Harold Lloyd and Snub Pollard filmed comedies for producer Hal Roach at the Bradbury Mansion Rolin Studio, on Court Hill in downtown Los Angeles, for years before Roach opened his new studio in Culver City in 1920. (Read how they also made early films in Edendale HERE.) Roach built his new facility next door to the Lehrman Studio on Washington Boulevard that opened in 1919 just east of town. In those early days the center of Culver City barely comprised one short commercial block, Main Street, while nearby Palms, one of the oldest suburbs of LA, barely had two blocks. Since silent comedians require street corners and intersections to stage their gags, these three streets, then essentially in the middle of nowhere, appeared in many Roach productions, starting with Harold and Snub in 1920, and continuing with Laurel and Hardy and Our Gang into the early 1930s. But thanks to the Kino Lorber – Lobster Films Blu-ray release of Keaton’s short films, we can see Roscoe Arbuckle and Buster Keaton filmed here first.
Laurel and Hardy fans recognize the north end of Main Street at Venice Boulevard as the site where Stan and Ollie filmed many famous scenes, including the climatic hat-ripping fight (instead of a pie fight, the participants destroy each other’s hats) concluding the 1927 short comedy Hats Off, the Boys’ only non-surviving film.
Pre-dating Roach, Arbuckle and Keaton made their final short comedies The Hayseed (1919) and The Garage (1919) at the Lehrman Studio facilities in Culver City before the Roach Studio was even built. So when Roscoe and Buster needed street corners and intersections, they too filmed at these streets in Culver City and Palms. As shown above, Roscoe battles a fire hose at the north end of Main in The Garage.
Above, Buster and Roscoe race up Main towards Venice past the same corner bank appearing eight years later in Laurel & Hardy’s The Second Hundred Years (1927). Notice the prominent “X” trolley crossing sign.
Earlier in The Garage, Luke the dog rips apart Keaton’s pants, forcing Buster to shield himself with a paper kilt sliced from a life-size Harry Lauder billboard. Though covered in front, Buster’s exposed rear forces him to flee the police, setting up two physical gags; Roscoe hiding Buster’s diminutive body from view with his own hulking frame, and assisting Buster to put on a replacement pair of pants as they walk, without pausing, lockstep together.
Looking north, the pants gag was filmed on the middle, left side of Main Street in Culver City, just south from Roscoe’s fire hose scene. Conveniently located to the studios, this modest commercial street, only a single block long and originally divided by planters of palms trees, would later appear in dozens of Roach comedies. Notice the crenelated bank building corner at the far right end of the street. HollywoodPhotographs.com.
A closer view shows the mid-block alley corner behind Roscoe and Buster, with matching brick wall details at back (box), while the store’s right window reflects the “X” trolley crossing sign (oval) and left window reflects the corner bank. Heavily remodeled, the shop where Buster stole his pants (box in 1921 aerial view looking west) still stands on an alley corner at 3821 Main Street. Marc Wanamaker – Bison Archives.
Above, looking south at Roscoe and Laurel & Hardy’s bank corner, left, and the red brick corner to the right where Buster put on his pants.
Buster’s exposed rear forces him to flee the police. Perfectly choreographed and filmed, Buster vanishes from view, both to the cop chasing him, and then to audience, as he walks precisely in unison either directly in front of, or behind, Arbuckle.
Above, Buster runs east along the Venice Blvd. trolley tracks, before turning right onto Motor Ave., as people (box) watch from the second floor above. The small sign on the pole (box) reads “4th St Palms” – the original name for Motor Ave. – the initial clue. Looking east, the same corner store appears in this 1930 aerial photo. HollywoodPhotographs.com.
Buster hides behind Roscoe as they walk north past the corner store on Motor, then turn left (west) onto Venice. The front of the corner store (box) above right, was just a block north of the MGM lot, the Goldwyn Studios at the time, and just a few blocks from the bungalow (star) on Grant Ave. Buster would later rent when beginning his career at MGM. HollywoodPhotographs.com.
A final locale from The Garage, filmed looking SE from a bluff in Palms, north of Culver City, as the volunteer fire-fighters scan the horizon. Overland Ave. runs south (left to right) behind Buster’s elbow, while the Palms Elementary School on Motor Ave. stands furthest at back above Buster’s helmet, matching the yellow sight-line in this 1923 aerial view. The Porter Sanitarium, prominent to the lower left, was built after the filming.
A year before the Roach Studios opened in Culver City, Roscoe and Buster also filmed many scenes from The Hayseed (1919) in Palms at the intersection of National and Motor Ave., a site that would later appear in dozens of Roach comedies. I hope to cover The Hayseed in a future post, but here’s a taste, page 40 from my Harold Lloyd book Silent Visions, showing Roscoe and Buster walking north up Motor from the former Palms Bank building, also appearing in Lloyd’s Get Out and Get Under (1920) and Girl Shy (1924).
Charlie, Buster, and Harold each filmed a masterpiece at an alley you can still visit today. Please help support naming the alley by posting a review on Google Maps. Prototype alley sign design by noted Dutch graphic artist – Piet Schreuders. Download a 4-page brochure about the alley HERE. This video further explains the alley – if you can, please leave a thumbs up and share it with others.
Below, Roscoe held Buster aloft while he put on his pants in front of this store over 100 years ago, then they turned back and turned left into this alley.