Harold Lloyd’s The Freshman leads the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

The San Francisco Silent Film Festival kicks off another exciting season with a June 1 screening of Harold Lloyd’s 1925 campus comedy The Freshman at the Castro Theater, accompanied by the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra. The Freshman was Lloyd’s greatest hit, the third biggest release of 1925, and the second most successful comedy of the entire silent film era.

Early USC play at the Colesium –USC Digital Library

College enrollment soared after World War I, nearly doubling during the 1920s, while a new style of red‐blooded sports journalism, and the advent of radio, and live-game broadcasts, turned college football into a national obsession. With his winning personality, leading man looks, and team of clever gag writers, Lloyd was the perfect comedy star to bring the college craze to the big screen.

Looking east (l) and north (r) at the cannon beside the former Ontario City Hall.

Los Angeles County is so large and varied that Lloyd rarely traveled anywhere else to shoot. So it was unusual that Lloyd would travel to remote Ontario, then a small farming town in San Bernardino County, to film his character arriving at school beside the Southern Pacific depot. The former Ontario City Hall, and its Civil War-era cannon once standing on the corner of Euclid and Emporia due west of the train station, appear early in the film.

The former State Exposition Building (Bowen Hall) at Exposition Park, with the sunken rose garden at back. Harold has unwittingly agreed to buy the gang ice cream (l), while Buster strolls near by in College. LAPL.

The USC campus was still rather small in 1925, and the UCLA campus in Westwood would not be established for another five years. So Lloyd filmed the campus scenes at Exposition Park instead, even though USC was just across the street. Buster Keaton would film scenes from his later 1927 campus comedy College at the same corner. You can read more about Harold and Buster filming at Exposition Park at this earlier post.

The ‘new’ 1923 USC locker rooms at Bovard Field, in The Freshman (l) and in College (r).

The USC bleachers at Bovard Field.

The USC football team originally played home games at modest Bovard Field, behind the USC Old College Building, equipped with wooden bleachers that seated only a few thousand people. Out‐manned during the early years, the press dubbed the USC team the “Trojans” for fighting on despite overwhelming odds against better‐equipped opponents. Lloyd filmed all of the football practice scenes at this field, used also for Keaton’s baseball scenes in College, and for the football scenes in Keaton’s Three Ages (1923).

Filming at the Rose Bowl – horseshoe-shaped until the south end was closed over in 1928.

Fueled by the college football craze, California witnessed of the construction of four major stadiums during the early 1920s; Stanford Stadium opened in Palo Alto in 1921, followed by the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in 1922, and both the California Memorial Stadium in Berkeley and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in

Harold – with extras filling the view – at the Colesium

1923. Lloyd created The Freshman by blending footage shot at three of the four stadiums; most playing field sequences were staged at the Rose Bowl, medium views of Harold on the bench, with extras filling in the bleachers behind him, at the Coliseum, and wide full stadium views up at Berkeley.

White shirt in the movie (l) – dark shirt in the production stills (r).

Lloyd began filming The Freshman by jumping straight to the climatic football game sequence, staged at the empty Rose Bowl. But Lloyd soon realized it was a mistake ‐ without understanding his character’s motivation, the sequence just didn’t work. So Lloyd scrapped the early scenes, and filmed the movie in sequential order instead. Lloyd wore a white shirt when he filmed the game sequence for the second time, so his character would stand out from the other players wearing black. In a nod to efficiency, Lloyd kept the production stills taken when he was also wearing black. Thus, there are moments were Lloyd wears a white shirt in the movie, and a black shirt in the matching photographs.

Lloyd filmed the wide stadium view scenes at Cal during the November 22, 1924 Big Game between the University of California and Stanford University. Harold and his crew witnessed an exciting match, as Stanford overcame a 14 point deficit in the final minutes to reach a 20‐20 tie, capping an

Some of Harold’s 90,000 extras at Cal stadium

undefeated season for both teams. Unlike Chaplin and Keaton, who filmed early on several times in San Francisco and near Truckee, filming The Freshman at Berkeley is apparently the first time Harold Lloyd ever left Southern California to shoot. Lloyd quickly shot key scenes on the field during half-time, later joking that he employed 90,000 extras to appear in his film.

