Selig Polyscope Studios

FILM STUDIO HISTORY

Selig-Polyscope Studios

 

Selig-Polyscope
The original Selig-Polyscope Studio that was located at 1845 Glendale in the Edendale area of Los Angeles (Los Angeles Times, May 5, 1940)

 

By Allan R. Ellenberger
May 22, 2009

 

The Chicago-born Col. William N Selig started out in the theatre both as an actor and manager. But in 1883 he became interested in photography and began experimental work which later led to the development of a motion-picture camera and a projector known as the Selig Polyscope. His experimental work brought him into conflict with Thomas Edison, who also was deeply interested in film recording and projection, and for years the two were involved in patent litigation.

 

 

Selig first visited California in 1893, but made his first commercial picture three years later in Chicago. One of his early films, The Count of Monte Cristo (1907), was photographed on the roof of a Los Angeles office building.

 

 

In the spring of 1909 Selig established a temporary studio in a small building behind a Chinese laundry on Olive Street between Seventh and Eighth Streets in what is now downtown Los Angeles. There, Francis Boggs directed In the Sultan’s Power (1909). The following August, Selig and Boggs moved to an area known as Edendale, setting up Los Angeles’ first permanent studio in a rented bungalow at 1845 Allesandro Street (now Glendale Blvd.).

 

 

Edendale soon became Selig-Polyscope’s headquarters. Selig sparred no expense in fitting up the permanent studio. The company built the exterior, which faced Allessandro (Glendale) Street, to represent an old 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

 

 

The Selig-Polyscope company produced hundreds of short features here, including many early westerns featuring Tom Mix. The studio made dozens of highly successful films, among them was The Spoilers (1914), probably their best feature-length effort starring William Farnum, Kathlyn Williams and Tom Santschi.

 

 

Actor Hobart Bosworth, who was one of the Selig regulars, made many of his early films at the Edendale studio.

 

 

“The first picture I did on my return to (Selig) in Edendale was called The Roman,” Bosworth recalled in 1929. “We had good little sets and costumes. The story I recognized at once. It was Sheridan Knowle’s old tragedy of Virginius. Tom Santschi, Frank Montgomery, Jim McGee, Frank Richardson, Stella Adams, Iva Sheppard, William Harris, Betty Harte, Roscoe Arbuckle, Robert Z. Leonard were among those in it.

 

 

“(Francis) Boggs asked me as we finished this picture in three days, if I could remember another Roman story that we could do with this scenery and costume investiture. I was able to dig one out.”

 

selig-studios-bungalow

Photo above shows Selig’s lot in Edendale where he built the first official motion picture studio (LAPL)

 

Remembering the early days of the Edendale studio, Bosworth said:

 

 

“This was a little frame hall used by a local improvement society with little cubicles for dressing-rooms, a barn at the back for props and scenery and in front of it a little 16×20 platform of asphalt or cement with two by fours laid laterally to nail the braces to. Great things sprang from that little source, great things for Los Angeles, greater for the world.”

 

 

Tragically, the first celebrity murder also occurred here on October 27, 1911 when Frank Minematsu, the studio caretaker, went berserk and shot and killed director Francis Boggs. In the struggle to retrieve the gun, William Selig was shot and wounded in the arm.

 

 

Ironically, the day before Boggs’ murder, producers David Horsley and Al Christie made their first film in a little community to the west called Hollywood.

 

 

Film companies that popped-up in Edendale near Selig-Polyscope included Pathé, Bison and Mack Sennett Studios.

 

 

In 1915, Selig moved his company to Lincoln Park where he also established a zoo, and the Edendale lot was taken over by Fox Studios. Over the years several production companies produced films on the old Selig lot, including J. Warren Kerrigan Studios, Marshall Neilan Studios and Garson Studios where Clara Kimball Young produced her films. Among those who made films here were Thomas Ince, Conway Tearle (Michael and His Lost Angel, 1920) and Marie Prevost (Beggars on Horseback, 1924).

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Garson Studio map

 

A map of the studio when it was known as Garson Studios in the mid 1920s. Note: The street address was originally Allesandro before it was changed to Glendale.

 

garsonstudios

 

Postcard of the former Selig-Polyscope Studio (known as Garson Studios here) in the mid 1920s. (Postcard courtesy of Greta de Groat)

 

Selig-Polyscope location

 

Above is the site of the former Selig-Polyscope as it appears today. Compare it to the postcard above. The inclined street on the left, which is Clifford, and the hill in the background have not changed.

 

Selig-Polyscope location

Another angle of the former location of Selig-Polyscope Studios.

 

Sadly, the site of the former Selig-Polyscope studios is now an empty lot in a mostly industrial area. The community that surrounds the spot and the people who pass by are most likely unaware of the historical significance of the site. It’s unfortunate that an archeological dig could not be done there before a warehouse or some other industrial building is constructed.

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17 Responses to “Selig Polyscope Studios”

  1. Ginny M says:

    I always wondered where the original studio was. Thanks! Great card – do you happen to know the publisher – so I can add it to my checklist?

    A. — Hi Ginny, sorry I don’t know the publisher but perhaps someone does and will post it here. Thanks. — Allan

  2. Harry Martin says:

    *Most* interesting post of something I knew nothing about. As always, you give me insight and information I can find no where else. The postcard and “now” photos (as always) were a wonderful bonus.

