Friday, August 8, 2014


The main gates of the old Selig Polyscope Studios and Zoo as seen in 1962.
All photo's courtesy of "Google Images" and thanks to "Wikipedia for the information
contained in this article.


by Felicity Blaze Noodleman
Los Angeles, CA
8. 8.14

Research for this article has been a “mind bender” to say the least.  It seems the early pioneers of the silent film era were all intertwined at one point or another.  The early twentieth century was an explosive period for new inventions.  The entrepreneurs who saw the potential and opportunity for new companies and products were forming everywhere at a frantic pace.  All sorts of businesses began manufacturing throughout the country and elsewhere in the world.   All sorts of products hardly ever imagined before from automobiles to electric toasters were being mass produced and becoming available for everyone. 

All of these new start ups were financed by Wall Street.  The production of Motion Pictures was no different from the other businesses of their day.  Dozens of film companies would eventually move into the Los Angeles area from New York, New Jersey and Chicago to take advantage of the unique opportunities in southern California.  This flurry of opportunity would all end with the Great Depression and the crash of the stock market in October 29, 1929 leaving only the financially strongest to survive.

I first heard the rumors of a lost studio here in Los Angeles on the PBS television program “The History Detectives”.  A young woman had written the Detectives about a park in her Lincoln Heights, CA neighborhood of Los Angeles.  At the gate of the park were two concrete lions.  She had been told the park once had been the location for a motion picture studio which had been there during the silent movie era.  The young woman was unable to establish a link to any studio which might have been in the parks location and was bewildered as to what the studios existence may have been.

The History Detectives uncovered many of the facts I have found for myself but I believe maybe we are able to go a little further and show a connection with one or more of today’s motion picture studios.  Many of the details for this week’s story have been lost for nearly a century.  The ages of time have almost wiped the story and the studios existence clean from the pages of history.  Only a park gate with the facade of two concrete lions stand as a testament to what happened there over a century ago in Lincoln Heights, CA.

 Advertisement for Selig Polyscope in Chicago, IL showing the early motion picture
studio and processing facilities.

Inside the Chicago, IL studios and filming stage.

The Selig Polyscope film company was founded in 1896 by William Selig in Chicago, IL.  Selig had been a magician and was impressed with Thomas Edison's movie equipment and decided to start making his own films.  He was highly organized and a visionary who was truly ahead of his time.  With help from Union Metal Works and Andrew Schustek, he shot his first film, "Tramp and the Dog".  He went on to successfully produce local actualities, slapstick comedies, early travelogues and industrial films (a major client was Armour and Company).   

In 1909 he moved west to southern California and was the first motion picture studio to open in the Los Angeles area of Edendale.   Moving to the Southern California area for expansion and the favorable filming conditions available in the Los Angeles area was a master stroke and his model for the modern motion picture studio still remains as the fundamental foundation upon which all of the studios of today were built upon.

William Selig

Over the years in Edendale Selig had collected animals used in the filming of his movies and by 1912 he decided to open a zoo to the east of Edendale in the Lincoln Heights area where he purchased 32 acres for $1,000,000. In 1916 Selig moved his studios to the new location where he combined his businesses. Selig had spent lavishly of the property, animals and the upkeep of building his new facilities which became the demise of Polyscope. This too would also be a lesson for the survival of today’s studios. Over spending is the one single biggest mistake a business can make and will almost always result in bankruptcy.

The Edendale area would become home to the "Keystone Studios" of Mack Sennette and William Fox would purchase the Ployscope studio in 1917.  A small community of early motion picture pioneers sprang up in the Edendale area and must have certainly influenced each other as they were now a studio Colony.

Originally a small bungalow in Edendale, Selig built his second studio in southern
California which was sold to William Fox in 1917.  I feel this a strong indicator of the
influence Selig on the Studios of today.  Fox's studio would eventually become
20th. Century Fox after a merger with 20th. Century Pictures.

The Selig Polyscope Studios and Zoo in Lincoln Heights, CA with their gates
inserted in the photo at the upper right.  Below; another aerial photo of the
complex.  The gates are visible in the lower portion of these photos.

William was a true innovator and pioneer in so many ways.  Business man, artist and story teller he was blazing the trail for all modern day film producers.  I love to see these old films after they have been lovingly restored to their original luster.  In many ways they were much like movies today.  Selig's genius lives on as an inspiration for film makers in our day.  

