Flashback Fridays – William Selig

Don't you just wanna sit on his lap and have him tell you stories about being a vaudeville performer?

In the first couple decades of the 20th century, Echo Park was the center of the West Coast film industry. Called Edendale at the time, it was the location of several major silent film studios including Keystone Studios, Pathe West Coast and Selig-Polyscope. Even Fox Studios was located here before William Fox changed its location to Sunset and Western in 1917. The studios were located along what is now Glendale Blvd. (called Allesandro Street at the time) near the 2 freeway terminus.

Selig-Polyscope was the first motion picture studio in Edendale and, in fact, the first motion picture studio to be located on the west coast. Its founder, William Selig, moved it here from its original location in Chicago in 1909. Selig’s story is a fascinating one as he was truly a visionary and a pioneer in the early days of film making. He developed his own way of making a motion picture camera in order to not have to pay a patent fee to Thomas Edison’s company. He was the first motion picture producer to move his studio to Los Angeles. He made almost a thousand films in his studio in Edendale before moving its location to Lincoln Heights (East Los Angeles) in 1917. He also opened up a zoo in Lincoln Park in 1915 and had plans to turn it into a big ol’ amusement park with rides and everything.

However, Selig-Polyscope was unable to survive the transition to full-length films and closed in 1918. As for the zoo, “only a single carousel was ever built and the crowds never came” (Thanks to Wikipedia for the hear-wrenching imagery), and it finally shut down in the 1930s. Selig lost almost everything else he had in the Great Depression and spent the last few years of his life working as a literary agent. He died in 1948, but his memory lives on through Los Angeles history nerds (like me). Think of him every time you see that big empty lot on Glendale and Clifford.

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