Another Lois Weber First – Using Locations

Click to enlarge – the lost Bergstrom Estate at 590 N. Vermont Avenue portrays the District Attorney’s mansion in Lois Weber’s birth-control abortion drama Where Are My Children? (1916). This view shows the south gate automobile entrance. Years later Harry Houdini and Buster Keaton would film at the north pedestrian entrance.

In her day, pioneering producer/director/screenwriter Lois Weber ranked alongside D.W. Griffith and Cecile B. DeMille as one of the most successful and influential filmmakers of any gender. As historian Cari Beauchamp writes, though little known today, Weber was the first American woman to direct a feature length film, the first woman member of the Motion Pictures Directors Association, and even the first woman, years before Mary Pickford, to own an eponymous studio. Weber, the subject of author Shelly

Opening the film, this disclaimer about birth control, remarkable for 1916, likely remains controversial in much of 2017 America.

Stamp’s insightful book “Lois Weber in Early Hollywood,” explains  how Weber was known for tackling social injustice in her films, addressing issues such as drug addiction, birth control, capital punishment, and women’s inequality. Weber also actively mentored and promoted other women in the early film industry. (You can learn more about Lois and other silent-era women directors in the latest Dream Factory episode of Nathan Master’s fascinating LOST LA history series for KCET television.)

While a far less notable accomplishment, as shown here, Weber was also the first to use key filming locations, years before Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and others would employ these settings in their later films.

Weber’s 1916 drama Where Are My Children? involves a married but childless District Attorney who prosecutes an abortionist, only to learn that his own wife and many of her society friends were among the doctor’s clientele. The concluding scene depicts the lonely DA and his wife staring into their fireplace over the years, visited symbolically by the ‘ghosts’ of the adult children they would never have.

A full view of the north end of the DA’s mansion from Harry Houdini’s The Grim Game (1919), with an insert of the pedestrian entrance gate appearing in Buster Keaton’s Cops (1922).

The many scenes of the DA’s home were filmed at the mansion of noted architect Edwin Bergstrom, later home to theater magnate Alexander Pantages, before it was razed in 1951 to build a Jewish community center (now home to West Coast University). As shown above, Harry Houdini filmed his debut (non-serialized) feature The Grim Game (1919) at the same mansion, and Buster Keaton would later film the opening scenes from Cops (1922) at the north entrance gate (read more about The Grim Game HERE). But pioneer film-maker Lois Weber filmed here first, by several years.

Prior to its appearance in Where Are My Children?, this December 19, 1915 image from the Los Angeles Times was the only view of the mansion I could locate. Aside from entertainment, movies provide invaluable historic reference.

Early in the film the DA, portrayed by Tyrone Power (father of the classic-era actor), prosecutes a physician on obscenity charges for distributing literature about birth control. In his defense, the doctor recounts tragic events from his practice that could have been prevented had the public been educated about contraception. In one story, directly below, the doctor explains how a single mother, abandoned by her lover, committed suicide along with her infant by leaping from a bridge. The bridge portrayed was the Colorado Street Bridge in Pasadena, built in 1913, by then already notorious as a “suicide bridge” in real life. With more than 100 known suicides, the bridge is remodeled today with a modern suicide prevention fence. While I can’t say whether Weber directly influenced Chaplin, Charlie filmed a similar scene on the bridge with Edna Purviance portraying a despondent single mother in The Kid (1921) (decades later Chaplin decided to excise this scene). Again, Weber filmed here first.

Edna Purviance in an original scene from The Kid (1921), cut decades later by Chaplin, and a corresponding scene from Where Are My Children?

The physician on trial for providing birth control information then describes the poverty and violence endured by poor families overwhelmed by having too many children. His account turns to a rowdy fight filmed in some dingy alleyway, below. Weber staged this scene just south of Hollywood Boulevard, in an alley parallel between Cahuenga and Cosmo – the earliest use (of which I am aware) of what would prove to be a very popular place to film. Here below are comparable scenes staged there from Chaplin’s The Kid – but again, Weber filmed here first.

Click to enlarge – looking south down East Cahuenga alley where Chaplin filmed early scenes from The Kid. The birth control physician appears upper right.

A full then and now view of the alley from The Kid (and Where Are My Children?) appears below.

A full then and now view of the alley where Chaplin (and Lois Weber) filmed.

