Friday, November 4, 2016

"Film Holiday for Monrovia"

When last we heard about the Monrovia Feature Film Company(MFFC), a call had gone out to Monrovians that aspired to become actors.  All of the excitement of the movie industry continued to be front page news…..

On September 20, 1915 the newspaper headlines pronounce that the “Movie Company Begins Operations” and appeals to Monrovians to take part—especially if they own saddle horses and carriages, as these will be necessary for their historic drama.  The MFFC had set up temporary offices at 428 S. Myrtle (only a few buildings down from the current Krikorian theatre and the building is still there).

Hoping to whip up even more interest—and probably funding—the MFFC plans a “boost” on September 22.  This will involve a parade of Monrovians marching up Myrtle from Lime to White Oak (Foothill).   The MFFC will be filming this spectacle so that they can promote the wonderful town of Monrovia to other film companies.  The parade was followed by lunch at the Monrovia Country Club which offered another opportunity to film the residents.  On September 27, the reel and a half of coverage was screened at a Monrovia Theater so that residents  can see the picture quality and the following day’s headline proclaims “Monrovia Impressive on Screen”.  (Some things never change!)

The month of October 1915 brings more excitement as the MFFC releases more details about the filming schedule.   A major scene in Argonauts will be the burning of San Francisco, so much work is being done to build a miniature replica of an early San Francisco set.  While the MFFC has mentioned big plans for their studio and soundstage buildings, they explain that they are waiting to build so that they can focus on the making of the Argonauts film. 

Details of the planned studio buildings can be found in an announcement in the Building and Engineering News of January 26, 1916.  Local architect Frank O. Eager (architect of numerous landmark homes in Monrovia) had been hired to build a Motion Picture Studio with 1 and 2 story buildings of frame and steel.  The movie picture stage will be 500 feet by 100 feet, there will be multiple administration buildings, a zoo, a swimming pool 75 by 200 feet, garages, a lake and indoor studio of glaze and steel with up-to date equipment planned for all buildings.  Total cost of all construction is $200,000 but the first buildings to be built are estimated at $25,000.

The Town of Monrovia is so enthralled with its new film company that a civic holiday is slated for October 23, 1915 so that all of Monrovia can watch them film the burning of San Francisco and then there will be a band concert and picnic lunch in the park.  There will also be a ceremonial ground breaking at the site of the new studio.  According to headlines, 3000 Monrovians attended.  (Note: The 1910 population of Monrovia was 3576, in 1920 it had grown to 5480—there may be some exaggeration in the headlines’ numbers, but it appears that a whole lot of Monrovians were there.)  The first spadeful of dirt at the top of Gold Hill is turned by Mrs. C.T Renaker (note: She and her first husband A.P Seymour built Historic Landmark # 41)

The MFFC has been busy filming other scenes before this major spectacle.  They used a historic home in Duarte to stand in for the home of the Don, filming also took place behind the Pacific Electric depot and they filmed some ocean scenes in San Pedro.  The civic holiday even makes page 3 of the Los Angeles Times announcing “Film Holiday for Monrovia”.  A quote from the article states that “Monrovia is the latest Southern California city to join the ranks of the picture-producing centers of the West and she intends to let others know she is in the game to the finish. “  The film’s director, Henry Kabierske, will be situated a mile away from the action but will be using a military field telephone to direct, possibly making him the first person to use this long distance technology in the film industry.

On November 1, the Monrovia Daily News reports two interesting bits of news: the Argonauts will be completed in five weeks and there are currently 71 Monrovia stockholders in the MFFC.  It is easy to surmise that Mrs. C.T. Renaker was one of them and her connection to the film company will continue. 

Early Monrovians must have been enthralled by all of excitement the film company produced—parades, a civic holiday and a front row seat to the new film making industry.  Doesn’t it seem likely that there would be some photos sitting in family albums of all of this activity?  Surely the Monrovia Legacy project would appreciate seeing these.


There is a lot of momentum growing for the completion of the film by mid-December, but an unforeseen event will cause some major delays…..find out in the next installment what happens to the production.

"Film Holiday for Monrovia"

When last we heard about the Monrovia Feature Film Company(MFFC), a call had gone out to Monrovians that aspired to become actors.  All of the excitement of the movie industry continued to be front page news…..

On September 20, 1915 the newspaper headlines pronounce that the “Movie Company Begins Operations” and appeals to Monrovians to take part—especially if they own saddle horses and carriages, as these will be necessary for their historic drama.  The MFFC had set up temporary offices at 428 S. Myrtle (only a few buildings down from the current Krikorian theatre).

Hoping to whip up even more interest—and probably funding—the MFFC plans a “boost” on September 22.  This will involve a parade of Monrovians marching up Myrtle from Lime to White Oak (Foothill).   The MFFC will be filming this spectacle so that they can promote the wonderful town of Monrovia to other film companies.  The parade was followed by lunch at the Monrovia Country Club which offered another opportunity to film the residents.  On September 27, the reel and a half of coverage was screened at a Monrovia Theater so that residents  can see the picture quality and the following day’s headline proclaims “Monrovia Impressive on Screen”.  (Some things never change!)

