The film opens with graduating botanist Buster mistakenly receiving the electrical engineering degree intended for broken-nosed character actor Steve Murphy above, who also cons Buster in Cops (1922 – 2nd from right), and holds him hostage in Sherlock Jr. (1924 – far right).
Mistaken to be an electrical engineer, Buster is immediately hired to upgrade Big Joe Robert’s mansion. Above, Buster enters Joe’s limousine. The graduation ceremony was filmed inside an interior decorator shop at 2121 W Pico. The storefront still exists today. Above, the initial clue was the 2120 address of a car painting garage across the street (you can read “PAINTING DEPARTMENT” (expanded) on the interior back wall).
Next, you can read “..IOR DECORATORS” painted (reversed) on the store window, and “..IRE THEA..” (reversed) reflected in the garage window. Assuming “THEA” referred to a theater, I checked odd-numbered theater addresses proximate to “2120,” and the EMPIRE THEATER at 2129 W Pico quickly confirmed the location. While the garage building is gone, Buster’s graduation site and the theater building remain standing.
The stately mansion appearing in the film, 59 Westmoreland Place, was Buster’s real life home at the time. It stood just a few blocks west from the graduation film site. Above, Buster exits a limo in front of his own home.
The estate appearing in the film near Hoover and Pico, 59 Westmoreland Place, was in fact Buster and Natalie’s home during the time of filming. Considering Buster was still making short films, barely two years into his independent filmmaker career, his (Natalie’s?) choice of residence at the time seems quite impressive. You can read the “59” address behind Buster, the “9” obscured a bit by the vine.
What images of the home don’t convey is that the mansion was part of an ill-fated development. Restricted so that only palatial homes could be built on its flat, expansive lots, Westmoreland Place failed to catch on, and as the elite increasingly chose to live further west, in more secluded and hilly neighborhoods, most of the giant lots sat empty. Built in 1909, Buster’s home stood two empty parcels north of, and in full view of, the busy Pico trolley line, and was just steps from the low-rent commercial center where Buster received his diploma earlier in the film.
This 1920 map shows Buster’s 59 home (box), one of the few homes in the purple shaded Westmoreland development, also two empty lots east (right) of the busy Vermont Ave trolley line. Although the house was very impressive, especially for a man as young as Buster, it was not the best locale. Adjacent to ordinary commercial streets and trolleys, the neighborhood lacked the prestige and seclusion befitting a rising star, prompting the Keatons’ next move further west to upscale Ardmore Avenue. I now better understand why Natalie wanted to move.
A matching vintage aerial view, Buster’s home (left box), clearly visible from the Pico and Vermont trolleys, was just blocks from the graduation location (right box). So few homes were built at Westmoreland that by 1923 civic leaders considered condemning the development site as a desperately-needed urban park. Eventually the covenants were overturned, and apartment blocks began to fill the empty lots. Buster’s home was demolished in 1979. Residential historian Duncan McGinnis provides a full history of 59 Westmoreland Place – read more HERE.
Check out the videos (11 now) about Buster, Charlie Chaplin, and Harold Lloyd hosted on my YouTube Channel.
Below, the approximate location, now renumbered, of Buster’s once grand home at 59 Westmoreland Place.