Willat Studios in Early Culver City

REEL CULVER CITY

by Marc Wanamaker

WILLAT BROTHERS OPEN OWN INDEPENDENT STUDIO

Built from 1920-1921, the brothers, Carl and Irvin Willat, opened their own independent studio in Culver City at what is now Washington Boulevard, Willat and Hoke Streets.

Carl ‘Doc’ Willat, a former Technicolor executive and studio owner/builder in Fort Lee, New Jersey, arranged distribution with the Hodkinson Company for his brother’s upcoming four-feature film deal.

Irvin Willat, originally began in the film business working with the IMP (Independent Motion Picture Company) of Carl Laemmle, later known as the future president of Universal Pictures. By this time Irvin Willat distinguished himself as an upcoming film director, having real time experience working for Thomas Ince for many years.

Carl and Irvin prepared four films for their independent releases: Down Home, Partners of the Tide, Face of the World and Fifty Candles, all to be produced in Culver City at their new studio.

A “STORY-BOOK” HOUSE

Their art director for the film program being prepared, Harry Oliver, was asked to build an administration building that could be doubled as a setting to save money. Oliver studied old English countryside bungalow architecture and came up with the idea of an “English cottage fantasy” architecture. The result was a “story-book” house that became a landmark in Culver City, fronting on Washington Boulevard. There were articles in the newspapers of the time that said the Willat Studio caused traffic accidents! Located across the street from the Thomas Ince Studio at what is now the Culver Studios, the Willat studio lot’s address was originally 6509 Washington Boulevard.

The films starred several former Thomas Ince stars, one of them being Barbara Bedford. For the film, Face of the World, more than one hundred extra actors and personnel, many dressed in various costumes, made working at the small lot seem like it was working at a major studio.

STUDIO SOLD TO PRODUCER WARD LASCELLE

By 1924, Irvin Willat was offered a chance at directing Paramount’s first Technicolor film, Wanderer of the Wasteland, starring Jack Holt. He signed a contract for a number of pictures for Paramount and by 1926, Carl Willat sold the studio to film producer Ward Lascelle. Lascelle subsequently moved the entire

Administration building to Culver City in 1926 and remodeled it into a house where he lived until he died.

MOVED TO BEVERLY HILLS & BECOMES A LANDMARK HOUSE

His wife remarried and she continued to live there with her new husband, Mr. Spadina, until the Green family purchased the house in the 1960s.

Today the house, being relocated to Walden and Carmelita Drives in Beverly Hills, has been restored and will continue to act as a major landmark, harkening back to another age in film history.

Print Friendly