Honey Travels Down Memory Lane

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August 1, 2011 · Posted in Notes from Above Ground 

By Honey van Blossom

(Honey is a Belgian Marxist former strip-tease artiste.)

The terminus of the Glendale Freeway (now called the 2 Freeway), which is on one side the anus that disgorges automobiles and at the other the maw that engorges automobiles, blights Glendale Boulevard all the way to Angelus Temple. I’ll call that area “the Corridor” because I don’t know if there is an official or popular name for it.

In 1963, the State created the legal infrastructure for the 2 as a freeway that went from the Antelope Valley to Santa Monica via Avenue 36. The 2 Freeway presently crosses 36 and Fletcher Drive in Glassell Park.

The proposed “Beverly Hills” freeway was “a 9.5 mile, 10-lane gash through the viscera of L.A., separating from the Hollywood Freeway near Vermont, running east-west between Melrose and Santa Monica, then replacing Santa Monica in West Hollywood, where it plunged straight through Beverly Hills and Westwood to the 405.” One of its main backers was the developer of Century City, the car-oriented “city within a city” built with quick freeway access in mind. (December 23, 2010 essay on SLATE by Tom Vanderbilt.)

Opposition began in Beverly Hills. The state tried many things to win the city’s support. At one point, officials proposed running the entire freeway through Beverly Hills in a tunnel below Santa Monica Boulevard with a shopping district and parks on top of it. The tunnel idea (and rising property values) made costs rise. By the late 1960s, opposition spread to Hancock Park, West Hollywood and the Fairfax District. (“Bottleneck Blogs,” compiled from Times clips.)

Brian Deane Taylor, in his unpublished dissertation, UCLA Department of Urban Planning, 1992), “When Finance Leads Planning: the Influence of Public Finance on Transportation Planning and Policy in Los Angeles,” makes a good case for the proposition that California stopped building freeways in the late 1960s because it ran out of money rather than because of community opposition. Ambitious freeway building could not keep pace with increased costs.

The Corridor would have disappeared if the Glendale Freeway didn’t stop where it did. I don’t know what would have happened to Echo Park Lake and the surrounding park. Gone, I guess. Angelus Temple gone. Entire neighborhoods swallowed by noise and filth.

If high-speed traffic along that corridor had not devalued the neighboring properties, developers might not have planted crappy little shopping malls and fast food sites for people in cars that exist when the noise from the 2 Freeway maw diminishes but they almost certainly would have torn down the small groceries and low-rent rooms and the space for the Cuban jewelry repairer a long time ago.

The Corridor was the heart of Edendale. A dale is a broad lowland valley, so the name is inapposite. It should have been named Eden Glen because a glen is a long narrow valley. I don’t know what people were thinking. They probably didn’t use their dictionaries. Maybe why the City of Glendale is named Glendale – narrow valley-broad valley – because in 1884 residents didn’t know which was which so they used both words.

An old photo of the street before the red car line was built shows plank buildings and a dirt road in what looks like a Wild West town. The area was comprised of horse ranches and small farms. We can see what it looked like in remnants of Tom Mix’s silent films. The seminal white hat cowboy actor Tom Mix had been a real cowboy in Oklahoma. He worked for a time on a horse ranch in Silver Lake, and then became a supporting actor at the Selig-Polyscope Studio. He had been a real ranch hand, could ride any horse, and starred in Selig’s semi-documentary Ranch Life in the Great Southwest (1910). After Mix opened in own studio, which looked like a 19 th century western town, he filmed Silver Lake and Echo Park as backdrop to his stories. The films show horse trails over arid over-grazed hills, trees and bushes. (“Out West,” Thames video collection c. 1980, Four Classic Silent Westerns: “The Ruse” (1915) / “The Great Train Robbery” (1903) / “Arizona Wooing” (1915) / “Out West” (1921), available at Amazon.)

In 1904, Los Angeles Interurban Railway Company, a Huntington-Pacific Electric affiliate, laid the tracks of the Glendale-Burbank line along old Allesandro Street – hard packed dirt — through what was then largely countryside. A 1911 magazine article describes Edendale as a suburb with “fruit and stock ranches.” By “stock,” the author may have mean livestock: horses and cows.

