An area of Los Angeles formerly known as Edendale, was the birthplace of the west coast movie industry. The city has neglected to pay tribute to this important part of it's history.
Everyday, thousands of commuters and motorists from all over Los Angeles drive down a congested mile-long stretch of road, lined with fast –food restaurants and mini-malls, through a little valley that was once referred to as “Edendale.” During rush hour, cars are bumper to bumper, and chances are, most motorists have no idea of the rich history of the area. Edendale was the birthplace of the west coast movie industry but ironically, Los Angeles, which is often referred to as the movie capital of the world, has paid little heed to this stretch of road, now a major six lane thoroughfare for commuters heading in and out of downtown Los Angeles.
Glendale Boulevard runs north and south from downtown, along side historic Echo Park Lake; under the eastern end of Sunset Blvd., and through a valley where early 20th century bungalows, Victorians, and small Craftsmen style homes dot the green hillsides. The busy Glendale Freeway dumps cars heading south towards downtown onto the boulevard, and there is a freeway entrance for motorists heading north. It’s an exceptionally busy thoroughfare, now referred to as the “Glendale corridor” instead of Edendale.
The entire area along this corridor played a pivotal role in the history of west-coast cinema. Early filmmakers working in New York and Chicago realized that making movies in the bright sun and clear days was much better than working in the gray and cold weather of the east. A 1911 film trade publication once described Edendale as a “very beautiful suburb of Los Angeles,” complete with snow capped mountains to the east, a view of the Pacific to the west, and beautiful hills with lush vegetation. Los Angeles caught the attention of the budding movie making industry early in the 20th century and a migration west began. Edendale offered moviemakers an ideal location, spacious land, room for expansion, and plenty of diverse outdoor locations for filming.
William Selig and Francis Bogg were the first filmmakers to call Edendale home. They wanted a California studio to work in during the winter, when filming outdoors in Chicago was impossible. The studio catered to the era’s fascination with the Wild West and it was there where Selig produced “The Great Train Robbery,” by William S. Porter (1903) and “The Landing of Columbus (1911). Selig-Polyscope Company, established in 1908 sat along side Glendale Blvd. and Allesandro Street. The grand, ornate, Mission style buildings, occupied the land where the freeway now exits and the lot to the west, presently a vacant lot, slated for condominium development, where a graphics company formerly stood. A small obelisk and plaque once sat at the edge of the property near the freeway ramp commemorating the area as "The Birthplace of the Motion Picture Comedy," but it was torn down when the property was bulldozed.
Mythic, cowboy screen hero Tom Mix also made his first films at Selig- Polyscope. By 1918, Selig was out of business, but Tom Mix went on to establish his own studios further north on Glendale Boulevard, now home to a Ralph’s grocery and several other stores. Mix produced 170 films from his studios, and used the surrounding areas as shoot locations for his Westerns.
In 1909, the Bison Company was moved to Edendale. Bison was part of a larger New York Motion Picture Film Company that also specialized in Western films. The films used real Sioux Indians and Princess Red Wing and Chief Young Deer were authentic Native American actors in those early films. At least one western a day was cranked out and the studio also had a comedy branch called Keystone that was later run by Mack Sennett. Sennett was a comic genius and is credited with the energetic physical screen comedy known as “slapstick.” Slapstick (already popular in vaudeville acts,) blossomed under Sennett, and Sennett Keystone went on to produce films filled with wild escapades, shootings, car chases, and fights, using the areas along Glendale Blvd. as locations. The studio was also home to the Keystone Cops (1912), the most famous slapstick comedies of the era. Charlie Chaplin’s first film, Making a Living (1914) was made at the studio along one his most famous, Little Tramp (1914.) He also made several movies with Mabel Normand, who is attributed with the first “pie in the face” comedy routine, at Sennett Keystone.
Sennett Keystone was located at 1712 Glendale Blvd., on the east side of the boulevard at Aaron Street. Today, his massive soundstage, that was once referred to as a “city within a city,” and once employed upwards of 1,000 Angelenos, is one of the only remaining structures from that era along the Glendale corridor. Thanks to a joint effort by the Hollywood Heritage, the LA Conservancy, preservationists and film history buffs, the structure was designated as a historical landmark in 1982. If you happen to be looking for it, its not recognizable as anything but a large concrete building that sits behind A “Jack in the Box” restaurant.
After it’s incarnations over the years as a roller rink, a country music dance hall, and a scenery and costume storage warehouse for the Center Theatre Group, it now sits humbly as a Public Storage facility. A few run-down annexed buildings, which were once part of the studio, survive on both sides of Glendale Boulevard. Remarkably, several of the houses that appear in a 1916 photo of the studio and the surrounding areas, still stand today. Many celebrities of the era, such as Gloria Swanson, Laurel and Hardy, and Antonio Moreno lived in beautiful homes in the hills above Edendale.
Many studios came and went during those early years, and thankfully, the amazing history of the area has not been completely forgotten. There is plenty of information to be found for those interested in the early movie-making history of Edendale, and a few businesses have capitalized on the area’s unique history. A U.S. Post Office that services parts of Echo Park and Silver Lake, the two neighborhoods that Glendale Boulevard cuts a large divide through, is called the Edendale Station. Several old historical black and white photos are on display in the lobby.
An up-scale restaurant called the Edendale Grill, housed in the former Edendale Fire Station, is around the corner from the old Mixville Studios and has paid homage to the past by naming it’s bar “Mixville.” An extensive collection of fascinating photos adorn the walls of the bar and restaurant, giving diners a chance to relish history while enjoying a good dinner. Both the communities of Echo Park and Silver Lake have strong historical societies that work to keep Edendale’s past known.
By the 1930’s many studios had left Edendale and had headed to Hollywood or the San Fernando Valley. The area fell into general decay in the 1980’s and 1990’s but surrounding neighborhoods, particularly Echo Park, has enjoyed a renaissance over the last decade, with new shops and restaurants opening daily. Whether or not this new appreciation for the old will spill into Edendale (referred to as Echo Park nowadays,) remains to be seen. There are signs of hope, but whether or not the area will get the respect and attention it deserves remains to be seen. A website for the new condos to be built on the sight of the old Selig-Polyscope studios only gives reference to the historical area, but stops short, choosing to name the development “Artisan Lofts.”