Jobyna’s love note to Harold was scribbled on an authentic football program. Holley Adams, pictured here (click to enlarge), played center for USC.

The Freshman is available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection. This post is condensed from my visual essay on the disc.

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.

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Hollywood’s Silent Echoes – 2017 FIAF/FLC Tour

[Tour download] Late in 1921 a mob of angry police chased Buster Keaton down a narrow Hollywood alley towards Cahuenga Boulevard. Entering the street Buster saw to his right a corner where “America’s Sweetheart” Mary Pickford filmed a scene in 1918 beside what is now an adult book store. To his left Buster saw the former Hollywood fire/police station where he would shoot five different films. All seems lost when Buster boldly stops and turns to face his pursuers – then suddenly, grabbing a passing car one-handed, he flies out of frame to safety. This breathtaking stunt, appearing in Keaton’s most famous short film Cops (1922), was filmed on Cahuenga just south of Hollywood Boulevard.

Unburdened by union rules and truckloads of sound equipment, the silent movie filmmakers roamed freely seeking the best locations to shoot. In the process they created a vast photographic record of early Hollywood and Los Angeles, capturing historic streets and settings that often no longer exist. But as fleeting images projected on a screen, this record remained hidden in plain sight for decades until digital technology allowed us the time to freeze these moments and take a closer look.

Remarkably, the great silent film comedians Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd filmed more frequently on the block of Cahuenga south of Hollywood Boulevard than at any other spot in town. It’s easy to speculate why. All three stars had studios close by (the Keaton Studio was just six blocks to the south), and with its numerous alleys and generic commercial buildings, filming on this “urban” street saved them from making trips to downtown Los Angeles to shoot. More remarkably, each star filmed an iconic masterpiece, The Kid, Cops, and Safety Last!, respectively, at the same Cahuenga alley.

This April 28-30 weekend I was honored to lead guests from 20 countries on a series of Hollywood walking tours for the 2017 FIAF Congress and Film Librarians Conference hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the UCLA Film and Television Archive. The remainder of this post is a brochure I created for the tour, which can also be downloaded HERE. (I’ve also prepared a full text-only tour all around Hollywood, with over 50 entries, that can be downloaded HERE.)

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Keaton’s The Goat – the geography of a gag

Buster standing on Lillian Way near the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. – one block from his studio.

Particular yet pragmatic, Buster Keaton would travel hundreds of miles to find just the right setting for a joke, while also filming dozens of mundane locations within steps of his small studio in Hollywood. This post breaks down the geography of one gag from The Goat (1921), revealing how Keaton cleverly and methodically pieced together the diverse backdrops available to him close to home.

(1) the cops race along the studio fence and (2) into a moving van.

Buster crafted this scene using the few backdrops available close to his studio, the lower left square block.

As I explain in my book Silent Echoes, early in The Goat a trio of cops chase Buster around downtown Los Angeles near the Plaza de Los Angeles (inset below). The next shot (1) above shows the trio running south down Cahuenga alongside the Keaton Studio fence. Buster lures the cops into a moving van (2), beside the brick building Bell & Howell built in 1920, still standing at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Lillian Way, one block north of the studio site. Buster quickly escapes from the van and ties the back door shut, smugly watching the van drive away with his tormentors.

I made this discovery thanks to Marc Wanamaker of Bison Archives providing me with a wonderful 1921 photo looking NE towards the Keaton Studio from the former Metro Studio. I somehow noticed a simple, block-like brick building (2, 4) in the background (see below) that reminded me of Keaton’s scene, and soon confirmed the site. The building was extended to the south (right) in 1925.

Click to enlarge – the Keaton Studio – (1) the cops run along the fence, (2) the brick Bell & Howell building appears at back. (3) points to the corner of Santa Monica and Vine (see corner turret), partially obscured. Bison Archives.

Next, Buster sees an aggressive man harass Virginia Fox and her dog (3), filmed looking east along Santa Monica Blvd. from the corner of Vine, and (4) decides to take action. Virginia’s scene was staged only one block north and east from Buster’s studio.