As shown in this post, Buster Keaton would later film Cops, and Harold Lloyd would film Safety Last! (1923), at the same alley first used by Weber. The Chaplin – Keaton – Lloyd Hollywood Alley.

Roscoe Arbuckle and Mabel Normand in That Little Band of Gold (1915) – they filmed here before Lois.

The former court house on Temple, left and Broadway, right. USC Digital Library

Above left, Where Are My Children? features this scene of the DA leaving what was the actual Los Angeles County Court House (1891 – 1935), later heavily damaged in the 1933 Long Beach earthquake, once situated at the SW corner of Temple and Broadway. The movie view shows the main north entrance facing Broadway, and a similar view appearing in the Roscoe Arbuckle – Mabel Normand Keystone comedy That Little Band of Gold. Filmed in 1915, the Arbuckle directed comedy preceded Weber’s use of the location, but we should note that Mabel Normand, also pictured, was herself an accomplished director. For some reason, in my experience at least, the former court house rarely appears on camera in early film.

Built in 1914, and established as the Southern California Branch of the University of California in 1919, The Blot (left) features this campus view west towards Millspaugh Hall (demolished in 1960), with a matching view from Buster Keaton’s campus comedy College (1927). With the new UCLA campus grounds in Westwood dedicated in 1926, the original campus shown here became Los Angeles Junior College, known today as Los Angeles City College.

As a final example of Weber’s foremost use of locations, she filmed her 1921 drama The Blot at the campus settings employed by Buster Keaton years later in 1927. Again, Weber filmed here first.

Chaplin and Marie Dressler in Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914) and Weber’s The Dumb Girl of Portici (1916) at the now lost Castle Sans Souci.

To be fair to Charlie, he did appear in at least one location prior to Weber using it in a film – see matching views above of the Castle Sans Souci appearing both in Tillie’s Punctured Romance and Weber’s The Dumb Girl of Portici – although Chaplin wasn’t the director of that picture. You can read my full post about The Dumb Girl of Portici HERE.

You can learn more about Lois and other silent-era women directors in the latest Dream Factory episode of Nathan Master’s fascinating LOST LA history series for KCET television.

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Keaton’s “What No Beer?” Barrel Avalanche

Buster chased by barrels in What No Beer?

As Jim Kline writes in The Complete Films of Buster Keaton, MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer had already drafted Keaton’s termination letter by the time filming of What No Beer? completed in January 1933. For better or worse, this movie marks the pinnacle of Keaton’s success, who would never again appear as an A list star in a major Hollywood production. (Gif file courtesy of Danny Reid’s fascinating early cinema site Pre-code.comWhat No Beer? review).

Looking west up Court Street – the steep hill is only one block long.

Although Kline writes What No Beer? was a box-office smash, setting attendance records at New York’s Capitol Theater, Keaton’s unexcused absences during the production, including one where he flew to Mexico and returned home married to his sobriety nurse Mae Scribbens, sealed his fate with the studio boss.

Looking south down Mountain View, as Buster’s beer truck prepares to turn left onto Court Street. The corner lot, vacant at the time, is covered by a billboard advertising MGM’s Grand Hotel. The early morning sun casts the shadow of the grocery store set in front of the truck.

While much has been written about Keaton’s loss of control working for MGM, What No Beer? contains a pure, elaborately staged “Keatonesque” moment, when Buster struggles with a truck load of beer barrels on a steep hill, recalling the avalanche scenes from his silent feature Seven Chances (1925). The costly scene included a full grocery store set, constructed at the bottom of the hill, so a car could smash into it punctuating the sequence finale.

Turning the corner from Mountain View onto Court Street. The ovals match the back windows of a vintage apartment facing Alvarado Street.

It’s wonderful Keaton was permitted to sneak in one last grand cinematic moment before he would begin facing years of adversity – it truly feels like an homage to his prior work. Whatever his state of mind was back then, he must have relished the planning, stunt-work, and camera angles required to pull off this complicated scene. Yet with the hindsight that comes from knowing his life story, the visual metaphor of Buster skidding downhill chased by barrels of booze is almost too painful to watch.

The truck struggles past 2027 Court Street, with the side of 308 N. Mountain View visible at back.