Selig Polyscope produced hundreds of early, widely distributed commercial moving pictures of all types, including the first films starring Tom Mix and other cowboy stars such as  Gilbert M. Anderson who was known on screen as "Bronco Billy" and had acted in Thomas Edison's film "The Great Train Robbery" (brought back to life by Clint Eastwood's 1980 film which was loosely based on the cowboy actors life), Harold LloydColleen Moore, andRoscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle.  Polyscope was the originator of the "Cliff Hanger" serial and did many of the stories from the children's book collection "OZ".  Polyscope did the first production of "The Wizard of OZ".  I get the feeling William Selig must have been a jolly ol' fellow who threw a lot of hart into his work!

Surviving hand tinted still from The Fairylogue based on L. Frank Baum's Oz books.

Some of the Selig Polyscope stars: (top left to bottom right)  G.M. "Bronco Billy"
Anderson, Kathlyn Williams, Rosco "Fatty" Arbuckel, Harold Lloyd, Tom Mix
and Colleeen Moore.

World War I cut severely into the substantial revenues of Selig Polyscope which had been garnered in Europe and the company shunned profitable movie industry trends which had shifted towards dramatic (and more costly) full length feature films.  Polyscope had been in the industry now for twenty years and a new generation of film makers were coming of age. 

Also;  theater chains back east were begining to establish their own studios which began to cut into Polyscop's business such as Fox, MGM and the Warner Brothers.  Competition for films was becoming fierce.   Selig Polyscope became insolvent and ceased operations in 1918.  Mix signed with Fox back at Edendale and went on to even greater success as amatinĂ©e cowboy star.  Movie studios rented animals and staged many shoots at the Selig zoo (sometimes later claiming they had been filmed in Africa).
The First Tarzan movie (1918) was filmed there. In 1920 Louis B. Mayer rented his first studio space for Mayer Pictures at the site.  I feel this is another strong link Selig had with the studios of today as  Mayer would eventually merge and become part of MGM.  Selig planned to develop his zoo into a major tourist attraction, amusement park and popular resort named Selig Zoo Park with a ferris wheelcarousels, mechanical rides, an enormous swimming pool with a sandy beach and a wave making machine, hotel, theatre, cinema, restaurants and thousands of daily visitors (more than 30 years beforeDisneyland). Only a single carousel was built. Selig Polyscope's extensive collection of props and furnishings were auctioned off at the zoo in 1923.
The potential of movies as long term sources of revenue was unknown to early movie industry executives.  Films were made quickly, sent into distribution channels and mostly forgotten soon after their first runs.  Surviving prints were wontedly stored haphazardly, if at all. Early film stock was chemically volatile and many prints were lost in fires or decomposed to goo in storage. Some were recycled for their silver content or simply thrown away to save space.  Out of Selig Polyscope's hundreds of films, only a few copies and scattered photographic elements are known to survive.

It is at this point that we should look at the movie theaters which were being built to exhibit these early silent motion pictures.  These motion picture palaces were built to compete with the live theater of the day.  Going to a silent motion picture in these newly constructed "movie shows" was quite a moving experience.  Sound was furnished with a live orchestra and the close up intimacy of the film drew the viewer into the story like never before in a theatrical presentation.  The photo below is an excellent example of the silent era "movie palace".  Well, you can see and imagine what an experience it must have been in the early 20th. century!

The Downtown Palace Theatre, at 630 S Broadway, was built in 1911 as the third Los Angeles home of the Orpheum Vaudeville circuit. It was originally know as the “Orpheum” and is the oldest remaining Orpheum theatre in the country. Renamed the Palace Theatre in 1926, it became a silent movie house and later added sound. The theatre is preparing for a new century of performances and screenings.

Selig finally sold the zoo following a flood during the Great Depression. Some of the animals were donated to Los Angeles County, forming a substantial addition to Griffith Park Zoo. The property was used as a jalopy racetrack during the 1940s and early 1950s. In 1955 the site was described as "an inactive amusement park."
William Selig became a literary agent, re-selling story rights to film properties he had produced or acquired years before.  For his contributions to the motion picture industry William Selig has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6116 Hollywood Boulevard.  In 1947 Selig and several other early movie producers and directors shared a special Academy Honorary Award to acknowledge their role in building the film industry.  Col. William N. Selig died at the age of 84 in 1948 having established three motion picture studios and was a true pioneer in movie history.

