The Lens of History – Hollywood before the Chaplin Studio

Above, only part of a vast panoramic view looking south at Hollywood, circa 1906. Can you spot the future site of the Charlie Chaplin Studio, nearly straight ahead? The hill in the foreground would become in 1914 the site to the Bernheimer brothers massive Japanese mansion and gardens, today known as the popular restaurant Yamashiro. Click to enlarge each image. Huntington Digital Library.

A closer view, Orange Drive leads away south to the far left. Running straight north-south for miles, La Brea bends to the NW at the corner of Sunset. This view is a component of the same panorama above, only this time USC Digital Library.

The home facing us to the left of the yellow line (7022 Sunset), had 10 rows of citrus trees. To the right of the yellow line, the future Chaplin Studio site had 7 rows of trees. The far white line at back is De Longpre Avenue, the right white line is La Brea. The one-story home with a single gable standing on the studio site (7062 Sunset), was relocated in July 1914 to accommodate a much larger two-story mansion built in 1914. The mansion came with the sale of the property, and Charlie’s half-brother Syd Chaplin would live there. Starting construction late in 1917, Chaplin dedicated his studio on January 21, 1918.

Looking NE – 7022 Sunset, the home to the right of the yellow line, had 10 rows of citrus trees. To the left of the yellow line, 7 rows of trees stand on the Chaplin Studio. Note Syd Chaplin’s multi-gabled mansion beside the studio tennis court. The studio address is 1416 N. La Brea, now home to the Jim Henson Company. Charlie Chaplin Archive.

Again, just part of a similar vast panorama, circa 1918, this time taken from the Bernheimer Estate. Huntington Digital Library.

Can you spot the studio site? This photo likely pre-dates 1918, as the one-story home relocated from the site in 1914 still seems to appear in this view.

Assembled from Chaplin’s pseudo documentary How to Make Movies (1918), this view looks north from De Longpre at the studio site. La Brea runs north at the left.

Jumping a decade ahead, here’s a view east of the Chaplin Studio during the production of The Circus (1928). Note how La Brea bends left (NW) at Sunset, the remaining orchard and tennis court beside Syd’s 7062 Sunset Boulevard mansion, and the giant circus tent set. Buster Keaton filmed a scene from Cops (1922) at the corner of Sunset and Detroit at the lower left of this view – more below. Charlie Chaplin Archive.

Above, a 1927 view of Hollywood – click to enlarge. The Yamashiro site (somewhat dark) stands at center. What else do you see? Huntington Digital Library.

Does this help? The same component of the panorama above, again this time from USC Digital Library.

Pointers highlight the circus tent set at left, and studio tennis court. The inset photos show the studio along La Brea and Buster filming Cops at the corner of Sunset and Detroit.

Matching views south and east of Buster filming on Sunset at the corner of Detroit.

Vintage photos help us to envision the once open and rural landscapes of early Hollywood. To conduct your own photo time-travel safari, I highly recommend using Calisphere, a gateway site that allows you to search simultaneously the digital collections from California’s great libraries, archives, and museums.

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, a matching view north of the studio site – things sure have changed.

This entry was posted in Chaplin Studio, Charlie Chaplin, Hollywood History and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The Lens of History – Hollywood before the Chaplin Studio

  1. badfinger20 (Max) says:

    John I have a question if you don’t mind…I just watched the Keaton documentary A Hard Act To Follow again…Keaton said that when he left Arbuckle he bought the “Old Chaplin Studio”…you are not talking about that one right?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Mary Mallory says:

    Lookout Mountain was not where Yamashiro’s is but above Sunset Boulevard in Laurel Canyon, where the Lookout Mountain Inn was before it burned down in the mid 1910s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for catching this Mary, now corrected. Both archives called it Lookout Mountain, but I should have checked first. One archive even describes the photo as overlooking the San Fernando Valley (!), but even I caught that. Take care – John


  3. Bob Borgen says:

    Another absolutely fantastic post — thanks for sharing it with us all – we love those old photos and new discoveries.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Brad Alexander says:

    Thanks for another great post, John. Your reference lines and labels in the archival photos make it all come together so well. I always thought that the two-story mansion on the Chaplin lot was the original house to the property, but the photos with the single story house illustrate a really interesting aspect to the history of the entire lot. I read that Syd Chaplin lived in the mansion, followed by Chaplin’s valet and secretary Toraichi Kono and his family (until 1934), and later by Chaplin’s half-brother Wheeler Dryden and his family. I’m not sure who else might have lived there. Its amazing how the pictures show how the whole area grew over the decade – with studios, businesses, and houses – all stimulated by the burgeoning film industry. Thanks again for the great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Brad. The LA building permits are searchable online, and are a great tool for confirming a building’s history.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Brad Alexander says:

        Thank you John. I can’t get enough of this post,and I keep going back and reviewing the pictures and your notes. I’m curious about the small building between the mansion and the backlot, which can be seen in one of the aerial photos, but is blocked by trees in others. There is a lo-res studio map on Calisphere that show the small square building, and my best guess is that it says “Garage.” Chaplin’s wife Lita Grey – who is not the most reliable source – later wrote that Syd and his wife Minnie lived in the mansion, while Kono and his family lived in the “small house” behind it. Could it possibly be the same single-story house that was relocated for the mansion, or do you think its just a garage?
        Also, do you have a hi-res image of the the studio map?
        And are those tall oil towers in the background of the panoramic photos, near what I would guess is Wilshire Boulevard?

        Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Brad – the original home was relocated off the property, and the large square structure south of Syd’s mansion was the garage. Later maps show it may have been divided to include a “watchman’s bungalow.” Due east of the garage, beside the yellow line on the aerial photo looking NE, is the stable for Syd’s horses.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Tony Gannon says:

    Honestly…. I look forward so much to the stories you tell and share and the first photo is my favourite ever picture of Hollywood at any time, never seen it before, you can smell the groves.
    Thanks John and keep up the good work.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Tom Thacker says:

    The panoramic photos give a good view of the Evans property, which originally was from Le Brea west to Fuller and bordered by Sunset to the north and Fountain on the south. The Evans’ lived in the middle section of the property and the rest was sold off and developed. By 1940, everything had been sold, including the last citrus grove in Hollywood.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Geo Stewart says:

    You must have fallen out of your chair when CBS Sunday morning rewrote history this morning…

    Liked by 1 person

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