As a locations buff, I’ve been intrigued with this scene ever since I first saw it featured in Kevin Brownlow’s 1987 Keaton documentary A Hard Act to Follow. I knew it had to have been filmed somewhere, but it didn’t seem possible it could ever be found. When TCM broadcast it recently, I marveled at the clear, beautiful print, and noticed one clue during the sequence. As Buster’s truck turns the corner uphill, a vertical street sign reading “2000 BLK” appears for a moment at the far right edge of the screen.

Click to enlarge – looking east down Court Street – the grocery store was a set, not part of a “T” intersection. Notice the Grand Hotel billboard to the right.

Studying all of the shots, the side streets, and the angles of the sun, I mapped out my sense of how the setting was configured, and determined it was likely offset from a true north-south orientation. While I had long assumed the street was some type of “T” intersection, because the print was so clear I could see that the grocery store was actually a set built in the middle of the street. As I often do when stuck for an idea, I emailed my friend Paul Ayers, who has found many significant Keaton, Chaplin, and Lloyd locations. He replied, correctly, that from the age of the buildings and the layout of the hill, he sensed the scene was likely staged somewhere east of Vermont Avenue and north of Venice Boulevard.

Buster runs past 2027 Court Street.

Looking southeast towards Mountain View, one bungalow at back remains.

By pure coincidence I had just stumbled upon the topographical option with Google Maps, allowing you to see hills instead of featureless streets. With this function turned on I could clearly see candidate hills in the region Paul suggested. I noticed one spot where the streets matched my sense of how Buster’s shot was configured, and without even using the “2000 BLK” clue it proved to be the correct spot – the intersection of N. Mountain View Avenue and the 2000 block of Court Street. (Note: the beginning of Court Street, above the Hill Street tunnel, is where the Bradbury Mansion once stood – it was where Harold Lloyd and Hal Roach began their careers, and where Lloyd filmed many early stunt climbing scenes above the tunnel). Having wondered about this scene for 30 years, it was very gratifying to finally see it “in person,” still recognizable, and with so many original buildings still in place.

Inexplicably, the film’s celebratory conclusion showing folks returning to work after the repeal of Prohibition includes office scenes cannibalized from the classic King Vidor drama The Crowd (1928) (considered by Kevin Brownlow to be America’s finest silent film), including this iconic overhead shot of endless rows of office workers at their desks. By then silent films were considered so obsolete that their only apparent value was as a cheap source of stock footage. These repurposed scenes were not returned to the original master, so that decades later when Brownlow’s Photoplay Productions restored The Crowd they had to replace the missing footage using elements from a complete 16mm print Eastman House had made for King Vidor. Other New York scenes from The Crowd must have been used elsewhere, as they too are missing except in the 16mm print. Brief office scenes from The Crowd also appear in the previous MGM Keaton vehicle Speak Easily (1932).

What No Beer? © 1933 Turner Entertainment Co. Color images (C) 2017 Google.

Google Street View of Mountain View Avenue and Court Street.

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Arbuckle – Keaton at the Bronx Biograph Studio

The glass stage Arbuckle used in His Wedding Night. At right, the end of the stage behind Roscoe in Oh Doctor!

Marc Wanamaker Bison Archives

Noted biographer James Curtis contacted me with an intriguing observation. Did a scene from the 1917 Arbuckle-Keaton short Oh Doctor! (above) reveal the large glass rooftop shooting stage of the former Biograph Studio, located at 807 E 175th St in the Bronx? A little digging not only confirmed he was right, but that 100 years later many Bronx locations from that film remain recognizable today. [Note: Arbuckle ended his career filming Vitaphone comedy shorts in Brooklyn – discussed in great detail HERE].

Click to enlarge – a 1921 Biograph map, keyed to 11 locations – NYPL. The top row of buildings, the north side of E 176th St, were all lost to the Cross Bronx Expressway, which devastated the neighborhood.

Wearing a borrowed police uniform, Roscoe chases jewel thief Al St. John across a vintage rooftop. Triangulating from the Biograph site, and traveling the streets using Google Street View, I was excited to see that two apartment buildings on Marmion Street are still standing today.

View (11) – Roscoe scales the roof, with Crotona Park and 1783 Marmion at back.

