REEL CULVER CITY
by Marc Wanamaker
At the recent Culver City Historical Society special program with author Brian Taves, there were questions about the chronology and specific studio facilities of film pioneer, Thomas H. Ince.
Questions such as, which Thomas Ince studio was built first in Culver City and when did Ince leave his original studio in Santa Ynez canyon (Inceville). There were also questions as to where Thomas Ince lived, since he moved from Hollywood to Beverly Hills in 1924 the year of his death.
BISON FILM CO. BRINGS INCE FROM NEW YORK TO LOS ANGELES
Ince came to Los Angeles from New York in 1911 to head up the Bison Film Company that had come to Los Angeles in 1909. It was thesecond film company to build a studio in Los Angeles after the Selig Polyscope Company which had been in Los Angeles as early as 1907.
Selig opened the first permanent studio in Los Angeles in Edendale (on Glendale Blvd. in Echo Park) in 1909. The Bison Company came to Edendale and opened their first studio down the block in 1909 as well. By 1911, the Bison Company, under the direction of Thomas Ince, moved to Santa Monica to establish “Inceville” where Sunset Blvd. and Pacific Coast Highway intersect.
INCEVILLE GROWS AND NEEDS MORE SPACE – INCE MEETS HARRY CULVER
By 1915, Ince had outgrown “Inceville” which had predominantly been a studio producing western and Indian genre films. At this time, Ince was producing war films, dramas and comedies that required a more factory-made production design, needing more space and modern stages and equipment that Inceville did not have available.
Harry Culver, the developer of the future Culver City, needed an economic base for his new city he planned. Culver offered Ince land and plenty of space to develop a film industry in the new town. Ince’s parent company, The New York Motion Picture Corporation (NYMPC), put up the money to build a modern studio on Washington Boulevard which opened in 1915.
The well-known Colonnade entry is one of Culver City’s designated “Historical Landmarks.” This studio became the Goldwyn Studio in 1919 and by 1924 had become the famous Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) Studios.
By 1916, the NYMPC was affiliated with the Triangle Film Corporation, and for two years the company was very successful until it’s principle directors – D. W. Griffith, Thomas Ince and Mack Sennett – left the company.
CULVER OFFERS INCE LAND IN CULVER CITY
By 1918 after WWI, Ince was looking for another studio site to be his own studio lot. With the demise of the Triangle, Harry Culver offered another deal with Ince to keep him and his productions in Culver City.
A plot of land was found to the east of the former Ince Studio on Washington Blvd. at what is now Ince Boulevard. A new studio administration building was designed in the classical style reminiscent of Virginia’s Mount Vernon facing Washington Blvd..
The 14-acre main lot with a backlot, known later as the “40 Acres,” was to be another Culver City historic landmark. After Thomas Ince’s death in 1924, the studio was sold (with Pathé America) to Cecil B. DeMille in 1925.
After about four years, DeMille sold his interest to Pathé and the studio was then known as the Pathé Culver City Studio. By 1928 after mergers, the studio became RKO/Pathé. By 1957, a number of other studios followed: Desilu Culver, the Culver City Studios, Laird International Studios, Culver Studio, etc.
INCE’S FIRST HOUSE IN HOLLYWOOD
Ince first lived in Hollywood at Franklin and Bronson Avenues, beginning sometime around 1912. He built a beautiful Craftsman style house and compound which included several office buildings, tennis courts and a swimming pool.
Since “Inceville” was so far away from Hollywood, Ince built another house high on a hill overlooking Inceville off of what is now Sunset Blvd. in the Pacific Palisades district.
By 1923 Ince wanted to move from Hollywood and purchased a large tract of land in the Benedict Canyon district of Beverly Hills and built “Dias Dorados”in 1924 – a beautifully hand-crafted “Mission-hacienda” style rancho estate.
Ince lived there briefly until his death in 1924, the same year the family moved in. He died in his bed there with his family in attendance. The house was later sold to his first mentor Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures Corporation and Ince’s first employer in the film industry.