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Hollywood's First Movie Studio Photos

Nestor Film Co.

The best collection of Hollywood movie studios photos can be found on the hollywoodphotographs.com website. There are more than 1500 vintage studio photos. The distinction of having established the first motion picture studio in Hollywood goes to the Nestor Film Company of Bayonne, New Jersey and Staten Island, New York.  The company was started by David Horsley and Charles Gorman in 1907 and was originally called the Cenatur Film Company.  Their first picture was “The Cowboy’s Escapade”, a one reeler released in September, 1908.  They produced a series of short films during the next two years but were frequently harassed by the Trust’s detectives.  Not wishing to continue the challenge, Gorman sold his interest to his partner’s brother, William.  The Brothers reorganized the company and the Nestor Film Company was born. On October 27, 1911, a troupe of forty members of this film company arrived in Los Angeles to produce the “Nestor” brand of films.

Photo of Hollywood's First movie studio

The personnel of the company included David Horsley, proprietor of the concern; Al Christie, business manager and director of comedies; Tom Ricketts, dramatic director; Milton Fahrney, director of westerns; John Nichalaus, chief cameraman and laboratory expert; Thomas Briely, carpenter; Lloyd Briely, his assistant; Walter Prichard, cameraman; Tom Evans, cameraman; Henry Moraine, properties; Arthur Rose and J. Murphy, his assistants.

The cast of players included Josephine Ditt (Mrs. Thomas Ricketts), Dorothy Davenport (Mrs. Walter Reid), and her mother, Eugenie Forde, Miss Victoria Forde, Alexandria Phillips (Mrs. Milton Fahrney), Jack Conway, Russell Bassett, Harold Lockwood, George Osburns, William Rhyno, Leo Malony, Horace Davey and Gordon Sackville.

Photo of Columbia Studio

Leasing Blondeau Tavern

While on the train to Los Angeles, they met Mr. Murray Steele, theatrical producer and a friend of Mr. Frank Hoover, who was in the photographic business at the southeast corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Gower Street, in Hollywood.  Mr. Steele advised Mr. Horsley to call on Mr. Hoover for potential studio sites  in Hollywood.  This Mr. Horsley did, and was shown the former Cahuenga House (also known as the Blondeau Tavern) on the northwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street.  The small roadhouse, which was then being leased to the Maier Brewing Company, was suffering from the drought induced by Hollywood’s recent liquor ordinance, but the place had immediate appeal as a studio.  It had a barn, corral, twelve small rooms built along the fence and a five room bungalow.  The corral could stable horses used in western pictures; the small rooms could become dressing areas and bedrooms for the staff and the bungalow was perfect for executive quarters.

Located seven miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, Hollywood was originally known as the Cahuenga Valley.  With a population of about 3,500 people, it was situated in the Frostless Belt and had orange and lemon groves stretching across the valley.  The climate of Southern California and particularly Hollywood was attractive to Nestor and those who later followed them.  In his book, “The History of Hollywood”, Dr. Edwin O. Palmer wrote that Hollywood had “-- faultless weather and never accompanied by unpleasant wind.”  This “faultless” weather meant that production companies didn’t have to reduce or curtail filming because of inclement weather. 

Photo of Douglas-Fairbanks studio

Hollywood Becomes A City

The honor of naming Hollywood goes to Daeida Wilcox who, in 1886, named her one hundred and twenty acre Cahuenga Valley ranch, “Hollywood.” The residents of this small, rural area were so fond of the name that when they incorporated their community in 1903, they named it the City of Hollywood.  During the first year of incorporation, the Board of Trustees enacted several ordinances including, “prohibiting the sale of liquor except by pharmacist or prescription” and “prohibiting drunkenness and disorderly conduct, and keeping of disorderly houses. ” Seven years later and one year before the Nestor Film Company arrived in Hollywood, the residents voted to annex their town to the City of Los Angeles. 

Horsley leased the tavern from the Maier Brewing Company for $30  per month and on Monday, the baggage car with motion picture equipment, consisting of three cameras, chemicals and minor properties, was transported to Hollywood over the Pacific Electric railway tracks.  By night, everything was unloaded and the company was ready to shoot.

The pioneer company was allowed a budget of $1,200 a week, which came in regularly from New York.  On this bankroll, three complete moving pictures were supposed to be filmed each week - a western, and “eastern” and a comedy.  There wasn’t time nor money to have a print made to run off for the benefit of the members of the company.  The only negative was shipped off to New York. It was two or three months later that troupe saw the benefit of their labors when the finished movie came around to Tally’s Theater in Los Angeles.

In the evenings, the director and other members of the troupe would write stories at home, jotting down the number of feet which could be spared for each scene.  In the morning, they rehearsed the scenes, timing it with a stopwatch.  When they had the scene boiled down to the proper number of minutes and feet of film, they loaded the camera and began filming.

The first stage consisted of a wooden platform about forty feet square.  Because most scenes were filmed outdoors, large sheets of muslin were suspended over the stage to diffuse the sunlight.  On occasion, when two production companies tried to shoot on the same stage, one back drop was built on the north side and one on the east side of the stage.  Everything worked fine unless someone from one production unit inadvertently walked onto the stage of the other unit.

Early photo of Jesse Lasky Studio

Hollywood's First Movie

The first picture made at Hollywood’s first studio was “The Law Of The Range”, written by Alexandria Fahrney, and directed by her husband Milton.  Other early films produced by Nestor included “Her Indian Hero”, the “Mutt and Jeff” and “Desperate Desmond” series.

Shortly after their arrival in Hollywood, the Nestor Film Company discovered that they could churn out picture after picture, with few delays from bad weather.  Many companies, enduring the erratic climate of the East, marveled at Nestor’s steady output and improved photographic quality and came out to California to learn the secret.  Within three years, there were fifteen companies shooting in, and around, Hollywood. 

In 1912, Carl Laemmle’s Universal Film Manufacturing Company acquired the Nestor Film Company’s studio, on the northwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. 

The largest collection of Hollywood Movie Studios photos is on the hollywoodphotographs.com website. all the photographs are available for purchase. 

 

 

 

 

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