The seven major motion picture studios in Hollywood today.  Their logos change
 slightly from time to time and reflect their current business affiliations as seen above.
*  All art for this article courtesy of "Google Images".  Special thanks to
Wikipedia, AFI (American Film Institute), and The Academy of Motion
Picture. Arts and Sciences for the information contained in 
this article.

The movie business is not at all what you would think.  After decades of evolution the studios have become little more than leasing agencies for studio space to production companies to produce motion picture, television programs and even commercials or anything which requires a small production of pictorials merged with sound to make a mini production which we call a PSA (public service announcement), short subjects, cartoons, ect. and so forth.  It’s a strange game of monopoly to say the least these days. 

The studios of today are a far cry from the days of the big studio bosses during the golden days of Hollywood and the studio contract actors under Louis B Mayer at MGM, the Cohen Bros. at Columbia or the Warner Bros.  This era was commonly referred to as the “studio system” and was a very tightly run machine.  I’ve looked up an organizational chart for the 1940’s 20th. Century Fox Corporation and it was quite lengthy to say the least.  During that era the Hollywood studios all seemed to merge together one into the other moving down through Sunset Blvd. to Gower St.. and then down to Melrose Ave. and back around to the Paramount studios location.

The successful studios of today have tried to divest themselves of all non essential parts ether spinning of business concerns into separate companies or contracting to vendors.  Their primary concern is obtaining a product (movie) for their theaters or for video release and collecting these profits with the minimum investment or exposure to those productions.  Studios are also seeking to invest or become involved in new forms of entertainment such as Television, the Video Games market, Resorts and Theme Parks, Hotels and Casinos for example.  This business model has been called horizontal diversification.

So the “Google” tour bus is now departing and here we go exploring the Hollywood of yesterday and today!

Three small studios who have left a lasting imprint on American movies
and Hollywood.

Paramount Studios Melrose Ave. main gate.  Of all the studios in Hollywood
Paramount is the classiest.  Paramount has a lot going for itself and I feel it is
the most beautiful in more ways than one! 


The studio was founded in 1912 and is now the only studio operating in the old Hollywood area.  Paramount was founded by Hungarian born Adolph Zukor and partners.  The first director hired by the studio was the famous Cecil B. De Mille.  Paramount is one of the most consistent entertainment companies in the business and is always at the top of the box office earnings with its films.

For all intents and purposes Paramount has absorbed the once highly successful RKO studios which was established in 1928 and operated until 1957.  The old RKO studio is just a short distance from Paramount’s Studios on Melrose Ave.. in Hollywood.  Three interesting points about RKO’s history.  First of all, one of its founders; Joseph Kennedy was the father of three sons who were famous in US politics.  President John F. Kennedy, Attorney General and Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy and Senator Edward Kennedy.  Secondly, RKO opted to use the RCA (Radio Corporation of America) sound system (RCA Photo Phone) instead of the Western Electric system used by the other studios.  Third and finally; the company was bought by the industrialist and aviator Howard Hughes.

The RKO studio was also the innovator of the dance musicals so famous in the 1930's with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers.  These were so popular in the depression era US that MGM also produced their own musicals and hired the dancing star Fred Astaire. 

RKO studios as pictured in it's hay day of the 1940's.

The Culver City, CA main gates of MGM.  It was hard to chose one exterior of
the studio.  Shown here from top left to bottom right are the working gate entrance,
Administration Bldg., studio areal view and original main gate to the studio.


Founded in 1924 in Culver City, CA it is just outside of the Hollywood Area of Los Angeles, CA
and is now headquarter in Beverly Hills, CA.  The studio was the result of a buyout by theater chain owner Marcus Lowe who merged Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures and Mayer Pictures.  This studio has been known for many of the great pictures during the “Golden Age” of movies.  MGM burned down it's old back lot just to film a scene in the film "Gone With The Wind".

Although the studio no longer is operating a studio lot and has just emerged from Chapter 11 as of 2011, MGM is primarily a distributor and promoter for films released under the MGM brand.  The company seems to be reinventing itself has diversified over the years with disastrous results into Airlines and Las Vegas Hotels and Casinos.  The Culver City studio is now part of Sony Pictures Group.

