Reel Culver City Summer 2012


by Marc Wanamaker



Bison Archives – named in tribute to the Bison Film Company, an early motion picture studio (formed in 1909) that produced Westerns featuring Native American casts – was collected by this author over a 40-year period of time. About a third of the entire collection came from film studio research libraries where the author worked part-time during the 1980s.

While working at these libraries there was turmoil within the film industry. This was the time when the studios were downsizing, modernizing, and were developing into corporate entities owned by other non-motion picture or television companies.


Several of the research libraries were lost altogether, such as those of Columbia and Republic studios, while others were put into storage and later sold to George Lucas (Paramount and Universal), Francis Ford Coppola (RKO) and to Dreamworks (Goldwyn).

The 20th Century Fox library was twice placed in storage and almost sold. The MGM and Warner libraries are now together in a building in Burbank and will hopefully find a permanent home with the Art Directors Guild.


IMAGE.Reel CC.photo1Research libraries began in the early days of the film industry and were used by writers, producers, directors, actors, costume designers, art directors and even the heads of the studios because the libraries contained just about any information on any subject, historical or contemporary, that was needed by all studio departments.

While working at these departments, the author was encouraged by his department heads to quietly gather any information on the history of the motion picture and television industries as well as on the City of Los Angeles and all of its surrounding cities. The goal was to accumulate and save many various subjects such as film locations/sites, buildings, houses, estates, railroad and streetcars, theatres, etc. before the libraries were sold, put into storage or destroyed.


Of special interest to Culver City history, the MGM Research Library contained a great many files on Culver City, its studios and landmarks. Thanks to its department head, James Earie, this author was able to save many of the library’s files containing photographs, clippings and memorabilia on such subjects as the railroad and streetcars that were Culver City landmarks. [see photo below]

Many of the location photographs were taken by the Location Department and used by the art department and set dressing department to prepare the location set for use as a background in a film. Thanks to the location departments, many of Los Angeles’s landmarks, many long disappeared, are documented for historians’ use to this day.

Location photographs and studio photographs contained in the research libraries helped to make Bison Archives an important source of unpublished photos on the history of Culver City as evidenced in Julie Lugo Cerra and Marc Wanamaker’s latest book, Movie Studios of Culver City.

IMAGE.Reel CC.photo2The research libraries that still exist today are in danger of being sold, broken-up, or lost to those of us who work in the film and television industries and the Art Directors Guild is trying to find ways of

preserving them for future filmmakers who are still in the need for “hands-on” research instead of “internet” sources that are not as comprehensive as the “old fashioned” research libraries. [For more information on Marc Wanamaker and Bison Archives, go to]

Ed. note: In March, 2012, The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it has acquired more than 70,000 photographs from Marc Wanamaker and the Bison Archives.

Adding to the more than 10 million photographs in the holdings of the Academy’s Margaret Herrick Library, the collection features rare images from more than 100 major and independent studios, many of which ceased to exist past the 1920s, including Biograph, Edison, E & R Jungle Film Co., Essanay and Vitagraph.

“These photographs, so many of which focus on behind-the-scenes studio activities, combined with the existing Herrick photographs, will provide unequalled coverage on all aspects of Hollywood filmmaking,” commented Academy COO Ric Robertson.

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Reel Culver City Spring 2012


by Marc Wanamaker


One of the most important industries that helped the Los Angeles area develop into one of the world’s major cities was the aviation industry.

Beginning at the turn of the last century with ballooning in 1903, private airports were created by celebrities in the motion picture industry such as Cecil B. DeMille, Charles and Sydney Chaplin as well as some major land owners.


Many areas surrounding Los Angeles created small airports due to the “air meets” in the nine-teens and twenties and for commerce knitting together outlying areas such as Pasadena, Glendale, Riverside, Santa Monica, etc.

When Harry Culver was developing Culver City and later when he was the head of the California Real Estate Board, he flew with his pilot from the newly established Culver City Municipal Airport to give the town a sense of place and to attract commerce.


Located at what is today Sepulveda, Jefferson and Slauson Blvds., the Culver City Municipal Airport became a home to the first association of women motion picture stunt pilots, the Ninety-Nines.

The leading Hollywood Aviators may have appeared to be crazed daredevils, but they were actually brave precision pilots. Aviators performed in nearly 200 motion pictures during the twenties and more so in the 1930s. Their scenes sold tickets to films and aerial scenes were written into many movies in order to draw bigger audiences.


Before Harry Culver created the Culver City Municipal Airport, Ince Airfield in Venice was the nearest airfield in the area having been established there in 1919 just after the WWI. Owned by producer/director Thomas Ince, Hollywood aviator B.H. DeLay was the manager/pilot who later acquired the field after Ince’s death in 1925.

DeLay was one of the first to professionalize the stunt pilots in films. Associations such as the 13 Black Cats, Ninety-Nines, and the AMPP (Association of Motion Picture Pilots) increased their power

in the Motion Picture Industry from the 1920s through the 1940s.