(3) looking east along Santa Monica at Vine and (4) Buster beside the Bell & Howell building on Lillian Way.

Now the home to the Sacred Fools Theater Company, some windows have been walled shut.

(5) Buster defends Virginia, attracting the attention of a cop (6), sending Buster fleeing off camera.

Ever efficient, Buster staged the reaction shot of the cop (6) at the same Bell & Howell building, only looking north towards the corner of Santa Monica. A vacant lot still stood across the street in 1921.

(6) the building originally had a large picture window near the corner, now closed over and sporting a sign for the theater.

Concluding this breathless sequence, Buster enjoys a moment of calm strolling beside the former Metro Studio stages along Cole Avenue, a block south from his studio, only to have the moving van dump the trio of cops at his feet (7). Buster runs off to the left, and in the next scene boards a train at the Inglewood train station about ten miles away, the same station where he staged the finale to One Week.

Click to enlarge – the aerial view of the Metro Studio stages looks SE, while Buster’s shot (7) looks north up Cole. HollywoodPhotographs.com.

Scene (7) was staged a block SW from the Keaton Studio (see map at left). For good measure, Buster filmed later scenes from The Goat where he lures Big Joe Roberts under a dump truck full of rocks (A) along Lillian Way, just north of his studio, looking west toward the Cahuenga Valley Lemon Growers warehouse. The warehouse sign peeks through the trees at back (see below). Buster’s scenes (2), (4), and (6) were filmed on the other side of the street as scene (A), only looking east. By 1922, as documented during a scene from The Balloonatic, the lemon warehouse was torn down to make way for a towering storage warehouse that still stands at Santa Monica and Cahuenga. This warehouse appears during a fire hose scene (inset right) in Keaton’s Go West (1925).

Looking west (A) at the former Cahuenga Valley Lemon Growers warehouse, across the street to the north from Keaton’s studio, and directly across the street from scenes (2), (4), and (6) above. The warehouse sign appears at back.

A final overlap – Buster’s scenes (3) and (5) in The Goat provide a view east towards the same market (B) appearing in Keaton’s The Playhouse (1921). See below, and larger view map above.

The same market appearing in The Goat (5) and The Playhouse (B). Hydro Pura was a popular water softener.

The more I learn about Buster Keaton, the more I marvel at his precision and directorial skills. As shown here, Buster seamlessly weaved seven different settings, all adjacent to his studio, into a brief and hilarious sequence. Below, a modern view north towards the Bell & Howell building, with its southern (right) slightly taller extension that was added in 1925.

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Buster with a Bullitt – Keaton and Steve McQueen’s SF Stunts

Recent posts show Buster Keaton crossed paths with Orson Welles in Venice, California (The High Sign and Touch of Evil), and with Alfred Hitchcock in San Francisco (Day Dreams and Vertigo). This time Keaton and ‘King of Cool’ actor Steve McQueen cross paths filming stunts in the City by the Bay.

Click to enlarge – different actors, different stunts. Keaton falls from a cable car, while McQueen races his Mustang – matching views from Day Dreams and Bullitt.

Intrepid reader ‘Skip’ sensed that McQueen’s celebrated car chase in Bullitt (1968) must somehow intersect with Keaton and Hitchcock’s San Francisco locations, and he was right. Skip found this Bullitt view matching Keaton’s Day Dreams looking SE down Columbus Avenue, with the same prominent apartment block at Mason and Greenwich at back. These comparison views above highlight San Francisco’s decades-long process of acquiring city landmarks. The striking twin church spires appearing at back in the Bullitt shot belong to the Saints Peter and Paul Church at 666 Filbert Street (how did they get that address?), completed in 1924. The church doesn’t appear in the Keaton frame because Buster filmed there in 1922. (Photo: Kjetil Ree.)

The church spires don’t appear below in this 1922 Day Dreams view north at Washington and Powell (visible at back in the modern view) for the same reason.

Washington and Powell today – the Saints Peter and Paul spires peek out at in the far distance.

