In a hilly area, then untouched, and known as Edendale, Thomas Kelly -- a former carriage maker -- developed the ‘Montana Tract’, complete with a lake in the center. The grassy hills proved the perfect location to shoot very early Westerns, starring Tom Mix, so the studios began settling into the area -- long before Hollywood was developed and ‘talkies’ were filmed.
Tom Mix, and another early screen actress, Gloria Swanson, and many other performers began buying homes in the developing area. This marked the birth of L.A.’s first Bohemian quarter. Prior to WWI, it earned the nickname "Red Hill," due to the large number of political radicals living here, intermixed with writers and artists. Post WWII, as the white population fled for newer surburbs, Latinos and working-class Chinese moved into the area. And since the early 2000s a large population of gays and lesbians have purchased homes, making it one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the nation.
In the 1910s, several early movie studios were located on Allesandro Avenue (now Glendale Blvd.), including Selig Polyscope Company and Pathe West Coast Film Studio. The most famous studio was Max Sennett Studios/Keystone Pictures (1712 Glendale Blvd., now part of a warehouse facility).
Max Sennett was responsible for launching the careers of Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Gloria Swanson, Bing Crosby, Mabel Normand, the Keystone Cops, W.C. Fields, and more. Both Max and his studio developed a very unique and enduring tradition, the old pie-in-the-face schtick. In the 1913 movie ‘A Noise from the Deep’, Mabel Normand plastered Fatty Arbuckle with a whipped cream-topped pie. And, comedies have been using the gag ever since.
The land that is now Burbank started as two seperate land tracts (Rancho San Rafael and Rancho Providencia) under the Spanish government. In 1867, Dr. David Burbank, a dentist, purchased 4,600 acres from each Rancho to begin growing wheat. He then focused on creating a small village and, in 1893, a stage for performers - Burbank Theatre (which became more tacky with time, moving from burlesque to showing X-rated films, before it was demolished in 1973.)
The railroad began running through Burbank in 1874, and a depot was built in 1887. Developers gobbled up all available land in the area, including Dr. Burbank’s for a reported $250,000. Burbank officially became a city in 1911 (population 500), after the first L.A. trolley rolled into the area.
The town grew steadily, and over the next 20 years, a bank, newspaper (Burbank Review), high school and main street were established. By 1927, the city had 125 miles of paved roads. Within a few years major corporations began moving into the area, including, Lockheed, Andrew Jergens, and Libby Canning. The population exploded to more than 16,000.
One of the first permanent studios to move into the area was First National in 1917. It had begun as a merger of 26 "first run" cinema chains. They were brought together under Thomas L. Tally with the idea of showing, distributing, and eventually, producing their own films. In 1918 the company signed million-dollar deals with both Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin (the first deals of this magnitude). This captured rival Paramount’s attention, and a hostile take-over was attempted, but it was Warner Brothers who swooped in to buy the majority interest in 1928.
Major movie studios now located in Burbank:
Warner Brothers at 4000 Warner Blvd. and Walt Disney Studios at 500 S. Buena Vista St. (Universal is also located in ‘the valley’ in Universal City. Of the majors, only Paramount remains in Hollywood).
Highlight (tired of Hollywood yet?)
220 N. Victory Blvd., Burbank
The number of batting cages in L.A. is dwindling fast, and this is the perfect place to wear off some steam -- especially if your film project just got the axe by the neighboring film studios (see above). There are cages for fast and slow pitch softball and also for baseball. All cages are covered, and they are open late - 10:00 p.m. They also have a small snack bar, vending machines, and an arcade. Rates are cheap at 25 pitches for $3.
This shoreline section of Los Angeles got its start as a beach resort town in 1905, with the help of tobacco tycoon, Abbot Kinney. (The resort itself was called Ocean Park). By 1910, the population had climbed to roughly 3,100 people, but it attracted another 50,000 as tourists. There were plenty of leisure activities available: an aquarium, and amusement parks spread over three piers. By 1925, as a result of the heavy day-use, the water, sewer and road systems were in bad shape, and more expansion was needed. The last of these piers was dismantled in the 1950s.
The beach town voted to be annexed by the city of Los Angeles. Before L.A. could do much to improve the area, oil was discovered south of Washington Street and by 1931 there were 450 oil wells dotting the area (which remained in operation until the 1970s). The result was the "Slum by the Sea".
Then, the Beat Generation of the 1950s discovered cheap rent, and writers, artists and musicians flocked to the area. These counter cultural rebels took over the cafes, especially along the boarwalk, and Venice became fashionable again. (By the way, the cheap rent is long, long gone).
Everyone knows about the Venice Beach Boardwalk (if not, check out www.venicebeach.com). But the Venice canals should not be overlooked. They provide the perfect backdrop for a quiet afternoon stroll.
The area is now upscale, remodeled and a scene right out of a postcard. The canals were the brain child of Abbot Kinney, and building began in 1904. Sixteen miles of canals were built within the year. By 1929, cars were replacing boats and many of the canals were covered over. In 1994, Los Angeles renovated the remaining six canals for $6 million.
The canals are situated south of Venice Blvd., between Carroll and Court Streets, Strongs Drive and Eastern Court. The Main Canal runs south of Venice Blvd, along Strongs Drive, and into Ballona Lagoon.
The homes along the canals vary in style, from the original bungalows (500 square feet) of the early 1900s to contemporary three-stories (3,000 square feet). The walkways are kept immaculate, each resident adding their own garden, sculptures and styles to the communal area next to their home. (No bicycling or skating allowed on the walkways, and only non-motor watercraft allowed in the canals themselves).