Because Roscoe’s roof (11) had an unobstructed view, and the maps from 1915, 1921, 1938, and 2017 reveal when different buildings were constructed, and demolished, my best guess is Roscoe filmed (11) on the former 5 story apartment at 864 E 175th, now replaced with a smaller building.

View (11) – looking along E 175th St towards the corner of 1801 Marmion (left) and the Biograph office and glass stage (right).

Once I had confirmed site (11), I contacted New York pop culture locations expert Bob Egan (PopSpotNYC.com), who had just identified Buster Keaton’s Manhattan apartment from The Cameraman in this prior post. Bob replied with a fascinating clue – that the opening credits to the early 60’s sitcom Car 54 Where Are You? reveal a view of the Biograph Studio where the show was filmed (see below).

View (11) – the south Biograph office on E 175th (left) and view (6) – the north Biograph laboratory building on E 176th (right).

The Car 54 view (6) down E 176th St provided a view of the segmented light and dark brick wall standing east of the Biograph laboratory building, a wall that appears frequently in Oh Doctor!

View (6) and view (4) – the segmented wall next to the laboratory building. The two apartments behind the word “CAR” are now demolished – a vacant lot.

I should have done this first, but after searching the New York Public Library online digital collection I found an exact match to view (4) from Oh Doctor!

View (4) – the segmented wall standing east of the laboratory building. NYPL.

It turns out that Oh Doctor! and the subsequent Arbuckle – Keaton short Coney Island (1917 – see further below) both feature scenes filmed on E 176th in front of the Biograph laboratory building.

View (5) – Roscoe calls for his car to return to him – the existing home on 812 E 176th still appears at back.

One challenge to investigating this site is that the northern side of E 176th St was demolished to make way for the Cross Bronx Expressway. One casualty is this drug store (left) that once stood at the NW corner of E 176th and Marmion. The same store appears at back in view (8) (right), as Roscoe drags Buster (dressed in drag to do a stunt fall for Roscoe’s wife) west along E 176th towards Marmion – the building to their right was lost to the expressway. In the next scene view (7) below, Roscoe’s wife confronts him standing at the same corner, only looking east down E 176th along the surviving south side of the street.

View (7) looking east from Marmion down the surviving south side of E 176th, towards tall buildings on the corners of Mohegan and Waterloo Streets.

View (7) above looks east down E 176th from Marmion towards the extant Waterloo Apartments, both left of Roscoe, and the narrower apartment on the corner of Mohegan just to the right of Roscoe.

Views (9) and (10) – two images of the NE corner of Marmion and E 175th.

I believe views (9) and (10) above and below both depict the same corner apartment building that once stood at the NE corner of Marmion and E 175th. As shown below, two homes once stood next to the Biograph office across the street from the apartment.

View (9) left and view (10) right – these homes on E 175th once stood due east of the Biograph office. Buster stands at the corner of Marmion looking down E 175th. Al at back is standing on Marmion between the two wings of the apartment.

While I have no direct photographic confirmation for (9) and (10) above, this is the only corner in the vicinity of the studio that had homes on the left side of the street and a large apartment on the right. The two scenes match the various maps and street slopes, and I’m confident this is correct. As further proof, the home adjacent to the studio office, seen below in 1913, has a similar low alternating fence design, and apparent gas lamp, as depicted in view (9).

Click to enlarge – the home adjacent to the Biograph office in 1913, and matching fence in Oh Doctor!Lantern Media.

The home adjacent to the studio was replaced with a large apartment by 1921, but is now a vacant lot. The corner home (#825, see map above) is replaced by a large apartment still standing, while Buster’s 5 story corner apartment is now replaced with 2 story homes. Go figure.

The Biograph laboratory building on E 176th also portrayed the police station in the next Arbuckle – Keaton short Coney Island. During the concluding scene, Roscoe and Al St. John leave the station (view 3 left) after locking the police and Roscoe’s wife in a cell. No sooner do they vow to forsake all women when an enchantress walks by, prompting Al to proclaim “Each man for himself.”

Coney Island – view (2) – Al escorts his new female companion from the Biograph laboratory entrance. The home at 812 E 176th still stands at back.

In a racially insensitive final “joke” that was commonly employed by comedians at the time, Roscoe too notices the back of a woman pass by, and approaches her to say hello. But when she turns to greet him, revealing herself to be African-American, Roscoe gasps and flees in shock as the movie fades to a close. Apparently this scene was excised from most prints of the film, but for historical completeness is presented as a supplement to the latest home video release of these films.

