We learn early in Safety Last! (1923) that Harold Lloyd’s roommate Bill Strother can climb tall buildings when we watch him escape from a policeman by scaling a four-story apartment building (left). [NOTE: “Skip,” a resourceful and eagle-eyed reader, was able to identify this extant (if heavily remodeled) building as the former Dresden Apartments at 1919 W 7th Street. You can find my write up about it here.]
The location of this building (perhaps now lost) continues to elude me, despite numerous telling clues, including the fact the building was situated on a trolley line, and stood adjacent to an alley across from a “California Garage” that sold tires. Does anyone know where this might be?
Moments later in the movie, Bill meets up with Harold after scampering down a fire escape (below). The scene is edited as if Bill is returning to an alley behind the same building he had just climbed, but it does not match the alley appearing in the prior scenes. Thanks to the remarkable clarity from the pending Criterion Collection Blu-ray release of Safety Last!, we now know that this scene with Harold and Bill was filmed in Hollywood beside the Markham Building on Cosmo, the same alley where Buster Keaton filmed scenes appearing in his famous short film Cops (1922). You can read how Harold Lloyd filmed Safety Last! HERE.
During the scene, as Bill descends the ladder you can see busy traffic behind him along what turns out to be Hollywood Boulevard, and a sign across the street that reads “RICKERSH …” . In 1923, the RICKERSHAUSER & MILLER auto dealership stood at 6369 Hollywood Boulevard, directly across the street from where the alley Cosmo terminates. Comparing vintage views of the Markham Building with the movie frames confirms the setting.
This 1922 aerial view above shows the Rickershauser dealership (oval) on Hollywood Boulevard across from the Markham Building, near the intersection of Cahuenga to the left. The rooftop arrow above shows the fire escape used by Bill to descend to the alley, and the arrow to the lower left above shows the point of view looking north up Cosmo for the scene from Cops described further below. At left is a closer view of the auto dealer across the street from Cosmo.
This 1924 view above shows the front of the Markham Building facing Hollywood Boulevard alongside Cosmo. The yellow arrow marks the point of view in Safety Last! looking north up Cosmo, the red arrow marks the fire escape ladder used by Bill Strother, and the yellow oval at back marks the towering set for the 1924 Douglas Fairbanks fantasy adventure The Thief of Bagdad, built on the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio at 7200 Santa Monica Boulevard. The Thief of Bagdad is also now available on Blu-ray.
During Cops below, as Buster Keaton signals a left hand turn from Cosmo onto Selma, his hand is bitten by a dog. The spot where Lloyd filmed beside the Markham Building can be seen in the far background (red box below).
The back of the Markham Building is also marked with a red box in the 1997 modern view above. You can see that at some point the fourth floor of the building was removed.
The neighborhood of Hollywood and Cahuenga depicted here was a very popular place for the silent comedians to film, which I describe in great detail in my books, and in many posts, including these concerning one block in Hollywood, describing Toberman Hall in Hollywood, and explaining nearby stunts performed by Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. You can read about how Harold filmed Safety Last! at this post.
Aerial photographs from HollywoodPhotographs.com.
HAROLD LLOYD images and the names of Mr. Lloyd’s films are all trademarks and/or service marks of Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Images and movie frame images reproduced courtesy of The Harold Lloyd Trust and Harold Lloyd Entertainment Inc. Cops licensed by Douris UK, Ltd.