Before the beautiful downtown Los Angeles Union Train Station opened in 1939, built on the site of the original Chinatown, the various railroads serving L.A. each operated from their own stations. Union Station helped to reduce downtown noise and congestion by consolidating the Union Pacific, Santa Fe, and Southern Pacific city entrances and stations into a single terminal. As with so many other Los Angeles landmarks now lost to the wrecking ball, glimpses of the former Southern Pacific Depot, that once stood at E. 5th Street and Central Avenue (pictured above), are unwittingly preserved in the background of numerous silent comedies.
One early appearance comes during a stunt from the Douglas Fairbanks comedy When the Clouds Roll By (1919), as Doug scampers up the Southern Pacific Depot’s front awning (above).
The Southern Pacific Depot opened to great fanfare on June 12, 1915. Built at a cost of $750,000 on the site of the former Arcade Depot (1889 – 1914), the Southern Pacific Depot was touted as the nation’s finest building of its kind west of Kansas City. The station was 572 feet long, with a concourse 280 feet long, by 80 feet wide and 50 feet high. Ten passenger tracks, protected by four concrete umbrella sheds each 780 feet long, were accessed by subways so that passengers no longer needed to cross tracks to reach their particular trains.
The Southern Pacific Depot played a key role in Harold Lloyd’s 1924 feature comedy Girl Shy. As I explain in my book Silent Visions, Harold and lead actress Jobyna Ralston are filmed arriving in town at the Santa Fe Depot on Santa Fe Avenue near 1st Street. Yet they say their good-byes to one another in front of the Southern Pacific Depot, several blocks to the west, as shown on this vintage map (left).
As I may discuss in a later post, the Santa Fe Depot was a popular place to film, appearing in numerous Hal Roach Studios productions including Charley Chase’s Crazy Like A Fox (1926), Laurel & Hardy’s Berth Marks (1929), the Our Gang comedy Choo-Choo! (1932), and in Lloyd’s independently produced talking picture Movie Crazy (1932).
Below, Harold Lloyd at left, in front of the Southern Pacific Depot in Girl Shy, and Stan Laurel playing a hansom cab driver in his pre-Oliver Hardy solo comedy Mother’s Joy (1923).
Filmmakers not only captured the western (front) side of the Southern Pacific Depot, the south end of the station (the side facing the sun all day) also appears in vintage comedies. In Just Neighbors (1919) (see left below) Harold Lloyd races around the station corner attempting to catch the next train home, when he runs into several people blocking his way. In Be Reasonable (1921), Billy Bevan (see right below) flees the police by racing south from the station during a lengthy chase, presaging Buster Keaton’s similar chase in Cops (1922). Notice the former station’s distinctive light fixtures along the corner walls.
Harold Lloyd’s short film Just Neighbors also provides some remarkably rare views of the interior of the lost station. Compare this photo below, with scenes from Harold’s movie.
Below, the extant Rosslyn Hotel (1913) at 5th and Main appears in the background during a scene from Girl Shy as Harold runs west after Jobyna’s taxi cab down 5th Street from the Southern Pacific Depot. In the matching modern view, the US Bank Tower, the tallest building on the West Coast, dominates the skyline. At 1,018 feet, the building stands nearly seven times as tall as the 150-foot height limit imposed in Los Angeles for many decades. I don’t think anyone involved with filming Harold’s scene could have imagined that the downtown skyline would someday appear this way.
Below, the cold storage distribution facility, standing on the site of the Southern Pacific Depot today, was completed in May 1958.
To see where Buster Keaton filmed several movies at the Inglewood and Chatsworth depots, check out this earlier post Buster’s Trains – One Week to Speak Easily.
When the Clouds Roll By (1919)—Douglas Fairbanks: A Modern Musketeer Collection (David Shepard, Film Preservation Associates, Jeffrey Masino, Flicker Alley LLC).
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.
Mother’s Joy (1923)—The Stan Laurel Collection Slapstick Symposium (Eric Lange and Serge Bromberg, Lobster Films).
Be Reasonable (1921)—American Slapstick 2 Collection (All Day Entertainment, David Kalat).