While Keaton’s views lack the church spires, the Bullitt frame also lacks a landmark, one of the City’s most iconic, the Transamerica Pyramid. Once the City’s tallest building, it dominates any view looking SE down Columbus today. But the Pyramid is nowhere to be seen with McQueen because the tower didn’t begin construction until 1969, the year after Bullitt was released. (Photo: Daniel Schwen.)

Skip also found a three-way Keaton/Hitchcock/McQueen connection, as Jimmy Stewart’s apartment in Vertigo (1958) stands at the corner of Lombard and Jones, overlooking the block of Lombard to the east where Keaton flees an army of police in Day Dreams. During the Bullitt chase, McQueen drives south down Jones towards the corner of Lombard, with Stewart’s apartment (red box above) appearing to the right.

During the thrilling car chase in Bullitt, Steve McQueen drives south down Jones towards Jimmy Stewart’s corner Vertigo apartment on Lombard (box).

From Vertigo, a view east down Lombard, and the block Buster fled (arrow) in Day Dreams. In the Bullitt scene above, McQueen drives left to right along Jones past Jimmy Stewart’s red chimney apartment on the left corner. Read more about Keaton and Vertigo HERE.

Aside from his stunt scene falling off a cable car, Keaton filmed another Day Dreams scene at nearly the same spot, looking east on Lombard from Columbus, where Buster grabs hold of a passing cable car. Shown here, Buster stands in the intersection of Columbus and Lombard, steps from where he later falls off the car. Here too, Keaton’s frame lacks another City landmark – the Coit Tower monument appearing at the upper right was completed in 1933. (Photo: Kkmd.)

Matching views east along Lombard from Columbus (look at all the available parking in 1922!). Coit Tower was completed in 1933.

Skip, who lives in Illinois, also ingeniously discovered the Safety Last! mystery building (the Dresden Apartments, 1919 W 7th Street), the still standing 4 story building human spider Bill Strother climbs early in the movie – read HERE).

You can download a PDF tour of all of Keaton’s San Francisco filming locations HERE. For anyone interested in reading more about the famous Bullitt and Vertigo filming locations, I highly recommend the entertaining and meticulous classic-era San Francisco movie location blog ReelSF. You’ll find a full breakdown of Bullitt HERE, and a full breakdown of Vertigo HERE.

Today the Transamerica Pyramid looms at back over Columbus Avenue.

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Keaton and Orson Welles – A High Sign Touch of Evil

Buster flashes ‘the High Sign.’

Prior posts discuss Orson Welles and Chaplin (Citizen Kane – Modern Times), and Keaton and Alfred Hitchcock (Day Dreams and Vertigo), so how about Keaton and Orson Welles? Their paths crossed too, filming in Venice, California. As I explain in my books, and in several posts, Venice was a very popular place to film; Chaplin, Keaton and Lloyd all filmed there frequently. In fact, Chaplin’s public debut of his Little Tramp character was even filmed in Venice, during the Kid Auto Races (what were they? – read HERE).

As was so often the case, the benign silent movie locations from the 1910s-1920s would become, after decades of accumulated grime and neglect, the stark and seedy landscapes perfect for noir dramas and crime stories. Thus, the beautiful Venice-inspired seaside resort appearing in Keaton’s 1920 produced short The High Sign would portray a corrupt Mexican border town in Touch of Evil (1958). As shown here, the building at the NE corner of Windward Avenue and Speedway (now one of the few remaining original structures), appears in both productions (see matching boxes above).

A view north, 1920, with part of the Abbott Kinney amusement pier at the left, and the corner of Windward and Speedway (box), with the arrow matching the points of view shown above. LAPL

Welles greatly respected and admired Buster Keaton.  During his introduction of The General for the Paul Killiam television series The Silent Years, Welles recalled working with Buster at the old Stage Door Canteen during WWII, describing Buster as “a lovely person, and a supreme artist, and I think one of the most beautiful people that was ever photographed.” He continued that Buster was “as we’re now beginning to realize, the greatest of all the clowns in the history of the cinema.”  Of The General, Welles rated it “one of the great films of all times, one of my favorites.” Welles further stated “in fact, I think it’s THE Civil War movie, nothing ever came near it. Not only for beauty but for the curious feeling of authenticity. … It’s one hundred times more stunning visually than Gone With The Wind.”

