Hollywood 1926 – The Big Picture and How the Pieces Fit

Click to enlarge.  Hollywood in 1926, looking north.  From left to right: the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio (red oval), the Chaplin Studio (yellow oval), the Bernheimer estate Yamashiro and future Magic Castle (teal oval), the Hollywood Hotel (red box), the Harold Lloyd (Hollywood Metropolitan) Studios (yellow box), the Keaton Studio (teal box), the block of Cahuenga south of Hollywood Boulevard where Keaton and Lloyd frequently filmed (orange box), and the intersection of Hollywood and Vine (purple oval). HollywoodPhotographs.com.

As much as I enjoy solving a movie location puzzle, and learning where a favorite scene was filmed, what I enjoy more is getting a sense of the context of how the movie was made.  I appreciate the craft that went into filming Harold Lloyd’s race to the altar in Girl Shy because I know how he traveled all across Los Angeles to capture the individual shots comprising the sequence.  Likewise, I’ve discovered that as a film-maker Buster Keaton was both uncompromising, and practical.  When called for, Buster would travel even hundreds of miles to capture the right setting for a gag, and yet he also filmed dozens of scenes directly adjacent to his small studio.  Armed with this knowledge, it is fun to imagine what must have been a common occurrence, Buster and his crew literally walking from the studio to set up a shot nearby.

Hollywood – 1926 – HollywoodPhotographs.com

I grew up reading Hollywood history books, and became familiar with individual photos of the various studios and vintage landmarks.  But studying these images in isolation only took me so far.  Without a greater context, an understanding of how each place fit in, and related to the others, it was difficult to sense what Hollywood was really like.  Things began to change once I discovered vintage aerial photographs at resources such as the Los Angeles Public Library, and the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Historical Collection at HollywoodPhotographs.com.  For me, nothing surpasses armchair time-traveling more than a high resolution, vintage, oblique aerial photograph.

After studying such photos closely, I was stunned to realize that Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton created their masterpieces working only a few blocks apart, and that Charlie Chaplin could easily pop over to the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio to have lunch with Doug and Mary.  These grand photos were the missing element that allowed me to fit each individual puzzle piece into place.  With this post I hope the “big picture” will emerge for you too, so you can sense how the pieces all fit together.  Please join me as we deconstruct a single aerial photo for a brief tour of early Hollywood.

The Pickford-Fairbanks Studio – 7200 Santa Monica Boulevard.  Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives

Above, the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio (future home to United Artists), and, standing in the foreground, the grand set for the Douglas Fairbanks fantasy epic The Thief of Bagdad (1924), with the castle set from Fairbanks’ Robin Hood (1922) standing behind.  By 1926 (see inset above) several filming stages were added.  Known today as The Lot, much of the studio is expected to be replaced by “low-rise, flexible office space,” as controversial plans to demolish and upgrade several historic structures have commenced, beginning with the destruction of the Pickford Building, built in 1927.

The Charles Chaplin Studio – 1416 N. La Brea Avenue.  Association Chaplin.

The small backlot above shows the half-circus-tent set built for Chaplin’s 1928 production The Circus.  The long white narrow building houses the studio’s many dressing rooms.  Only the right (east) end of the main filming stage is covered.   The west end of the main stage remained uncovered during the production of City Lights (1931), and was roofed over to accommodate the extra interior sets required for Modern Times (1936).  The studio is now home to the Jim Henson Company.

The hilltop Yamashiro estate, and the stairs leading down to what would become the Magic Castle.  The large white building in the main photo is the former Garden Court Apartments on Hollywood Boulevard.  The large white building in the inset photo is the Roosevelt Hotel, nearing completion, that opened May 15, 1927. Security Pacific National Bank Photograph Collection/Los Angeles Public Library.

On the hilltop above, Yamashiro, Adolph and Eugene Bernheimer’s Japanese-themed estate completed in 1914, is now home to a landmark Japanese restaurant of the same name.  A flight of 300 steps lead down from Yamashiro to the home built by banker Rollin B. Lane in 1909, at 7001 Franklin Avenue, now home to the Magic Castle, a restaurant and private club for magicians.