Coney Island – view 1 – Roscoe flees west towards the PS No. 44 building still standing on the SW corner of Prospect and E 176th.

Oh Doctor! begins with Father Roscoe, Mother, and Son Buster arriving at a race track, where Roscoe flirts with another woman, and loses all of his money on a wild bet. The characters are depicted as arriving and departing from the race track by parking their cars in a residential neighborhood beside a rare conspicuous street sign at the NW corner of W 246th and Fieldston in the Bronx, see below.

Oh Doctor! – at W 246th St and Fieldston.

New York pop culture locations expert Bob Egan (PopSpotNYC.com) came through again, by identifying the real track appearing in the film as the Yonkers Raceway.

Son Buster laughs at Pop Roscoe for losing all of his money on a horse that ran the wrong way, as they stand beside the Yonkers Raceway clubhouse.

The Yonkers Raceway in 1905 at left, including the side of the clubhouse at left where Roscoe and Buster filmed (see above), and how it appears in Oh Doctor! This may be the oldest existing movie footage of the still active Empire City harness raceway, located about 10 miles north of the studio.

I’ve documented 4 dozen instances of Keaton filming pickup shots from his various films in front of, or across the street from, his small studio in Hollywood. A perfectly practical thing to do. So it’s not surprising, but also fun to see, that Arbuckle did the same thing, staging so many shots conveniently close to his temporary Biograph home. Be sure to read about Arbuckle’s numerous Vitaphone Brooklyn locations HERE.

1917 and 1961 – matching views from Oh Doctor! and Car 54 Where Are You?

It wasn’t too long ago that Oh Doctor! was considered a lost film! We fans are all so fortunate that these films have been so lovingly restored by Lobster Films.

Oh Doctor! and Coney Island images from Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection 1917 – 1923 (C) 2016 Kino-Lorber, Lobster Films.

View (7) of the apartments on Mohegan and Waterloo.

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Buster’s Manhattan Apartment – The Cameraman Part III

In a prior post, Bob Egan flexed his Manhattan research skills to locate Marceline Day’s now lost apartment in Buster Keaton’s The Cameraman, 20 West 58th Street. Now Bob has located Buster’s midtown apartment as well, 201 East 52nd Street.

As I spell out in my book Silent Echoes, when Marceline calls Buster to tell him her prior commitment has changed and she is now available to meet him, Buster is so eager that he bolts out the door while she is still talking on the phone, and races down many city blocks, including 5th Avenue, and beside Bergdorf-Goodman (see post) to her place. When she realizes he is no longer on the line, she hangs up in frustration, and turns around to find Buster already standing behind her – “I hope I’m not late.”

When TCM recently broadcast The Cameraman (I now receive TCM in high definition), I was stunned by how beautiful the print looked, and made a point to study Buster’s apartment scene, and the Apartments for Rent sign behind Buster’s entryway. Watching it back and forth in slo-mo the sign looked like it read “Samuel J Weinberg ?59 3rd Ave Cor 52 St.”

I immediately contacted Bob, as he had investigated Buster’s apartment before, although based on my misunderstanding at the time that the name was “Weisberg” not “Weinberg.” Bob quickly reported that the 1929 Manhattan Address Directory had a listing for a “Saml J Weinberg rl est” at 859 3rd Ave, at the NE corner of East 52nd. This phonebook entry clearly matched the sign, explaining why Sam was advertising apartments for rent. Since Second Avenue had elevated train tracks at the time, standing at the corner of 3rd and 52nd, looking east, you would see tracks in the background.

Click to enlarge – Buster’s doorway was at 201 East 52nd, near the left corner.

Bob also sent a vintage map of the block. Knowing that Sam’s office was on the corner of 3rd, if Buster exited the E 52nd St side of Sam’s building, then per the map we’d expect to see a one story building immediately behind Buster, flush with a several story building immediately behind the one story building, with a sidewalk fire plug in front of the flush buildings, then a long row of multi-story buildings all set back further from the sidewalk, then a 5 story building further back that again projects flush to the sidewalk, and then elevated tracks. These elements match exactly both in the movie frame and on the map. Although a modern glass high-rise stands there today, we now know the humble entranceway to 201 E 52nd St once portrayed Buster’s Manhattan apartment.

