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L. A. THEN AND NOW

Movie Industry's Roots in Garden of Edendale

September 16, 2001|CECILIA RASMUSSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While recuperating, Selig commissioned Italian sculptor Carlo Romanelli to design stone lions and elephants for his planned zoo. As the cameras and the money kept rolling, Selig moved his operation across the Los Angeles River to 32 acres in Lincoln Park, where he built a studio/zoo to house his performing animals. He also constructed a skating rink and dance pavilion where movie scenes were shot.

The first Tarzan movie was filmed at the Selig Zoo, the surrounding hillsides passing for Africa. With more than 700 species, the menagerie--forerunner of the Los Angeles Zoo--was reportedly the largest exotic animal collection in the world.

Although Selig kept his Edendale studio open until 1915, the neighborhood's biggest claim to movie fame was the Keystone Kops. Writer-director Mack Sennett was hired by New York Motion Picture Co. to head up the firm's West Coast Keystone Studios.

Soon after he arrived in 1912, he began to crank out his slapstick silliness. In 1915, expanding the Effie Street and Glendale Boulevard property, Sennett built the first permanent concrete-reinforced movie studio. Soon, the Keystone name came down from the building and Sennett's went up.

Romping on camera in Edendale in the early days of the movies were Charlie Chaplin, Fatty Arbuckle, Ben Turpin and Buster Keaton, among others. Gloria Swanson and the first of her six husbands, Wallace Beery, briefly set up house near the studio.

In Edendale, Mabel Normand hurled custard pies in her co-stars' faces, pies baked by Sarah Brener, who catered to the stars from her variety store across the street from the studio. Her best customer, Chaplin, gave her one of his canes as a memento for baking the "best pies in town," said film historian Marc Wanamaker.

Sennett would continue making films there until 1928, when he moved to Studio City. The last movie shot entirely at his old studio was appropriately titled "The Goodbye Kiss."

By the 1930s, the studio had become King's Roller Palace, where neighborhood children roller-skated to the tunes of Glenn Miller on the electric organ. Later, someone gave the floor a coat of wax and called it the Palace Barn Dance. Tex Williams and his 12-piece band, the Western Caravan, played "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)," among other tunes, but country-western music never caught on there, and it soon closed.

Today, the last remaining concrete structure in what once was the city's largest and most successful movie-making complex is a public storage facility at 1712 Glendale Blvd.

Film quality and changing tastes heralded Selig's journey to obscurity, as they did for many others. The only reminders of him are a street bearing his name off Mission Road, and a dozen of the life-size stone elephants and lions that once guarded the gates to his zoo. Those figures eventually will be incorporated into new gates at the Los Angeles Zoo.

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