will soon be demolished, a fate that befell the Rex Arms in 1978.  A 20+ story office building was built in place of the Rex in 1980.

Roscoe and Charlie – behind them, a view east towards downtown.

I know you can’t stop progress, but I was particularly disappointed to learn that the Rex Arms, the one building where Charlie and Roscoe had both appeared, was no longer standing.  I had really wanted to visit those same steps in person.  But I was gladdened by a further discovery.  After nearly a century, several downtown buildings that appear in the background of The Rounders are still holding on.

Click to enlarge.  As Roscoe drags Charlie east down Orange Street (now Wilshire Boulevard) towards the trolley crossing on Figueroa, three prominent, extant buildings from the downtown Historic Core appear in the background.  California Historical Society, Title Insurance and Trust Photo Collection, Department of Special Collections, University of Southern California

As Roscoe drags Charlie down the street, in the background you can see a trolley traveling along Figueroa, the street where Orange (Wilshire) once ended, as well as the downtown Los Angeles Athletic Club peeking from between the Knickerbocker Building and the Brack Shops Building.  For comparison, the red boxes above mark the side of the extant Brack Shops Building, at 527 West 7th Street, that stands in the middle of the block between Olive and Grand.  At the time the Brack Shops Building had no tall neighbors, so the exposed side of the building appears prominently during the movie.  The yellow oval marks the back of the Hotel Casa Grande, a wooden boarding house that once stood at 647 S. Grand, to the right of the former Wilhelm Apartments at 639 S. Grand.

The arrow marks the line of sight from the front steps of the Rex Arms, passing between the Brack Shops Building and the Knickerbocker Building to the side of the LA Athletic Club on the corner of Olive and 7th.  Security Pacific National Bank Photograph Collection/Los Angeles Public Library.

Above, a circa 1921 aerial view shows the view line from the Rex Arms towards the Los Angeles Athletic Club, that opened in 1912, and is still standing at the corner of Olive and W. 7th.  At the time, there were no tall buildings next to the Knickerbocker Building, nor near the Brack Shops Building, allowing an unobstructed view of the club between the buildings.

Aerial view (c) 2011 Microsoft Corporation, Pictometry Bird’s Eye (c) 2010 Pictometry International Corp.

As this modern view shows, the Knickerbocker, Brack, and LA Athletic Club buildings are all still standing, but during the intervening years the Quinby Building at the corner of Grand and 7th now blocks the side view of the Brack Shops Building, and the Transamerica Building, at the corner of Olive and 7th, now blocks the side view of the Athletic Club.

Below, Roscoe drags Charlie off into the sunset, with matching views taken nearly 100 years apart.

(C) 2012 Google

Chaplin at Keystone: Copyright (C) 2010 by Lobster Films for the Chaplin Keystone Project.

Check out these other posts about Chaplin’s early Keystone filming.

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8 Responses to Chaplin, Arbuckle and The Rounders

  1. Robby says:

    Great detective work! What a shame that the Rex Arms building is demolished. I would have liked to walk those steps too and even take a peek at the interior. It looks like it would have been a pretty nice apartment building.

  2. Mary Mallory says:

    John, did you and Steve plan out your posts this week? Perfect timing for both of you! Though not quite as old, the Pantages Theatre is still standing as well. It later became the Warner Bros. Theatre and is now a jewelry mart building. The proscenium arch, stage, and balcony still survive in the building.

    • Thanks Mary – this post had been nagging at me for two years. When I saw Steve’s current post, about the hotel right across the street, I figured it was time to finally crank this story out. The dome of the Pantages, and its vertical blade sign, appear prominently during scenes from Harold Lloyd’s Never Weaken.

  3. Bruce Long says:

    There’s also a photo of the Rex Arms at

    http://archive.org/stream/photoplay3133movi#page/32/mode/1up

    • Thanks Bruce – it sounds from that 1927 article that back a dozen years earlier, when Chaplin was filming here, that the Rex was prestigious place for Hollywood types to stay. So it seems likely Sennett and the others were already familiar with the Rex when they decided to film there.

  4. Gregg D says:

    Too bad that the Rex Arms didn’t survive long enough for the residential renewal downtown as it probably could have been restored. As always I learned something new about Los Angeles. I always wondered why Wilshire Blvd abruptly ends at Grand Avenue, I knew about Wilshire ending at the park but didn’t know about Orange. Sort of like how Vine suddenly becomes Rossmore south of Melrose in Hollywood.

    BTW I went to Mark Shiel’s lecture at the Hammer Museum a couple weeks back and the first question in the Q&A was “Do you know John Bengtson and his excellent work?” Mark had some nice things to say about you

  5. Gregg D says:

    One more thing….

    I think that the building that replaced the Rex Arms had a restaurant called the Harbor View. No water in sight, just a sly joke that it looked out over the Harbor Freeway.

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