The month of October 1915 brings more excitement as the MFFC releases more details about the filming schedule.   A major scene in Argonauts will be the burning of San Francisco, so much work is being done to build a miniature replica of an early San Francisco set.  While the MFFC has mentioned big plans for their studio and soundstage buildings, they explain that they are waiting to build so that they can focus on the making of the Argonauts film. 

Details of the planned studio buildings can be found in an announcement in the Building and Engineering News of January 26, 1916.  Local architect Frank O. Eager (architect of numerous landmark homes in Monrovia) had been hired to build a Motion Picture Studio with 1 and 2 story buildings of frame and steel.  The movie picture stage will be 500 feet by 100 feet, there will be multiple administration buildings, a zoo, a swimming pool 75 by 200 feet, garages, a lake and indoor studio of glaze and steel with up-to date equipment planned for all buildings.  Total cost of all construction is $200,000 but the first buildings to be built are estimated at $25,000.

The Town of Monrovia is so enthralled with its new film company that a civic holiday is slated for October 23, 1915 so that all of Monrovia can watch them film the burning of San Francisco and then there will be a band concert and picnic lunch in the park.  There will also be a ceremonial ground breaking at the site of the new studio.  According to headlines, 3000 Monrovians attended.  (Note: The 1910 population of Monrovia was 3576, in 1920 it had grown to 5480—there may be some exaggeration in the headlines’ numbers, but it appears that a whole lot of Monrovians were there.)  The first spadeful of dirt at the top of Gold Hill is turned by Mrs. C.T Renaker (note: She and her first husband A.P Seymour built Historic Landmark # 41)

The MFFC has been busy filming other scenes before this major spectacle.  They used a historic home in Duarte to stand in for the home of the Don, filming also took place behind the Pacific Electric depot and they filmed some ocean scenes in San Pedro.  The civic holiday even makes page 3 of the Los Angeles Times announcing “Film Holiday for Monrovia”.  A quote from the article states that “Monrovia is the latest Southern California city to join the ranks of the picture-producing centers of the West and she intends to let others know she is in the game to the finish. “  The film’s director, Henry Kabierske, will be situated a mile away from the action but will be using a military field telephone to direct, possibly making him the first person to use this long distance technology in the film industry.

On November 1, the Monrovia Daily News reports two interesting bits of news: the Argonauts will be completed in five weeks and there are currently 71 Monrovia stockholders in the MFFC.  It is easy to surmise that Mrs. C.T. Renaker was one of them and her connection to the film company will continue. 

Early Monrovians must have been enthralled by all of excitement the film company produced—parades, a civic holiday and a front row seat to the new film making industry.  Doesn’t it seem likely that there would be some photos sitting in family albums of all of this activity?  Surely the Monrovia Legacy project would appreciate seeing these.


There is a lot of momentum growing for the completion of the film by mid-December, but an unforeseen event will cause some major delays…..find out in the next installment what happens to the production.

Monday, September 12, 2016

"Progress in Plenty"

If you've just joined us, we're celebrating the installation of our newest piece of public art - "Action!" which commemorates Monrovia's long standing connection to the motion picture industry.  Looking to catch up?  You're just in time...we'll bring you up up to speed here.  

Otherwise, keep reading...

The year is 1918 and you may remember that one of the founders of the Monrovia Feature Film Company (MFFC) had just died unexpectedly...

[cue the creepy organ music]

But unlike the other shenanigans associated with this venture, Guest Blogger Penny (AKA GBP) was unable to dig up any dirt related to his untimely demise. Don't despair, there is plenty of other sorted details ahead...including a murder. 

So without further ado, here's the next installment which moves on to our other esteemed MFFC officers, Edward Grafton and Rufus McClung Francisco.

Edward Grafton owned a publishing company that put out the magazine Out West which McGroarty had edited.  He was very involved in choosing the key people in the MFFC, as well as involving himself with the choice of actors.  He also must have had his hand in the till...uh, we mean he probably provided treasurer duties, as will be seen in a later lawsuit.

And finally, we come to Rufus McClung Francisco who had a colorful background in all types of entertainment.  Where he really excelled, however, was in self-promotion.  Born in Tennessee, he made his way west and settled in Sacramento where he managed a theater before becoming the operator of a notorious speakeasy on the Sacramento River called Oak Hall.  Oak Hall at the time of his management was owned by an infamous madame named Cherry de St. Maurice (who was murdered during a robbery while she was under trial for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and other alcohol related charges.

Francisco also claimed to own a semi-professional baseball team called the Sacramento Bees.   He was the financial administrator for the MFFC and was often quoted in the Monrovia Daily News about the amazing success of the photoplays and exorbitant amounts being paid on sets, actors and publicity.

Another key figure in the Monrovia Feature Film Company was Winfield Hogaboom.  He was the scenario writer—today known as the scriptwriter.  His name graced the cover of the Monrovia Daily News frequently in 1915-1916 as he appeared to take on the role of spokesperson for the MFFC.  