The original United Artist studios in Hollywood

MGM is the releasing company for “United Artist”, a small studio and production company.   This studio was founded by four of the silent ear’s great stars – Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and Director D.W. Griffith.  You may know it best for its series off “James Bond Films”.

The sprawling Warner Bros. Studio Complex in Burbank, CA.  Warner's
has always favored the areal view of the studio over a "main gate" shot.


The four Warner brothers opened their Hollywood studio on Sunset Blvd. in 1918.  The brothers had been in the theater business since 1903 and needed a studio to produce films to supply their growing business.  Since their beginning Warner’s has been one of the most successful studios in Hollywood continually growing and expanding.  By Warner Bros. merged with First National in Burbank, CA and moved its operations to Burbank.  Warner’s significant contribution to film was the innovation of sound and talking pictures with the release of “The Jazz Singer” in 1927.  The company has steadily grown and remains one of Hollywood’s most successful studios today.

The Burbank NBC studio and home of "The Tonight Show" is nestled between
Warner Bros. and Disney studios with Universal studios to the rear.
NBC now owns Universal studios.  NBC has been a presents in Hollywood
going back to the days of radio with their huge studios on the corner of
Sunset and Vine.
Today the studios of North Hollywood, as it is called,  consists of Burbank and Universal City.  It reminds me of the old Hollywood area.  Universal studios, Warner Bros. studios and the Disney studios all seem to run into each other and there is also an NBC studio there amongst them.

20th. Century Fox studios today at their home where WLA and Century City
merge on the border of Beverly Hills.

20th Century Fox

Fox as I wrote last week in the oldest studio in Hollywood operating since 1915 and officially merged with Fox and 20th Century pictures in 1935.  This studio has remained consistently strong since its beginning producing films which have been an American staple at the box office, how ever two films cost the studio some set backs - "Cleopatra" and "Titanic", but despite the problems the studio goes on.  Today the FOX studio is heavily involved with television productions for its Fox network owned by the Murdoch News Corp.

Looking into the Disney studios - Burbank, CA.


Disney’s’ founding date is somewhat illusive as Walt Disney himself was working in different locations prior to the purchase of his first studio lot in 1928 on Hyperion St. in Los Angeles, CA. not far from the Edendale district where the movies first began in Los Angeles.  Disney’s first full length animated feature “Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs” won Academy awards and Disney’s company has steadily grown.  Studios soon moved to their new Burbank, CA location and the company has diversified into worldwide theme parks and Television broadcasting.  Another interesting observation about Disney is Mickey Mouse – you could say he is the oldest working star in Hollywood and loved the world over.

Inside Columbia studios - Hollywood, CA.


Founded in 1919 it is now Columbia Tri Star and is now owned by Sony Pictures Group.  The studio has produced many American classic films and their studios today also known as the Gower St. Studios are used by many independent producers.   Columbia has been known for many of its short subject films over the years and especially for the "Three Stooges" shorts and were presented for television in 1958 under their Screen Gems production company.  The Stooges have been loved for generations up through the present.  The reincarnated "Stooges" were recently featured in a new film this year.

Universal studios - Universal City, CA.


Founded in 1912 it is the oldest motion picture studio in the United States.  Universal has made some of the most epic films in the history of movies and has diversified into the theme park businesses.  I remember Universal the most for their horror films of the 1930's, with Lon Chaney Jr. - monsters such as The Wolf Man, The Mummy, Frankenstein's Monster and Count Alucard.  Today universal is owned by NBC Broadcasting and is now NBC Universal.  For many years Universal was affiliated with MCA entertainment and managed by Lew Wasserman.  Universal has also been highly successful in television productions over the years.

Republic studios - Studio City, CA.

Republic Pictures

Founded in 1935 the studio has been known for their “B” pictures or the "killer B's" sci-fi films as they have been called.   It's history has been passed on to television with the studios now owned by CBS television productions and was home to the "Gilligan's Island" program.  Republic was one of the first studios to offer it's library of titles for broadcast in the early years of television.

I hope this article has been fun and informative for you.  I always enjoy studying up on Hollywood history.  If you ever have a chance to take your vacation here in Hollywood and you can see these sights for your self and more!  I'm Felicity for the "Noodleman Hollywood Google Tour Line" and you are now free is disembark!

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