In 2001 Piet Schreuders wrote to me from his home in Amsterdam postulating (correctly) about the tunnel appearing at the conclusion of Laurel and Hardy’s 1930 comedy short Another Fine Mess. Apart from being an internationally acclaimed graphic designer, and creator of Furore Magazine, Piet’s amazing list of accomplishments include writing The Beatles’ London, a guide to The Beatles’ shooting and filming locations; co-founding The Beau Hunks music ensemble, which recreates the LeRoy Shield musical scores played during the Hal Roach Studio comedies; and creating a virtual reality computer model of downtown Culver City as it appeared when Laurel and Hardy filmed there so frequently in the 1930s. Piet has also tracked down the filming locations for such classic French films as Mr. Hulot’s Holiday (1951) and The Red Balloon (1956).
Another Fine Mess is a remake of Stan and Ollie’s earlier film Duck Soup (1927), and the first movie to use the background music of Piet’s hero Mr. Shield. The story begins as the Boys hide from the police in what they believe is a deserted mansion.
The mansion appearing in the film, still standing at 3500 West Adams Blvd., was built in 1910 by Secondo Gausti, and was later owned by film choreographer Busby Berkeley. The mansion is now home to the Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens and is open for tours.
The movie concludes with a cartoon-style joke. Stan and Ollie flee the mansion dressed in a two-person goat costume (don’t ask), then quickly commandeer a tandem bicycle. The police chase the bicycling duo into a tunnel when a trolley approaches. The speeding trolley car strips the police of their clothing, while Stan and Ollie emerge from the other end of the tunnel relatively unscathed, but now riding unicycles, suggesting their tandem bike was torn in two.
Piet wrote to me with an enticing anecdote from Randy Skretvedt’s classic book “Laurel and Hardy: The Magic Behind the Movies,” where stunt person Joe Mole recalled that he and his brother rode the unicycles for the scene “down by the old Hill Street tunnel.” Based on the series of maps and other materials he provided, Piet correctly concluded that the scene must have been filmed where the Pacific Electric Railway veers south from Sunset into the tunnel running beneath Fort Moore Hill.
Los Angeles was a very different place in 1930. Originally cut off to the northwest by a series of hills, downtown LA was difficult to reach from Hollywood and parts west until a series of tunnels were built starting in 1901. By 1930 a series of six tunnels provided access to downtown; the 3rd Street Tunnel, the Broadway Tunnel, the twin-bore Hill Street Tunnel under Court Hill, the single-bore northern Hill Street Tunnel under Fort Moore Hill, the 2nd Street Tunnel, and the Hollywood subway tunnel running from Beverly/Glendale Boulevards south of Echo Park into the basement of the Subway Terminal Building. Although there were 11 tunnel portals to choose from, given the layout and other characteristics present during the scene, I agreed with Piet’s conclusion. But at the time there were so few reference photos available it was difficult to sense what the area looked like.
One thing that struck me watching the scene is that Stan and Ollie pass a billboard advertising the Pacific Electric railway to Mt. Lowe. Mt. Lowe had been on my radar ever since I became aware that Harold Lloyd once modified a trolley advertisement appearing in Hot Water (1924) to read “Mt. Low_” on the “RAPID Electric.” It’s baffling why Lloyd bothered to revise the Pacific Electric ad, but then only alter it slightly, and so this oddity was something I always remembered.
A great number of vintage photos have become available for online searching since Piet wrote to me in 2001, and one particularly exciting collection is the Palmer Conner Collection of Color Slides of Los Angeles hosted by the Huntington Digital Library. While browsing the collection I noticed a billboard advertising Mt. Lowe. Remembering the Laurel and Hardy billboard, I pulled up the movie frame and found it was a match, confirming the tandem bike entered from Sunset Boulevard into the north portal of the northern Hill Street Tunnel. Likewise, comporting with geographic reality, the unicycles were filmed emerging from south portal of the tunnel, riding towards Temple Street.
The tunnel ran diagonally SE beneath Fort Moore Hill roughly from Sunset and Grand to Temple and Hill, passing underneath the playground of the Los Angeles High School. For decades after the tunnel was taken from service and the portals were sealed, a central section of the tunnel was used for storage by the Los Angeles Unified School District. This lasted until 2004, when construction of the current Los Angeles High School No. 9 on Fort Moore Hill necessitated filling in the remaining stretch of the tunnel.
For more locations earlier in the film (below), Steven J. Margaretic has posted photos of the Boys filming along West Adams in front of the mansion, and riding their tandem bicycle north on 5th Avenue crossing 25th Street, a block from the mansion.
You can purchase Piet’s wonderful study of Laurel and Hardy filming on Main Street in Culver City, complete with street view maps and diagrams, together with fascinating articles about LeRoy Shield and other topics, at his website, HERE. You can purchase Piet’s meticulous study of the Paris
locations appearing in The Red Balloon, HERE, and can purchase his Beatles guide to London HERE. In closing, I also want to thank Piet for the remarkably informative 3D aerial maps that he contributed to my Harold Lloyd book Silent Traces that depict some of LA’s long lost neighborhoods. These elegant illustrations provide clarity and context to those seeking their way into the past. Thank you Piet for your beautiful work.
Check out Piet’s virtual reality model of 1930s Culver City here, starting at 3:17.
Another Fine Mess (C) Hal Roach Studios, Inc. 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.
Site of the former tunnel portal today