With this post I now have a dozen postings about Keaton filming The Cameraman and Harold Lloyd filming Speedy in New York. Here’s an INDEX of these other posts.

The 5 story building at 247 E 52nd street (oval) appears in both images.

Thank you Bob for more incredible detective work. Bob’s popular and highly recommended website PopSpotNYC.com explores the visual archeology of “where interesting events in the history of Pop Culture took place; like album cover shots, places where movies and tv shows were filmed, and sites on which paintings were based.”

The Cameraman images (C) 1928 Turner Entertainment Co. Below, looking east from 3rd down E 52nd.

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Arbuckle – Keaton – the Good Night Nurse Hot Springs

Click to enlarge. 1907 – the Arrowhead Hot Springs resort beneath the natural arrowhead rock formation. LOC.

Roscoe Arbuckle, Al St. John, and Buster Keaton must have had special fun making their Comique film Good Night Nurse (1918), leaving their Long Beach studio behind to film certain scenes at the Arrowhead Hot Springs resort 75 miles to the east. Nestled in the foothills north of San Bernardino, beneath the giant arrowhead-shaped outcropping lending the region its name, the resort was a popular tourist attraction with long ties to Hollywood. The naturally occurring hot springs were promoted for their curative effects, and the hotel complex appearing in the film was built there in 1905.

Al’s missing teeth

Roscoe portrays a drunken husband, dragged by his frustrated wife to dry out at the No Hope Sanitarium. Buster plays Roscoe’s doctor, while Al portrays one of the orderlies, and, as confirmed by renowned silent comedy expert and author Steve Massa, this fully “cured” discharge patient (right) with missing teeth. Eager to escape, Roscoe dresses in drag with a wig and stolen nurse’s outfit, only to run into a suddenly love-struck Keaton, who smiles and flirts shamelessly with Roscoe.

Roscoe (above) approaches the resort back entrance. USC Digital Library.

Below, the “cured” patient hobbles beside the curved bay of the hotel dining room on the west end of the complex.

Matching views, east and west, of the curved dining room bay. USC Digital Library

The east doorway – tennis court at back

The hot springs were well known to the Native Americans, and Spanish missionaries, leading to the first modest resort that opened here in the 1860s.  The 1906 Sanborn fire insurance map for the resort shows a large bath house for men, complete with a barber shop, adjoining a smaller separate bath house for women, both covered, standing north of the hotel, accessible by an open bridged walkway beside the main entrance. A tennis court adjoined the bath houses to the east, its fence appears behind Roscoe (left). Standing apart from the hotel, further back, was an oval-shaped “Hot Lake,” likely the concrete pool appearing in the film (right), with nearby quarters and dining room for the servants and staff. As a history buff, it’s frustrating to see how little use Arbuckle as director made of the locale. A tight shot of the back entrance porch, a scene played out at the east end of the hotel, nothing on

screen suggests that it was filmed at such a grand and remote locale. While we’re fortunate vintage photos of the hotel are available for study, they were all taken from quite a distance. Thus, a century later, the only detailed views available to us are the brief glimpses appearing in the movie.

Already well-established when the Comique crew came to film, the resort grew in popularity through the years, providing Hollywood types a place to relax and play and get away from it all. By 1938 a group including Joseph M. Schenck, Constance Bennett, Al Jolson, Darryl Zanuck, and Claudette Colbert were reported to have purchased the resort, only to have the hotel burn to the ground the same year. Famed African-American architect Paul R. Williams designed plans for a new six-story resort, opening in 1939, that continued to attract golden-era stars for many years. Esther Williams was a frequent guest, and Humphrey Bogart filmed High Sierra here in 1941. Elizabeth Taylor spent part of her honeymoon (the first one!) here in 1950 – at the time her father-in-law Conrad Hilton owned the place. But as jet travel made far-flung getaways more appealing, the resort lost favor, eventually shutting down in the 1950s. The hotel was purchased by the Campus Crusade for Christ in 1962. Long shuttered, recent accounts say the property is now available for sale.

Click to enlarge. Arbuckle’s crew likely arrived by train. This 1926 railroad map shows the route from the studio in Long Beach, lower left, to the Arrowhead Resort, upper right. It seems like a long way to go for such simple scenes. David Rumsey.