    🙂

    Harry

    A. — Thanks Harry, Allan

  3. Mary says:

    Interesting post. You have obviously done the research on this. It can be hard to find decent information about selig. i will bookmark this site and check it out again in the future. thanks

  4. Ginny M says:

    Two Edendale references within 3 days.! Was reading “The Parade’s Gone By…” and film editor William Hornbeck tells the tale: “My mother was running a hotel in Los Angeles, around 1909, and some movie people came there to take rooms. They told her they were looking for a place to build a studio.
    ‘Well,’ she said, ‘the nicest place in Los Angeles, where the sun always shines, is out where we live – a place called Edendale. We own some land there.’
    Unconsciously, she directed them right to where we lived. They bought some land from us, and eventually built studios there at Allesandro Street……Later, Mack Sennett took them over, and they became the studios of the Keystone Company.”
    Now I need a thried reference to keepe the universe in order.

  5. Andre says:

    Thanks, Allan.
    So, that’s what happened to the Selig studio…
    I was actually expecting another parking lot, but no, just an empty one.

  6. Jim Lacy says:

    Wonderful research and pictures Allan, as always. I can easily lose myself reading about this era in film history. There’s another book with a number of pictures of both the Chicago and Edendale studios, with even more film stills, in Kalton Lahue’s 1973 “Motion Picture Pioneer–the Selig Polyscope Company.” But you probably already have it…

    A. — Thanks Jim. No, I don’t have that book but it sounds interesting. I’ll try and look for it.

  7. How far is this site from the former Mixville, also on Glendale Blvd and built by Selig for Tom Mix? It is so sad to see how this man is mostly forgotten now. His niche at the Chapel of the Pines is about an inch and a half long and when we found it, his nameplate had been removed and was in a nearby flower vase. Thanks, as always, Allan for the great research and for sharing with those of us who love this stuff.

    A. — Thanks Steve. Mixville is about a mile away from this site. I’ll be doing a post on Mixville in the next couple of weeks. I’ve already been there.

  8. Giovanni Di Simone says:

    Thank you so much for this incredible piece of hollywood history, do you have regular meetings or reunions discussing these findings, projects , please keep me updated, I would love to contribute,
    sincerely

    Giovanni Di Simone

  9. Paul K. Sholar says:

    Do you have any research on the short stretch of time around 1910 when Selig and others shot silent films at Sycamore Grove Park in today’s Highland Park neighborhood? Evidently Boggs’s and Selig’s “Monte Christo” (all prints later destroyed) was partially shot there. Between shoots the actors were known to stay at the newly constructed Mt. Washington Hotel, now used as HQ of the Self-Realization Fellowship.
    ________________
    Hi Paul, I have no information on that but it’s very interesting. If anyone knows anything they can post it here or contact me. I will also see if I can find anything and if so, let you know.

  10. EC Gladstone says:

    Hi All,
    Great article Allan. You can see more Edendale photos that I’ve collected in the lobby of the Edendale Grill restaurant (and Mixville Bar) at 2838 Rowena Ave, Silver Lake (323) 666-2000
    _________________________
    Thanks I’ll have to check that out.

  11. Ronnie Karish says:

    My grandparents had property on Glendale Blvd. and on Aaron St. starting in 1908. My mom was born while living on Aaron directly across the street from Keystone. I lived there until 1969. My grandmother (Sarah Brener) ran the sandwich shop on the boulevard and my mom took care of Tom Mix’s horse. She was always trying to figure out how to prove that our little bamboo cane was actually handed to her in the restuarant by Chaplin himself!
    Love these articles.
    Thanks.

  12. Yvonne Talbot says:

    Hi from England,
    What an informative site. I had heard nothing about Selig until researching yesterday a silver metal numbered disc my Mum has acquired on which is written Finders, please return to SELIG POLYSCOPE CO. 20 E. Randolph Street, Chicago, Illinois. There is a number across the disc 16502. On the reverse is a large S in a horizontal diamond shape, and the letters CMIIX. Despite exhaustive searching I cannot find what this would have been used for – any clues please?
    ______________
    Hi Yvonne, maybe one of the readers will know, thank you,

  13. sara radovanovitch says:

    hi ronnie,
    i live on alvarado and aaron street, and am fascinated with the history of the area. i know the market you are talking about, and was wondering if you had any other stories and history you could share with me?
    thanks

  14. Phyl van Ammers says:

    Do you know what happened to the historic marker that used to be at the corner of the empty lot? Do you know if it can be gotten back from wherever it is?
    Los Angeles Public Library photo of the studio notes the site of the Selig studio IS(not was) at 1850 Glendale Boulevard. I assume the library is mistaken.

    SORRY I DONT KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO THE MARKER.

  15. Lynn Crammond says:

    I am a descendant of Mr. Selig and was wondering if anyone had information about his time in Chicago. Was he involved in vaudeville there? Where did he live? Any info would be appreciated for inclusion in our family tree. Thank you.

  16. Jim Wat says:

    Hi Allen: thanks for your essay. My grandfather, Edwin Wallock worked as an actor for Col. Selig in Chicago and in Los Angeles. I can send you some of his photographs of the studios, both the one in Chicago and the Edendale one, too. Just send me your email address and I’ll scan them for you.

    Jim Watt

  17. Allan Ellenberger says:

    Thanks Jim. Sent you an email.

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