The Roaring Road – rare ‘new’ views of early Hollywood

Above, a rare time capsule glimpse looking east from Cahuenga toward the towering Taft Building at the SE corner of Hollywood and Vine, before the neighboring Broadway (B. H. Dyas) Building was built on the SW corner in 1928. The image comes from The Roaring Road (1926), an auto-racing comedy-adventure recently premiered on TCM, found and restored by Mark Heller’s Streamline Cinema and funded by The Academy Film Archive, with a score composed and performed by Jon C. Mirsalis. At right, a matching 1923 aerial view looking east – the star marks the Taft Building construction site, already underway. The arrow marks the once uninterrupted stretch of Hollywood Blvd. before Ivar Street was extended north to the boulevard, creating a new corner not evident in these images. While at one level The Roaring Road is a only a modest production, it also provides many sparkling and unique views of Hollywood during the height of the mid-1920s construction boom. So buckle up for another tour of early Hollywood as captured in the background of silent film. HollywoodPhotographs.com

The Roaring Road involves failing and feuding business partners who manufacture automobile engines. Their only hope to stay afloat is to design a new auto engine and win an upcoming speed race. This view east towards Hollywood and Vine shows one partner arriving at their office, and a matching view nearly a century later.

By 1934, above left, Ivar Ave. had been extended north connecting to Hollywood Blvd., placing the I. Magnin store on a corner lot that did not exist in 1926! You can see “I. Magnin” painted on the side of the store in the 1926 movie frame.

With a carefully tended fake fire hydrant, lead star Kenneth McDonald is always assured of a place to park when he arrives at the office. The Dillin & Stone Drug Co., at the SW corner of Western and 6th, appears at back. Interestingly, this view presented as looking west from the office is nearly 4 miles south from the earlier shot above along Hollywood Blvd. presented as looking east from the same office building.

Kenneth portrays a skilled race-car driver, and the son of one business partner. Actress Jane Thomas portrays the daughter of the other business partner, shown above arriving at the 3923 W. 6th Street business office entrance to the right, flanked by beautifully detailed molding. Similar molding survives on the building’s upper floors, but sadly the ground level entrance details have been scrubbed clean. The yellow box in the modern view above marks the back of the Versailles Apartments also visible in the movie frame. The red box in the modern view marks a small alley entrance appearing in Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! (1923) below.

Late for work in Safety Last!, Harold pretends to be injured to sneak a quick ride in a handy ambulance. When they reach the right spot, Harold politely requests the driver to stop, then leaps out the back dashing to work. This was staged at 6th Ave. looking east towards the corner of Western. (The very next shot in this Safety Last! sequence shows Harold running into the Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley).

Is there any doubt they will find true love by the film’s end? Kenneth and Jane meet to discuss their feuding fathers along the rustic-fenced bluff at Palisades Park, looking south toward the Santa Monica Pier at back. The Palisades appears briefly in Chaplin’s By The Sea (1915), Lloyd’s A Sailor Made Man (1921), and Keaton’s The Love Nest (1923). While the Palisades overlooking the ocean will always be a beautiful setting, I can only imagine how romantic it must have been to stand there a century earlier, when no one had smart phones, and everything then was so unspoiled and undeveloped.

Kenneth and Jane end up designing their own car and automobile engine, and entering it in the speed race, with hopes of winning the grand prize and saving their fathers’ business. My eyes lit up when Kenneth dashes out of his home the day of the race. That familiar looking church at back is the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood at 1760 N. Gower and Carlos. LAPL.

These thugs posing along Allview Terrace (more below) will soon kidnap Kenneth to keep him from competing in the race.

Kenneth checks his flat tire, courtesy of the thugs, affording a magnificent SW view towards buildings along Hollywood Blvd. – see captions next photo. The Knickerbocker Hotel C extends so far east it nearly blocks from view the Guaranty Building D behind it.

1925 view north: A – the Taft Building at Hollywood and Vine, B – the Plaza Hotel on Vine, C – the Knickerbocker Hotel, D – the Guaranty Building (nearly blocked in the movie view), and E – the Security Trust and Savings Bank at Hollywood and Cahuenga – HollywoodPhotographs.com

This earlier 1924 view looking NE shows the Allview Terrace filming site (box) and the same four buildings except for the Hollywood Plaza Hotel (B) not yet built. The box site also shows the public stairway, still in place, running from Hollyridge Dr. to AllviewHollywoodPhotographs.com

But there’s more – 1 is the Holly Vista Apartments still standing at 1975 N Beachwood, 2 is the towering Hollywood Storage Building still standing at 1035 N. Highland, and 3 is the large gas holding tank once standing at Formosa and Santa Monica Blvd., next to the Pickford-Fairbanks Studio.

And look! Essentially unchanged, Kenneth’s home remains standing at 2350 Allview Terrace, although trees and decades of other landscaping now all but block the wide panoramic views looking down on Hollywood.

Above, two homes near the SW corner of Gower and Scenic (red), as well as homes along Vista Del Mar Street (yellow), remain following their appearance with the thugs.

The film concludes with a thrilling auto race, staged both at the Legion Ascot Speedway within Lincoln Heights below, but also cross-country along freshly cut hillside dirt roads likely filmed around Griffith Park and Mulholland Drive.

Legion Ascot Speedway 1924 view west. Click to expand, deep at back are the unshaded wooden bleachers. The site not only had an oval track, but adjoining open dirt roads also used for racing – Huntington Digital Library

I will leave this to early racing experts, but I sense certain racetrack scenes showing large shaded bleachers were stock footage filmed somewhere else, as the Ascot images I’ve located all present more modest, nonshaded wooden bleachers. LAPL and FrameFinder c-113_357.

Freed from his kidnappers, this view looking west shows Kenneth beside the south end of the unshaded Ascot wooden bleachers, upper right, while these large shaded bleachers appearing in the film, lower right, must be stock footage of another race track. Notice the palm trees behind Kenneth and behind the upper right bleachers.

This view looks east across the back end of Lincoln Park, with the entrance to the Selig Zoo at the far left, and the back of the Ascot wooden bleachers at the top. The palm trees near the right end of the bleachers appear behind Kenneth above.  HollywoodPhotographs.com

Notwithstanding the kidnapping and other challenges, Kenneth wins the race and the girl, while reuniting the feuding fathers, who have always secretly respected each other. Kenneth’s winning engine design? Blending one father’s preferred “force feed system” with the other father’s preferred “oversized exhaust ports” into a prize-winning hybrid engine that saves the business. D’oh! What a great idea – why didn’t I think of that?

Below, a closing view of Kenneth’s home.

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2 Responses to The Roaring Road – rare ‘new’ views of early Hollywood

  1. Bob Borgen says:

    Fantastic! Now I have to look out for the film! Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Joe F says:

    Great stuff as always!! I watched the first half of the film on TCM and was trying to spot anything that I recognized to see if I could figure out where these scenes were filmed. Nothing was familiar to my untrained eye, but lo and behold a week later you’ve got it all covered-thanks and I really enjoy your blog John!

    Liked by 1 person

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