I want to thank Lea Stans, whose informative series of posts about the Arbuckle-Keaton Comique films, including Good Night Nurse, tipped me off about the Arrowhead Resort in the first place. Her Silent-ology blog is dangerous to Google, but always entertaining.

For a full story about the resort, read Ruth Nolan’s article for KCET “The Arrow Rises Again: San Bernardino’s Famed and Forgottern Architectural Wonder.”

The City of San Bernardino also has a great post about the Arrowhead Resort, including photos of the two hotels built there prior to the 1905 hotel.

Good Night Nurse: Buster Keaton – The Shorts Collection, from Kino and Lobster Films.

If you drag this Google view photo down a bit, you’ll see the arrowhead, blocked by the message box.

 

 

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Chaplin’s San Jose Day Making A Night Out

Charlie beside Chick’s Saloon, with enhanced contrast

Do you know the way to San Jose? It turns out Charlie Chaplin did. Thanks to the Blu-ray clarity of Charlie’s restored Essanay comedies, and the tenacious research by Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum historian David Kiehn, we now know Chaplin and crew filmed saloon scenes from A Night Out (1915) in San Jose beside the Alcantara Building (1903), still standing on the NW corner of Post and Market Streets.

Charlie began fulfilling his one-year Essanay contract at the studio’s primary Chicago facility early in 1915. But after making only one movie there, His New Job, Chaplin fled the frigid Windy City and started his first northern California production, A Night Out, soon after arriving at the Essanay Studio in Niles on January 18. While researching his definitive history book “Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company,” David found a local newspaper account from Thursday, January 28, 1915, describing five players from Essanay filming saloon scenes that day on Post Street for a comedy called A Night Out. (Interestingly the story missed the lead – that soon to be world-famous Chaplin was leading the crew.)

The Alcantara Building (1903) still standing at Post (left) and Market (right). Charlie likely filmed on Post just steps from the corner. (C) 2017 Google.

The Market Street face of the Alcantara Building appears at back (center) in this vintage photo.

While capturing some movie frame images to assist the Museum prepare decorations for its upcoming Charlie Chaplin Days festival July 21-23, I noticed what appeared to be the word “CHICKS” (enhanced above and below) barely visible on the sidewalk during the A Night Out saloon scenes, and mentioned this to David. He responded that a notorious liquor racketeer Clarence “Chick” Leddy once ran a saloon at 107 Post Street. More astounding, as revealed

A 1914 map of downtown – Chick’s Saloon at 107 Post Street stood at the corner of Market.

on Google Street View, the vintage saloon building is still standing, with high tech company Electric Cloud as a tenant. Once an eyesore threatened with demolition, the now upscale building was renovated with numerous picture windows along the ground floor on Post Street.

Chick’s Saloon stood at 107 Post, likely near the corner. The words on the doors read “Ridgemore Whiskey,” sold by the Alexander Company of San Jose (see below).

Advertised on the saloon doors above, Ridgemore Whiskey was a local brand.

To be thorough, I checked the 1912 San Jose City Directory and the 1915 Sanborn fire insurance maps. Both sources revealed eight candidate saloons that could have been used for filming. But unless one of these seven other saloon owners also went by the name “Chick” the likely candidate has to be 107 Post Street.

The saloon bar appears visible through the doors.

Per David’s newspaper accounts the San Jose Liquor License Committee recommended granting Mr. Leddy a saloon license for 107 Post Street on March 30, 1909. Yet by 1918 the Civic Council revoked Chick Leddy’s soft drink business license because he had sold $150 of whiskey from the premises. By 1928 Chick Leddy was convicted of murder, with help from his bartender, for beating a salesman to death, apparently for winning too much slot machine money at Chick’s Prohibition-era roadhouse. Despite receiving a life sentence, David reports Chick later bribed his way out of San Quentin, and died in San Jose in 1950.

Click to enlarge – the San Jose skyline circa 1935, looking south. The Alcantara Building (arrow) facing Market Street to the far right, with the dome of St. Joseph’s close by. San Jose State University Gordon Panoramic Collection.

While researching his book, David discovered Charlie also filmed scenes for A Night Out in Oakland beside the Peralta Apartments at 184 13th Street, and the Sierra Apartments at 1502 Alice Street, both still standing near Lake Merritt.