Knowing this, it’s fun to imagine what Welles would have thought had he learned his celebrated continuous tracking shot opening Touch of Evil was staged in Venice at the same spot where Buster had filmed his very first independently produced movie.

Filmed at Venice; Chaplin – Kid Auto Races in Venice, By the Sea, The Adventurer, and The Circus, Keaton – The High Sign, The Balloonatic, and The Cameraman, Lloyd – Young Mr. Jazz, By the Sad Sea Waves, Number Please?, Why Pick on Me?, and Speedy.

A view east down Windward Avenue in Venice. Bison Archives – Marc Wanamaker

Below, a 2011 view of the NE corner of Windward and Speedway appearing in The High Sign and A Touch of Evil. The two center windows on the top floor were once shaded by six narrow Gothic arches that have since been removed.

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Keaton and Hitchcock’s Vertigo Day Dreams

Filmed on location in San Francisco, Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece Vertigo (1958) provides tantalizing mid-century glimpses of the City in sparkling VistaVision color. Remarkably, when Scottie (James Stewart) traces Madeleine (Kim Novak) by car back to his own apartment, they cross paths twice with Buster Keaton. It turns out Keaton filmed many scenes from Day Dreams (1922) (inset left) and a key scene from The Navigator (1924) in San Francisco. (You can download a Keaton – San Francisco PDF tour HERE). Why Keaton chose to film here remains a tantalizing mystery. Perhaps it was simply a fun way to combine work with pleasure, justifying trips from Hollywood.

Madeleine and Scottie in Vertigo, and Buster in Day Dreams, all traveled east along Washington, with Madeleine and Scottie turning left (north) onto Powell, while Buster, traveling by cable car, turned right (south). The same building on the NE corner (red box below) appears in both shots, and remains unchanged today.

VertigoDay Dreams, the same NE corner of Washington and Powell. Keaton (oval) sits in the cable car.

Washington and Powell today – nothing is missing, an Art Deco parking structure fills the vacant lot.

More remarkably, Scottie’s apartment on 900 Lombard overlooked a nightmarish chase scene from Day Dreams, as Buster flees an army of cops east down Lombard from Jones. To begin, as Scottie, dumbfounded, realizes he has followed Madeleine towards his own apartment, his point-of view through the car windshield (below) shows the block of Lombard where Buster fled the police.

From Scottie’s car we see Madeleine’s green Jaguar parked beside his corner apartment with red chimney at left, and a clear view down the block Buster fled (arrow) in Day Dreams.

Below, you can even see the corner site of Scottie’s yet to be constructed apartment at Lombard and Jones (yellow) during Buster’s chase, while a Hyde Street cable car (red) passes by along the crest of the hill.

Click to enlarge – view west from Taylor and Lombard – Scottie’s apartment will be built on the yellow corner of Jones. Notice the second floor witnesses to the far left, and the gleeful kids running along to the right. Were the famous twists and turns already constructed, or is the road above the red line (Leavenworth) simply torn up?

The shot above also reveals further at back the block of Lombard now world-famous for all the twists and turns. To my eye the roadway for the block west of Leavenworth (red line) looks torn up, but before the prominent curved cement retaining walls were installed. I’ve tried to pin down when exactly the twists and turns were built, and when Buster was here filming, but the answers are elusive.

At the time the Lombard street improvement was hardly newsworthy, affecting only the handful of residents living on the block. An August 1, 1922 letter to the editor in the San Francisco Chronicle reports construction plans were presented to the homeowners for approval, and that by mid-June the cobblestones lining the street were dug up. However, complains the letter-writer, the serpentine project was halted because one of the owners was in Europe and wasn’t ready to give his consent, forcing his neighbors to live with the dust, inconvenience, and delay. “Fourteen American property owners and the city’s engineer’s office halted upon orders from Europe – wealth and political influence! Some of us have had our first lesson in what makes a Bolshevik” seethes the letter-writer, signing off anonymously as “FAIR PLAY.”