In 1929, in cooperation with Harry Culver, the Ninety-Nines women’s stunt pilots association opened their own headquarters at the Culver City Municipal Airport, naming it the Margaret Perry Airport.

Internationally-known pilot Amelia Earhart was their first president and Perry the second. Also, at this time the newly formed organization formed the famed First Women’s Air Derby based out of Culver City.


With the coming of the 1930s the Culver City Municipal Airport became known as the Baker Airport owned by Baker and Blair. One could get flying lessons there and arrangements were made for the Goodyear Blimp to land in Culver City from time to time.

Across the street from the airport was Joe Petrelli’s Airport Café when the airport was still called the Culver City Airport.

By the 1950s, the history of Culver City and aviation was overshadowed by the expansion of the Hughes Aircraft plant and its runway. There, the Spruce Goose was built and tested.

Most people have forgotten that Culver City had its own airport and that it was an important and historic airfield that contributed to the development of Culver City as a film factory town and the aviation industry as well.

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Willat Studios in Early Culver City


by Marc Wanamaker


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.


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.


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.


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.

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New Book Released on the Movie Studios of Culver City


by Marc Wanamaker

A new book has just been released that, I must confess, I believe is a wonderful addition to the history of “The Heart of Screenland.”

Co-authored by Julie Lugo Cerra and myself, Marc Wanamaker, Movie Studios of Culver City was a project discussed many years ago and has now been realized.

We believed that a small handbook on the studios of Culver City was overdue and with the help of City Historian Julie Lugo Cerra, an overview of the history of the studios in Culver City was put together.

Harry Culver & Thomas Ince Bring the “Movies” to Town

From Thomas Ince’s first historic movie studio to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and the forgotten early studios, Movie Studios of Culver City is a small treasure for those interested in Culver City’s “Reel” history.

The concept of creating the community of Culver City, using the movie industry as an economic base, came from Harry Culver himself along with the expertise of producer Thomas Ince in 1915. With Culver’s help, Ince built two major studios in the city – both of which are still operating. Almost since the city’s beginning, Culver City residents knew they were “home” when the Leo the Lion sign on top of MGM could be seen from miles around. By the 1930s the City seal incorporated “The Heart of Screenland.”

As the movie studios grew so did the economy and the film industry in Culver City flourished throughout the Depression, War years and into the modern era. By the 1930s, most of the city’s movie credits showed “Made in Hollywood.” The Culver City business community reacted to this by having the credit, “Culver City, where Hollywood Movies are made” instituted on films made in Culver City!

As the Studios Grew, So Did the Backlots

Over the years, Thomas Ince’s first studio in Culver City increased in size as backlots were added. That first studio operated under Ince/Triangle then, over the years, became Goldwyn, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, MGM/UA, Lorimar, Columbia and now Sony Pictures Studios.

Lot 2, across the street from the main studio on Overland Avenue was one of the five backlots of MGM Studios. Ince’s studio a quarter mile east on Washington Boulevard had its backlot called the “40 Acres” alongside La Ballona Creek. This backlot became famous due to the classic films made there such as DeMille’s King of Kings and Selznick’s Gone With The Wind.

The forgotten studios in the Culver City vicinity included, The Pacific, Master, Willat, Lehrman, and Romayne studios. These early studios flourished in the late teens of the early twentieth century and into the1920s during the silent era. The Pacific studio, however, was taken over by “sound” film producers in the 1930s and was still in production well into the 1940s.

Today, all of the studio backlots in Culver City are gone but can be found and remembered in Movie Studios of Culver City, a true Culver City historical treasure.

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Hal Roach Studios’ “Our Gang” Comedies On Location At Palms Station


by Marc Wanamaker

Since the founding of Culver City, the motion picture industry, which helped found the small city’s location filmmaking in and around the town, was the closest option for location managers.

The Culver City Pacific Electric Station on Washington Boulevard had been used on-and-off for many years by the nearby studios.

The “Old Gray Hoss”

In 1928, the Hal Roach Our Gang comedies used the Palms Railroad Station for the film, Old Gray Hoss (Roach/MGM), starring character actor Richard Cummings, Jean Darling, Mary Ann Jackson, Pete the Dog, Bobby "Wheezer" Hutchins, Joe Cobb, Harry Spear, and Allen "Farina" Hoskins.

The depot in Palms, the oldest city (1886) to be annexed to the City of Los Angeles (1915), often appeared in the movies as a rural train station. By 1939, the station was no longer in use except by film companies such as MGM Studio.

Once located near Exposition and National Boulevards, the station was used with various old movie trains for period films for over fifty years.

Moved to Heritage Square

The building was abandoned and was going to be demolished due to the rail line’s closure. Preservationists were able to save the station which was eventually moved in the 1970s to the Heritage Square Museum, off the Pasadena Freeway—where it stands today as a reminder of the great rail system Los Angeles once enjoyed.

[Ed. Note: The top room of the building was once used for Boy and Eagle Scouts’ meetings in the 1950s!]

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