The Hollywood Hotel, now site to the Hollywood and Highland Entertainment Center.  HollywoodPhotographs.com

Above, with all the palms trees, the former Hollywood Hotel (1903-1956) at the NW corner of Hollywood and Highland, now home to the Hollywood and Highland Entertainment Center.  To the left, nearing completion, stands the El Capitan Theater at 6838 Hollywood Boulevard, which opened May 3, 1926.

The red line on this 1926 USGS topographic map marks the trolley line along Santa Monica Boulevard.  The Lloyd and Keaton Studios were located just a few blocks apart, with the former Metro Studios standing in between.

This view shows the Hollywood Metropolitan Studio, circa 1923, where Harold Lloyd later created his independent films.  Buster Keaton filmed a trolley stunt from Day Dreams (1922) directly in front of the studio, with the lumber yard and ice house on Santa Monica Boulevard, across the street from the studio to the north, appearing in the background.  HollywoodPhotographs.com

After amicably parting ways with producer Hal Roach, in 1924 Harold Lloyd filmed his first independently produced feature comedy Girl Shy at the Hollywood Metropolitan Studios, pictured above, a few blocks west of the Keaton Studio.  Lloyd’s production office stood at 1040 N. Las Palmas Avenue, at the left edge of the yellow box in the inset photo, which also shows Las Palmas traversing the west (left) edge of the studio.  A similar building stands at 1040 today – either a remodel of the original or a new structure.  As shown in the primary 1923 photo above, Las Palmas had not yet been extended south across Santa Monica Boulevard, and Lloyd’s future office had not yet been constructed.  The studio remains in active use, known today as the Hollywood Center Studios.

The Buster Keaton Studio, 1025 Lillian Way – HollywoodPhotographs.com.

The main view above, circa 1924, looks to the SE, while the inset view above looks north.  Keaton’s single shooting stage, appearing prominently in both images, was still open to the air during the filming of The Goat (1921), but was roofed over late in 1921, as revealed in newly discovered footage from The Blacksmith.  The four blocks beneath the teal box in the 1926 inset photo comprise the stages and backlots of the former Metro Studios.  Metro became part of MGM in Culver City in 1924, and by 1926 many Metro buildings had already been demolished.

The block of Cahuenga south of Hollywood Boulevard, circa 1924 – HollywoodPhotographs.com.

Pictured above, the block of Cahuenga south of Hollywood Boulevard, a few blocks north from the Keaton Studio, was Buster’s favorite place to film.  He shot scenes from at least seven movies at this location.  Charlie Chaplin filmed scenes from Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914) and Modern Times at the corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga, and Harold Lloyd filmed scenes from Safety Last! (1923) and Girl Shy (1924), and Hot Water (1924) along Cahuenga as well. (More remarkably, the alley to the left is where Keaton filmed a scene from Cops (1922), Chaplin filmed a scene from The Kid (1921), and Harold Lloyd filmed a scene from Safety Last! – three masterpiece films all filmed at the same alley you can visit today.)  This prior post will take you to a PowerPoint presentation showing 13, but not all, locations used by Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd along Cahuenga.

Click to enlarge – view south down Cahuenga towards Keaton (teal) and Lloyd (yellow) studios – just blocks apart.  Security Pacific National Bank Photograph Collection/Los Angeles Public Library

This circa 1923 reverse angle view above looks south down Cahuenga from Hollywood Boulevard towards the large covered filming stage of the Keaton Studio (teal box), and the enclosed glass shooting stages of the Metropolitan Studio (yellow box).

The intersection of Hollywood and Vine – circa 1924. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

The main photo above shows the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, some time in 1924, after completion of the Taft Building at the SE (lower right) corner in 1923, but prior to construction of the Broadway – Hollywood Department Store on the SW (lower left) corner, that opened in 1927.   The Broadway appears nearly complete in the inset photo above.

