Once marked with hills and tunnels, the complicated landscape of early Los Angeles has changed so dramatically that it’s difficult to visualize how all of the pieces once fit together. Massive landmarks such as Court Hill and the Broadway Tunnel were bulldozed into oblivion. In fact, not a single hill, tunnel, or even building in the above photo still exists.
Using a remarkable 1919 aerial photo from the Watson Family Photographic Archive, several “stunt” climbing silent comedies for detail, and a noir classic for good measure, this post deconstructs how early filmmakers exploited LA’s unique topography, and how such films provide an invaluable window to the past.
We begin (above) looking south from above the Broadway Tunnel towards the County Court House (1), the Hall of Records (2), and the Los Angeles Times Building (3) as seen in Bobby Dunn’s stunt-climbing short comedy No Danger, posted on YouTube.
Some prominent landmarks appearing in No Danger include the rooftop signs of the former Alhambra Hotel and Hotel Alhambra Apartments, that stood facing each other on opposite sides of Broadway.
In 1923 the Alhambra Hotel was moved north up Broadway 122 feet towards the face of the Broadway Tunnel to make room for the Hall of Justice, shown here in 1924 under construction, and completed in 1925. The right box in the photo to the left (LAPL) shows the hotel’s original position, and the left box shows the hotel after the move. Separated by Temple Street from the County Court House (1) and the Hall of Records (2), the Hall of Justice is the only building appearing in this photo that remains standing.
The next image (below) comes from Harold Lloyd’s 1921 thrill comedy Never Weaken, filmed on Court Hill above the Hill Street Tunnel, looking south down Hill Street from a set similar to the one depicted to the left. The Hotel La Crosse at 122 S. Hill Street (yellow box left and below) is a conspicuous landmark that is readily spotted in nearly all movies filmed above the Hill Street Tunnel. In the second half of a prior post, fully annotated with photos and maps, I explain all about how Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, and other comedians filmed at studios within the Bradbury Mansion atop Court Hill, and made use of the Hill Street Tunnel overlook.
This map (left – click to enlarge) by Piet Schreuders looks north towards Court Hill, and shows the short length of the Hill Street Tunnel relative to the Bradbury Mansion and the Court Flight incline railway. Dozens of movies were filmed overlooking the tunnel (orange arrow), but for variety, a few movies were filmed nearby. The yellow arrow points south from bare land on the hilltop, from which the next image below was taken.
The north end of the Hill Street Tunnel commanded less of a view, and seems to have appeared in far fewer films than did the southern end of the tunnel overlooking downtown. However, the north end of the tunnel and Court Hill play a major role in the film noir classic Criss Cross (1949) starring Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo (see below). For a detailed report of these landmarks as they appear in Criss Cross, check out my post HERE.
Both images below depict the block bounded by Broadway, 1st Street, Hill Street, and Temple, yet aside from the street layout and names, these two images share NOTHING in common. The hills, tunnels, buildings, and even certain streets, such as New High and Court Street, are forever gone, preserved only in vintage photos, … and in the movies.
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. Criss Cross (C) 1949 Universal Pictures Company. Should Sailors Marry? licensed from Lobster Films (C) 2005 Lobster Films.