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Motion Picture Industry Comes to California


First Movie Studios

Almost all of the early film producing companies and the first movie studios were located back east or in the Chicago area. All of the filming was done out of doors because there were no such things as soundstages and movie sets that were enclosed. Of all the early movies, Western seen to be the most popular and these pictures were sweeping across America. The first Westerns were made in the East and were quite profitable. Several filmmakers promptly bought cattle, horses, saddles, lariat's, stagecoaches, and other properties necessary to manufacture the Western melodramas at their movie studios. Movies, especially westerns, were filmed at a brisk pace during the spring summer and fall. Once winter set in, filming slowed to a snail's pace. Seeking locations where the weather would not hinder the active film schedules, motion picture manufacturers sought a place where they could make movies all year round. The Southwest and California seemed the logical place where movies could me made without being hampered by inclement weather.


First To Film In California

To Chicago's Selig Polyscope Company goes the distinction of being the first motion picture company to make movies in California. In 1907, Col. William Selig, head of the Selig Polyscope company, sent a touring company out to the West consisting of director Francis Boggs, six actors and actresses and a cameraman. For the next few weeks the company made movies using the southwest as a backdrop. They passed through Los Angeles long enough to shoot some scenes for the Count of Monte Christo. During their brief stay they erected Los Angeles’ first motion picture set on the roof of the building at Olive and eighth Street for a one real version of Carmen.

Unconvinced that Southern California was the paradise they sought, the troop decided to see what Colorado had to offer. But Colorado's weather was not favorable, and in 1909, the Selig group returned to Los Angeles and established the first “film factory” in California.


First Hollywood Studio

The first motion picture company to settle in Hollywood was the Nestors Film Company who arrived on October 10, 1911 and rented the former Blondeau Tavern on the northwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. They converted the former Tavern into a studio and began movie making almost immediately. Here they found a year-round mild climate and abundant sunshine that created a superior quality of light for making movies. The genial climate reduce studio investment to a minimum – – a wooden platform with canvas sides and muslin roof, made an adequate stage and a bungalow or hay barn could be transformed into dressing rooms and offices. Nor was there a need to provide heat in the winter.

More Film Companies Come To Hollywood

It wasn't long before reports of this new film paradise finally filtered back to the many companies in the Midwest and East. One by one, both independent companies and trust members began migrating to the West Coast. For the independent producers, Southern California's mild climate was not the only incentive to travel long distances to set up shop. Within three years after the Nestors Film Company moved to Hollywood, there were more than 15 motion picture studios in the Hollywood area.


Poverty Row and Gower Gulch

Most of the early film production companies settled in the Hollywood area near the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street. All of these film producers had limited financial resources, which caused many of them to go out of business shortly after arriving in Hollywood. Most of the film production companies lined Sunset Boulevard, just east of Gower Street. Because of the frequency of studio failures, this area of Sunset Boulevard was known as “poverty row.”  It was also known as Gower Gulch because of the many cowboy actors who would stand out in front of the studios waiting to be called in for that days filming. Website

One of the largest collections of movie studio photos is on the website. There are more than 1500 vintage images of some of Hollywood's and Southern California's earliest motion picture studios – – including, LK O, Quality pictures, Paulis Studios, Christie Studios and Clune Producing Company. All the photographs on the website are available for purchase.



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