Charlie Chaplin’s Essanay comedy The Bank (1915) marks his final cinematic footsteps in downtown Los Angeles. While Broadway, and other nearby Historic Core streets appear in several of his early Keystone films, including Making A Living, His Favorite Pastime, The New Janitor, and especially His Musical Career, discussed in this post, Chaplin would never again stroll these urban sidewalks to make a movie [note: City Lights (1931) includes scenes of Charlie and the drunken millionaire, perhaps stunt doubles, driving around several downtown corners, as shown in this PDF tour].Thanks to preservationist Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films, and Cineteca di Bologna, all 15 of Chaplin’s Essanay short comedies from 1915 are now beautifully restored, available as a 5 disc Blu-ray/DVD box set from Flicker Alley.
The Bank opens with bank janitor Chaplin strolling to work beside the Trinity Auditorium Building, later known as the Embassy, located at 851 South Grand Avenue near Ninth Street. The first three stories were dedicated to the Trinity Church, while the upper six floors housed a men’s dormitory containing 330 rooms and a rooftop garden capped by a 70-foot diameter dome. The complex featured a library, a gymnasium, tennis and handball courts, a cafeteria, a cafe, and a barbershop. The church’s goal was to satisfy the requirements of mind, body, and soul. “We can take a man from the shower bath to the pearly gates” said Rev. C.C. Selecman when the facility opened.
The 2,500-seat, three-tier auditorium, with elegant reception halls, and a banquet hall that could seat 1,000, was once the center of Los Angeles culture. The September 21, 1914 opening night concert featured basso opera singer Juan de la Cruz. The Los Angeles Philharmonic, the city’s first permanent symphony orchestra, made its debut here in 1919, playing Dvorzak’s New World Symphony. By the 1930s the hall was known as the Embassy, a celebrated venue for jazz concerts featuring Duke Ellington and Count Basie, while rock concerts played here in the 1960s.
Located in the burgeoning South Park entertainment district, a few blocks from the massive Los Angeles Convention Center and Staples Center complex, the Embassy is being converted into an Empire Hotel.
Work was Chaplin’s last Essanay project completed at the Bradbury mansion atop Court Hill (see post HERE). In June 1915, Chaplin and company moved to larger quarters at the rented Majestic Studios located at 651 Fairview Avenue in Boyle Heights, where The Bank was filmed on a large open-air shooting stage pictured below.
This wonderful shot below shows most of the cast and crew during The Bank‘s production. Notice the muslin light diffusers hanging over the open-air stage. Essanay historian David Kiehn’s book Broncho Billy and the Essanay Film Company identifies nearly every person in this shot. Producer Jesse Robins appears at both ends of this panoramic photo. He accomplished this simply by walking behind the camera from one end of the group to the other during the exposure, as the camera slowly pivoted from left to right.
All images from Chaplin films made from 1918 onwards, copyright © Roy Export Company Establishment. CHARLES CHAPLIN, CHAPLIN, and the LITTLE TRAMP, photographs from and the names of Mr. Chaplin’s films are trademarks and/or service marks of Bubbles Incorporated SA and/or Roy Export Company Establishment. Used with permission. 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.
The Trinity at 851 S. Grand Avenue.