Thanks for coming along – I hope you enjoyed the tour.  You can download written Hollywood tours of where Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd filmed at these other posts here and here.  My many thanks to Bruce Torrence, at HollywoodPhotographs.com, along with Marc Wanamaker of Bison Archives, and Christina Rice, Senior Librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library, for providing the amazing aerial views of vintage Hollywood.

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19 Responses to Hollywood 1926 – The Big Picture and How the Pieces Fit

  1. ABSOLUTELY WONDERFUL TO CLARIFY FOR THOSE WHO DON’T KNOW THE HISTORICAL HOLLYWOOD.

    • Marc – thank you so much for all you have done to help film historians and fans over the years. I could not have done my research without all of your assistance and support. You have been so gracious and helpful, and I sincerely appreciate all you have done.

  2. And I am thankful to you both!
    This is just wonderful John

  3. Craig says:

    Great John – your posts are the closest things we have to a time machine – Thanks!

  4. Excellent compendium, John. Few people today realize just how soon and fast the art of photography advanced in the early twentieth century. Hollywood itself probably played a role in that! And what an elegant place Hollywood was back in those golden days.

  5. suzannelloyd says:

    Great John ,my daughter works all the time at harold’s studio ,Ledgend 3-D has just opened their offices on the lot… they have leased harold’s personal bungelow ,sue

  6. Chris Bungo says:

    Absolutely fantastic work you’ve done, yet again! And thanks to Marc and his Bison Archives too!

  7. John,

    Your work is exquisite as always…

    Tommy

  8. Gs Jansen says:

    John.

    really incredible work. as always you have done a supberb job! and a special thanks as well to Marc! The two of you have done more than anyone else to educate all of us about the wonderful history of Hollywood, and Los Angeles!

  9. John, these are always endlessly fascinating. Any idea why Hollywood and Cahuenga was such a popular spot? It doesn’t seem markedly different from any other intersection in the area.

    • Well, it was close to the Keaton Studio, and in 1920 that corner had one of the taller buildings in town, also lots of alleys nearby. I’m speculating, but it seems easier to film the north side of an east-west street, and the east side of a north-south street, due to the light. Hollywood Boulevard had a trolley line, and was much busier, so it was probably easier to shoot on Cahuenga.

      • Guess that makes sense. I don’t know how many dozens of times I went to the newsstand on Cahuenga and walked though and parked in that alley without realizing its significance.

  10. Joe says:

    Excellent work here! I loved reading this so much. A million thanks!

  11. Donna Heuman says:

    Absolutely loved this latest information. How wonderful to see a perspective of “Hollywoodland” in its early days… What a wonderful place and time to have lived. Loved link to Hollywoodphotographs.com. Many, many thanks and sincere appreciation for your continued “eagle-eye” brilliant work.

  12. Jim Hilliker says:

    Anybody know why radio station KMIC in Inglewood at 1120-AM changed call letters in late-1930 to KMCS, for a short affiliation with Metropolitan Christie Studios? That is what the MCS stood for, according to a 1948 Broadcasting magazine. KMCS changed to KRKD in 1932 and KIIS-AM in 1970. Today, it is KTLK-1150 or K-Talk. I’d like to find out what relationship the radio station had with this movie studio in the 1930-1931 era. Thanks.

    Jim Hilliker
    Los Angeles radio historian
    Monterey, CA

    • Chris Bungo says:

      No guarantees, but there MIGHT be someone on the http://www.radiodiscussions.com/smf/ website that would know.

      • Jim Hilliker says:

        Thanks. I’ll likely go to the library next week and also check the L.A. Times radio and movie pages from around the time of the call letter change, October or November of 1930, to see if anything was written about it. I have been wondering for around 20 years if the call letters KMCS had been chosen for a specific reason, and I found the answer just last night on David Gleason’s great radio history site, searching in the Broadcasting magazines.

  13. Sal Gomes "Save The Pickford-Fairbanks Studios says:

    Great great site. I’m gonna share it!

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