Solved at Last! – the Safety Last! Mystery Building

Harold Lloyd filmed his stunt-climbing “thrill” comedies on the rooftops of eight buildings in the downtown Los Angeles Historic Core.  Remarkably, seven of these eight buildings are still standing.  (In all Lloyd employed 17 buildings in one way or another – see descriptions here.)

The Dresden Apartments (yellow arrow) and California Garage (red arrow) east of Westlake Park

The Dresden Apartments (yellow arrow) and California Garage (red arrow) on W 7th east of MacArthur Park


The Dresden Apartments and California Garage

But a mysterious ninth building belongs in the Lloyd Thrill Picture Hall of Fame (see left).  As explained in a prior post, we learn early in Safety Last! (1923) that Harold’s roommate Bill Strother can climb tall buildings when we watch him scale a four-story apartment in order to escape from a cop.  If you click the image of Bill below, you can see how the climbing was controlled with his hands.


Click to enlarge – Bill Strother mid-climb

Despite an abundance of clues, including the fact the building faces an east-west trolley line, and stands beside an alley and a “California Garage” selling tires, the mystery building eluded my detection for years.

This all changed when “Skip,” a resourceful but publicity-shy reader was able to identify the extant (if heavily remodeled) building as the former Dresden Apartments at 1919 W 7th Street.  As Skip explains, he could not locate the California Garage either – there seems to be simply no historic record of this establishment.  But tracking down a false lead brought Skip’s attention to the Westlake neighborhood, where he had once lived.  So following hunches, and using the Bing’s Birds-Eye aerial view, Skip “flew” around the area until a four story building caught his eye.  The short-long window pattern on the alley side of this building seemed unique to the area, and matched another shot from the movie.


Then and Now – the Dresden Apartments, 1919 W 7th Street. (c) 2013 Google.

As shown above, the front of the 1910 vintage building is now so badly butchered Skip was hesitant at first to contact me about it being a match.  Although initially difficult to see, the remaining architectural elements match up precisely.

1919 W 7th Street.  USC Digital Library

Moreover, vintage aerials photos (left) confirm the match, as do the distinctive parapets of the former L.A.F.D. Engine Co. No. 11 fire station at 1819 W 7th Street that appear down the street.

The Sorrento Apartments at 694 S. Burlington, on the corner of 7th Street, also appear further east down the street.  Harold Lloyd filmed many scenes there for his early 1917 short comedy The Big Idea.

Below, the L.A.F.D. Engine Co. No. 11 fire house.


Click to enlarge.  Looking east past Bill Strother’s cap towards the L.A.F.D. Engine Co. No. 11 – 1819 W 7th Street. Los Angeles Fire Department Historical Archive

Below, the corner of the Sorrento Apartments.


Looking further east towards the Sorrento Apartments, 694 S. Burlington. (c) 2103 Google.

[UPDATE : believe it or not, the ground floor of the Dresden played a similar role in the 1922 Hallroom Boys stunt-climbing comedy High Flyers starring Sidney Smith and Zip Monberg (George Williams). Beginning at 9:34, they start to climb the first floor of the Dresden. My sense is Lloyd used the setting first, as Strother climbed the 12-story International Bank Building for Safety Last! on September 17, 1922, and thus likely climbed the Dresden much earlier that summer. The Hall Room Boys released 16 shorts in 1922, every 3-4 weeks, with High Flyers debuting on December 6, suggesting it was filmed in the fall. The High Flyers finale was filmed above the Hill Street Tunnel, the same as Lloyd used for Never Weaken and other stunt films. How did two film companies both become aware of the Dresden?]
[UPDATE: you can purchase a DVD of High Flyers, together with 13 other Hallroom Boys shorts at this eBay link. The image quality of these 9.5mm films is quite good, far better than the YouTube link below. The 3 DVD set comes with a 26 page booklet including notes about the series, a complete filmography, and contemporary newspaper accounts of each title in the set. Proceeds from the sale go towards the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum. I had never before heard of the Hallroom Boys, whose films are clever and well-produced. I highly recommend this set.]

Safety Last and High Flyers – both at the Dresden

Below, a 1940 view east down W 7th Street towards the Dresden Apartments.  The Sorrento Apartments stand tall further down the street.


Looking east down 7th Street, circa 1940, at the Dresden and Sorrento Apartments.  USC Digital Archive

The L.A.F.D. Engine Co. No. 11 fire house is still located at 1819 W. 7th Street (below), although it was completely upgraded in 1977.


L.A.F.D. Engine Co. No. 11, 1819 W. 7th Street.  (c) 2013 Google.

This setting has been on the top of my Most Wanted list for years, and I want to express my gratitude to Skip both for his ingenuity in solving the puzzle, and for his kindness in sharing it.  Thank you so much Skip, I really appreciate.

You can read all about how Harold Lloyd filmed Safety Last! in my book Silent Visions and in these prior posts.

A short segment from the Locations and Effects 2013 documentary with Academy-Award winning effects supervisor Craig Barron and the author filmed for the Criterion Collection release of the Safety Last! Blu-ray appears below.

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.  Locations and Effects (C) 2013 The Criterion Collection.

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24 Responses to Solved at Last! – the Safety Last! Mystery Building

  1. Kevin Dale says:

    Congratulations Skip on your great find!
    John, hope you are doing well.
    I am so glad there are things yet to be discovered!


  2. Robby says:

    Fantastic find! One has to wonder what they were thinking when they remodled that building. It certainly wasn’t for the better. But at least it is still standing!


  3. Mike Kichaven says:

    WAY TO GO!


  4. VERY MUCH enjoying your expertise and kindness towards Harold and his films, John!!!


  5. Donna says:

    Congratulations Skip for the great sleuthing and John for sharing it!


  6. Chris Bungo says:

    I hope “Skip” is reading this: Great work! I know the great feeling it is when you come across one of these “finds” – good fun!


  7. Gregg says:

    Terrific detective work. It’s amazing to find the building so “remuddled” and being able to identify it. I didn’t even know there had been street cars on 7th Street.


  8. Skip says:

    I’m so glad that people are enjoying the discovery of this location. Thanks for your nice comments! I was stunned to find it after quite a bit of searching. It took a while to register that those architectural details were still there despite all the other changes. Many thanks to John for all he’s shared through his work!


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  10. Following up on our exchange, your readers can see what the Cinema Sentries thought about the new Criterion release of the film at


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  12. Donna Strother Deekens says:

    Hi John and Skip, I am doing a biography on Bill Strother, to be published in October 2014, and I am fascinated by all of this! Please contact me, as I am very interested in “show-casing” this in my information regarding “Bill Strother: The Human Spider” (and some cases, “The Human Fly”). Thank you for your prompt response! Donna Strother Deekens


    • Hi Donna – thank you for contacting me. Let me know what I can do to help.
      By the way, I think I reflexively called Bill a human “fly,” as I think that term was used during the Roaring 20s, but he may indeed have referred to himself more as the Human Spider.
      John Bengtson


    • Skip says:

      Hi Donna, I don’t know what I can add to that information which John has already posted on the blog. I know very little about Bill Strother other than what can be seen in “Safety Last” but if there’s something I can help you with, please let me know. Skip


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  15. Steven Luftman says:

    Great research. In a bizarre twist, 1919 W. 7th St. was built by the Milwaukee Building Company in 1910. Milwaukee Building Company, also known as Meyer & Holler, built Charlie Chaplin Studios along with many other buildings.


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