View east of torn up road – SF Public Library

The initial plans for the project are dated June 6, 1922, and a further plan, apparently the “as-built” plan is dated December 11, 1922, showing a November 5, 1923 revision regarding the stairways along the street. So the project was likely completed well after August 1, but before the December rainy season. My best guess is Buster filmed here some time during the summer, after the road was torn up in mid-June, but before the major construction commenced. PS – apparently this section of Lombard was two-way until 1939! Can you imagine driving up this street?

Lombard looking west – this setting was the very first Keaton location I would identify.

Bonus – during the thrilling car chase in Bullitt, Steve McQueen drives south down Jones towards Scottie’s corner apartment on Lombard (box).

UPDATE – intrepid reader ‘Skip,’ who solved the Safety Last! mystery building (the Dresden Apartments, 1919 W 7th Street, the still standing 4 story building human spider Bill Strother climbs early in the movie – read HERE), followed a hunch that the Steve McQueen car chase in Bullitt (1968) must somehow cross paths with Keaton and Hitchcock, and he was right! During the chase, SMQ drives south down Jones towards the corner of Lombard, with Scottie’s apartment (red box above) on the right.

Hitchcock filmed Vertigo in San Francisco in part because its dizzying streets and hills create a mood of imbalance and uncertainty. 36 years before him, Buster recorded his fever-pitched Day Dreams of persecution and pursuit on those very same streets. To see all of the Vertigo filming locations, check out Reel SF. I highly recommend this entertaining and meticulous classic-era San Francisco movie location blog.

Vertigo (C) 1958 Paramount Pictures. Day Dreams from Buster Keaton: The Shorts Collection 1917 – 1923 (C) 2016 Kino-Lorber, Lobster Films.

Looking east down Lombard towards Scottie’s apartment, in 2011, before it was remodeled.

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Keaton’s Cops and Go West – Peeking Over the School Fence

Fireman Sherlock

Two appearances – the school in The Fireman and Sherlock Jr.

Rebuilt over the years, but pre-dating 1912, the Vine Street (Colgrove) Elementary School still stands between Romaine and Willoughby, kitty-corner from the site of the former Keaton Studio block in Hollywood. The back of the school, with its distinctive series of chimneys, appears during scenes filmed looking south down Lillian Way both in Charlie Chaplin’s The Fireman (1916) and in Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. (1924). The school also appears (far left, below) during Buster’s race to the rescue in College (1926), as he turns north from Lillian Way onto west along Romaine, fleeing past the abandoned Metro Studio offices standing across the street from his studio.


The current school campus was built in 1922, 1926, and re-built in 1936.  Reportedly Mrs. Eleanor Keaton attended kindergarten here at the time Buster was filming Sherlock Jr.

USC Digital Library

Looking south from Romaine down Vine along the school, notice the sets at right – 1928. USC Digital Library

Remarkably, the far right background of this 1928 photo of the school (above) provides a sneak peek over the Metro Studio fence (due south of the Keaton Studio), to reveal a conspicuous 5-arch backlot set appearing in Cops (1922), Three Ages (1923), and Go West (1925). Although the Hollywood Metro Studio closed in 1924 to join M-G-M in Culver City, Keaton continued to make use of the abandoned studio’s backlot, particularly when filming the many cattle stampede scenes from Go West.

The five arch Metro backlot set as it appears in Cops.

The five arch Metro backlot set as it appears in Cops.

The Rector Cafe nightclub from Three Ages.

The Rector Cafe nightclub from Three Ages.

A full view of the 5-arch set and neighboring central arch set appearing with Buster's cattle in Go West.

A full view of the 5-arch set and neighboring central arch set (*) appearing with Buster’s cattle in Go West.


This 1922 photo shows ongoing school construction at top, the Keaton Studio in the foreground, and the Metro Studio at right. The arrow marks the point of view of the 1928 photo above towards the Metro backlot. HollywoodPhotographs.com

I’ve always been fascinated imagining what it would have been like to wander around Buster Keaton’s studio. I’ve written several posts analyzing vintage aerial photos of the studio, taken in 1921 and 1922, available from HollywoodPhotographs.com. But as shown here, you’ll never know where other images of the studio might pop up, even over an old school fence.

The Romaine Street view of the school.

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