Charlie and fellow comic Ben Turpin beside the Peralta Apartments 184 13th Street in Oakland.

Charlie takes a spill beside the Sierra Apartments at 1502 Alice Street in Oakland.

The Alcantara Building stands just a block north of the historic Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph (completed in 1885), and the neighboring historic post office building (completed in 1895), now anchor for the San Jose Museum of Art. You can read more about Chaplin filming A Night Out, and locations from all of his other movies, in my book Silent Traces.

Chaplin made five movies at Niles before returning to Hollywood in May 1915, filming a few exterior scenes in San Francisco and Oakland. But we now know Chaplin once made his way to San Jose too.

I want to especially recommend Dan Kamin’s unique Funny Bones performance at the festival on July 22 at 7:30. A gifted comic, author, and renowned Chaplin authority, Dan coached Robert Downey, Jr. in his Oscar-nominated turn in the movie “Chaplin”(which Dan will introduce at the festival July 21) and coached Johnny Depp for the movie “Benny and Joon.” Using film clips and live demonstrations, Dan deconstructs Chaplin’s unique physical comedy and body language, showing how and why Charlie moved the way he moved. Dan’s show is absolutely fascinating, and you’ll leave feeling you’ve seen Charlie in a whole new light. Dan is also performing Funny Bones at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael on July 20.

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Buster Keaton’s Haunted House

My friend architectural writer Steve Vaught made this amazing discovery – the “haunted” mansion appearing in Buster Keaton’s 1921 short film The Haunted House was the former Bonebrake Mansion, once standing on the corner of Adams and Figueroa. Steve noticed the

The Bonebrake Mansion – look how much the palm tree grew by 1921. LAPL

2619 street address appearing on the gate, and that the style of architecture seemed to pre-date 1900. Checking a 1900-era Los Angeles map, Steve found few streets at the time were lengthy enough to have had addresses as high as 2600. Next, by combing through the Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Steve eliminated nearly every lengthy street but Figueroa. The Sanborn map footprint for the Bonebrake Mansion at 2619 South Figueroa matched the Keaton house exactly, which these Los Angeles Public Library online photos confirm. As it turned out, the house was torn down later in 1921 to make way for the “new” Auto (AAA) Club Headquarters still standing on that spot. This would explain the home’s rundown condition and availability for use as a movie set.

Villainous Big Joe Roberts at the 2619 gate

Looking north. LAPL.

The house belonged to widowed banker George H. Bonebrake, co-founder of the Semi-Tropic Land and Water Co., Los Angeles. Bonebrake died at home in 1898. By 1902 notorious Arkansas senator Stephen W. Dorsey (once indicted but acquitted of bribery) acquired the property. The same year, shortly after Dorsey married Laura Bigelow, his second wife, and a much younger woman, Dorsey’s secretary sued him, claiming she gave Dorsey “wifely love,” and he was keeping her on the side in a nearby home. Laura Dorsey died at home in 1915, and the property was foreclosed the following year. The Automobile Club of Southern California acquired the property in 1920, completing its headquarters there in 1923.

A third view of the former home. LAPL.

You can read more about the Bonebrake home at the Los Angeles History Blogspot, a fascinating account, home by home, of LA’s premiere historic neighborhoods, including Berkeley Square, Wilshire Boulevard, Adams Boulevard, Windsor Square, Fremont Place, St. James Park, and Westmoreland Place. Fewer and fewer Hollywood ghosts remain, but Steve’s brilliant solution for this over 95 year old mystery would make Sherlock Jr. proud.

Steve is the author of books about architect Gordon B. Kaufman, the Willows historic Palm Springs Inn, and magnificent Hollywood-era homes (Historic Hollywood), and writes about vintage Hollywood homes and apartments at the wildly popular Paradise Leased blog.

The house at Adams and S. Figueroa in 1914. Historic Mapworks.

Note: This post was based on a story I wrote several years ago for The Keaton Chronicle, the publication of the Damfinos, the International Buster Keaton Society. I write a story for the Chronicle each quarter, covering new discoveries not yet revealed in my blog. So join the Damfinos and learn Keaton discoveries before they are published here.

The “new” 1922 Automobile Club of Southern California headquarters at 2601 S. Figueroa.

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