As much as I enjoy solving a movie location puzzle, and learning where a favorite scene was filmed, what I enjoy more is getting a sense of the context of how the movie was made. I appreciate the craft that went into filming Harold Lloyd’s race to the altar in Girl Shy because I know how he traveled all across Los Angeles to capture the individual shots comprising the sequence. Likewise, I’ve discovered that as a film-maker Buster Keaton was both uncompromising, and practical. When called for, Buster would travel even hundreds of miles to capture the right setting for a gag, and yet he also filmed dozens of scenes directly adjacent to his small studio. Armed with this knowledge, it is fun to imagine what must have been a common occurrence, Buster and his crew literally walking from the studio to set up a shot nearby.
I grew up reading Hollywood history books, and became familiar with individual photos of the various studios and vintage landmarks. But studying these images in isolation only took me so far. Without a greater context, an understanding of how each place fit in, and related to the others, it was difficult to sense what Hollywood was really like. Things began to change once I discovered vintage aerial photographs at resources such as the Los Angeles Public Library, and the Bruce Torrence Hollywood Historical Collection at HollywoodPhotographs.com. For me, nothing surpasses armchair time-traveling more than a high resolution, vintage, oblique aerial photograph.
After studying such photos closely, I was stunned to realize that Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton created their masterpieces working only a few blocks apart, and that Charlie Chaplin could easily pop over to the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio to have lunch with Doug and Mary. These grand photos were the missing element that allowed me to fit each individual puzzle piece into place. With this post I hope the “big picture” will emerge for you too, so you can sense how the pieces all fit together. Please join me as we deconstruct a single aerial photo for a brief tour of early Hollywood.
Above, the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio (future home to United Artists), and, standing in the foreground, the grand set for the Douglas Fairbanks fantasy epic The Thief of Bagdad (1924), with the castle set from Fairbanks’ Robin Hood (1922) standing behind. By 1926 (see inset above) several filming stages were added. Known today as The Lot, much of the studio is expected to be replaced by “low-rise, flexible office space,” as controversial plans to demolish and upgrade several historic structures have commenced, beginning with the destruction of the Pickford Building, built in 1927.
The small backlot above shows the half-circus-tent set built for Chaplin’s 1928 production The Circus. The long white narrow building houses the studio’s many dressing rooms. Only the right (east) end of the main filming stage is covered. The west end of the main stage remained uncovered during the production of City Lights (1931), and was roofed over to accommodate the extra interior sets required for Modern Times (1936). The studio is now home to the Jim Henson Company.
On the hilltop above, Yamashiro, Adolph and Eugene Bernheimer’s Japanese-themed estate completed in 1914, is now home to a landmark Japanese restaurant of the same name. A flight of 300 steps lead down from Yamashiro to the home built by banker Rollin B. Lane in 1909, at 7001 Franklin Avenue, now home to the Magic Castle, a restaurant and private club for magicians.
Above, with all the palms trees, the former Hollywood Hotel (1903-1956) at the NW corner of Hollywood and Highland, now home to the Hollywood and Highland Entertainment Center. To the left, nearing completion, stands the El Capitan Theater at 6838 Hollywood Boulevard, which opened May 3, 1926.
After amicably parting ways with producer Hal Roach, in 1924 Harold Lloyd filmed his first independently produced feature comedy Girl Shy at the Hollywood Metropolitan Studios, pictured above, a few blocks west of the Keaton Studio. Lloyd’s production office stood at 1040 N. Las Palmas Avenue, at the left edge of the yellow box in the inset photo, which also shows Las Palmas traversing the west (left) edge of the studio. A similar building stands at 1040 today – either a remodel of the original or a new structure. As shown in the primary 1923 photo above, Las Palmas had not yet been extended south across Santa Monica Boulevard, and Lloyd’s future office had not yet been constructed. The studio remains in active use, known today as the Hollywood Center Studios.
The main view above, circa 1924, looks to the SE, while the inset view above looks north. Keaton’s single shooting stage, appearing prominently in both images, was still open to the air during the filming of The Goat (1921), but was roofed over late in 1921, as revealed in newly discovered footage from The Blacksmith. The four blocks beneath the teal box in the 1926 inset photo comprise the stages and backlots of the former Metro Studios. Metro became part of MGM in Culver City in 1924, and by 1926 many Metro buildings had already been demolished.
Pictured above, the block of Cahuenga south of Hollywood Boulevard, a few blocks north from the Keaton Studio, was Buster’s favorite place to film. He shot scenes from at least seven movies at this location. Charlie Chaplin filmed scenes from Tillie’s Punctured Romance (1914) and Modern Times at the corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga, and Harold Lloyd filmed scenes from Safety Last! (1923) and Girl Shy (1924), and Hot Water (1924) along Cahuenga as well. (More remarkably, the alley to the left is where Keaton filmed a scene from Cops (1922), Chaplin filmed a scene from The Kid (1921), and Harold Lloyd filmed a scene from Safety Last! – three masterpiece films all filmed at the same alley you can visit today.) This prior post will take you to a PowerPoint presentation showing 13, but not all, locations used by Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd along Cahuenga.
This circa 1923 reverse angle view above looks south down Cahuenga from Hollywood Boulevard towards the large covered filming stage of the Keaton Studio (teal box), and the enclosed glass shooting stages of the Metropolitan Studio (yellow box).
The main photo above shows the intersection of Hollywood and Vine, some time in 1924, after completion of the Taft Building at the SE (lower right) corner in 1923, but prior to construction of the Broadway – Hollywood Department Store on the SW (lower left) corner, that opened in 1927. The Broadway appears nearly complete in the inset photo above.
Thanks for coming along – I hope you enjoyed the tour. You can download written Hollywood tours of where Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd filmed at these other posts here and here. My many thanks to Bruce Torrence, at HollywoodPhotographs.com, along with Marc Wanamaker of Bison Archives, and Christina Rice, Senior Librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library, for providing the amazing aerial views of vintage Hollywood.