For a year and a half, beginning in about 1911, Mexican anarcho-communist radicals of the Partido Liberal Mexicano shared Edendale with the early film community on rented farmland near 2325 Ivanhoe Avenue. (There is only an Ivanhoe Drive on Google maps, and it is on the eastern side of Silver Lake.) There, the revolutionaries grew fruits and vegetables to sell at Olvera Street. As time passed other anarchists and members of the IWW settled in nearby shacks in Edendale, outside the City limits. (Anarchist Black Cross Federation website.)

Francis Boggs had made a slideshow of Frank L. Baum’s Oz book in Chicago with William Selig, and they moved to the Edendale district in October 1908, set up the first film studio in Edendale on what was then 1845 Allesandro in a rented bungalow on part of what had been a horse ranch. “Bungalow” means a one-story structure but this one looked like a shed with windows.

The Selig-Polychrome Company built the studio exterior, which faced Allessandro (Glendale) Street, to represent a Spanish mission and used genuine adobe. In the interior was sunk an enormous water tank. The studio itself, composed entirely of glass, was the second largest of its kind in the world at the time. It contained stages, dressing rooms, offices, and a modestly sized film laboratory. The total cost of the studio renovations was estimated to be a quarter-million dollars. I don’t know if anything is left. The corner of the lot is empty but someone has begun construction. There’s a mysterious big building on another part of the lot. There used to be a marker indicating that was where Southern California film comedy began but it is gone.

A source for Lionel Rolfe’s Literary LA , told Rolfe Jack London came down from his beauty ranch to Hollywood to buy horses for his ranch. This may be a misremembering of what happened or London could have lied. London sometimes lied. London had horses up in Glen Ellen. He didn’t need to come all the way to Los Angeles to get more. Beginning in about 1909, however, he came to Los Angeles to work on films of his books. He worked on and played a role in the first film, Sea Wolf , with Selig. The Selig-Polychrome lot had been part of a horse ranch.

There is more left of another studio. (Mack Sennett’s studio was not the building near Thomas Starr King Middle School, although a sign states that it is. That was Sennett’s protégée and lover Mabel Normand’s studio. She was the first film comedienne, the film ancestor of I Love Lucy . ) The Sennett Studio was huge, and it stood on both sides of what is now Glendale Boulevard.

If you stand on the rise of the bit of Allesandro Street that comes off Berkeley, you can see the main building of the Keystone Studio (1912) – called Mack Sennett Studio after 1917 — wedged between two modern additions. Today, the three buildings comprise most of Public Storage. A fence encloses Public Storage, and on one side is a recycler, behind it is a wall. Someone has left old furniture on the back street.

You can see from Allesandro that the main building, the first completely enclosed film and stage studio, once dominated the gulch. Several of the houses that predated the studio still stand nearby.

On the western side of the street another part of the Keystone, later the Mack Sennett, remains as Thriftee Storage. The brick building with a tiny store called “La Tiendita” opening to the street was part of the studio.

Now gone, but then on the corner of old Allesandro, was the cyclorama. It was a big drum with painted scenery that a worker cranked from slow to fast speeds and the actors walked or ran or pretended to drive along a platform. The camera was static. You can see the cyclorama in a YouTube if you Google Sennett and studio and YouTube.

You can also see one of Selig’s lions, the inside of an office that is now part of Thriftee Storage, and cars moving along Glendale Boulevard. Selig moved over to Lincoln Heights, where he kept a zoo, including the MGM mascot lions. The lion Jackie was the one who roars at the beginning of the 1938 Wizard of Oz .

Jackie might have been there, comedy began on that street, everyone knew everyone else, the All Gang Comedy actors, Fatty Arbuckle, Charlie Chaplin, Jack London, Harold Lloyd, Theda Bara, the Keystone Cops, Frank Capra started as a gag writer there, everything that is the backdrop of our imaginations, for all people who have seen movies, all over the world, began there.

Metro and Dot are redesigning the corridor, probably to make traffic even faster. That’s what they do. The community should demand recognition of the film industry’s birth in Southern California.









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