The newspaper built up the possibility of Monrovia becoming the world film capital with a headline on September 7, 1915 that touted  “Motion Picture Men Want Gold Hill Tract” and an accompanying article stating that following on the heels of the Monrovia Feature Film Company, two other bids for the Gold Hill Land had been made by film companies.   While the newspaper editor felt it was important to keep these companies’ identities a secret, they did hint that one of the bids was from one of the largest film producing companies in the world, which would imply Carl Laemmle’s Universal Studio-- which had just opened its new 230 acre studio on a farm just over the Cahuenga Pass from Hollywood.   Unlike other studios, he opened this new studio to tourists.

On September 9 – not even a week after the first mention of the new film company- a headline asked the burning question “Do You Want to Be an Actor?” and implored Monrovians to become board members of the fledgling company.  Definitely a more direct appeal for Monrovians to open their wallets and subscribe as owners of the company.

“The very air is charged with optimism.”  According to Rufus M. Francisco, the financial agent for the MFFC, the energy caused by the film studio has caused vacant buildings to be rented.  (This is only one week after the initial announcement of the film making venture appeared in the paper!)  He announced that Monrovians  will control and manage the MFFC and urged them to come register at the studio offices to become actors in their first film Argonauts of California - 1849.

On September 11, headlines promised “Progress in Plenty” and stated that hundreds have applied for actor positions.  The film company also warned Monrovians not to overcharge on rents when the onslaught of film workers descend upon the city.

Well...not quite the cliffhanger we were looking for, but history is what it is...However, what inquiring minds will want to know is if the onslaught of movie people will take over our charming little burg?  And which Monrovians are destined to become the next Charles Chaplin or Mabel Normand?  Stay tuned...

Oh, and speaking of the silent screen comedienne Mabel Normand, she died of tuberculosis while being treated at the Pottenger Sanatorium in Monrovia.  No connection to this tale, but another Monrovia link to the early days of Hollywood. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah!

When we were first informed that Monrovia’s very own ZIP Day is right around the corner on September 10, 2016.  Our reaction was “What is ZIP day?”  

9-10-16...Oh, then we got excited...really excited.  Really, no really...


ZIP Day is a once in a lifetime celebration of our zip code—9.10.16.   Since zip codes didn’t exist until 1963, there was no ZIP day in 1916—and with the rapid changes occurring in the way people communicate, there is no promise that zip codes will still exist in 2116. 

So let's start with the basics...how did zip codes come into use?   Many people have seen antique letters or postcards simply addressed to Joe Smith, Monrovia, Calif. 


This harkened to a simpler time when residents had to visit the post office to pick up their mail, which had likely been sorted alphabetically by name.  In 1911, Monrovia considered having free mail delivery—meaning a postal worker would deliver the mail to each residence.   This meant that mail would needed to be sorted by address, so street names and house numbers began to appear on envelopes.   Letters were still the main method of communication, so imagine the volume that needed to be sorted daily.

In 1944, with World War II increasing the number of letters sent while the work force to sort the mail was diminished, a postal inspector named Robert Moon thought up a new system which would speed up sorting.  He promoted a numerical system in which the first three digits identified the geographic area and the Sectional Center Facility (SCF) that would receive all the mail for a specific geographic area and then the last two digits would specify a particular city in that geographic region.   The post office named this system the Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP)  It took almost twenty years for the US Postal Service to roll out zip codes—zip codes were officially introduced on 7/1/1963 and at the same time the Post Office encouraged standardized two letter abbreviations for states.

The post office used many different ways to make people aware of zip code use.  They introduced a cartoon character named Mr. Zip who was featured in commercials, cartoons, on merchandise such as stickers and lunch boxes, and appeared on stamp cancellations. The Post Office believed that if they could get children to be interested in Mr. Zip, they, in turn, would encourage their parents to use zip codes.  In 1966, the week of October 10 was officially declared “Zip Code Week” with some communities holding parades to celebrate.   Celebrities such as Ethel Merman appeared on commercials singing “Zip–a–dee–do-dah”.    In reaction to Cold War paranoia, some citizens protested the use of zip codes as dehumanizing, but the popularity of Mr. Zip outweighed these worries.  By 1970 zip codes were used on 86% of the mail and by 1979 they were on 97% of all mail. 

In 1983, the US Post Office promoted a new Zip+4 program, though they have never made it mandatory. 

Zip Codes are made up of three components: geographic region, Sectional Center Facility (SCF), and the town, city or community.  Numbers were distributed from East to West.  Zip Codes beginning with zero are generally in New England and New Jersey.  The lowest zip code is 00501 for the IRS in Holtsville, NY.   The highest zip code is 99950 for Ketchikan, Alaska. 

So here's what those numbers in Monrovia’s zip code stand for:
  • 9- California (also HI, AK, OR, WA and Pacific territories)
  • (9)10—Santa Clarita is Monrovia’s SCF (Sectional Center Facility)
  • (910)16 – Monrovia
  • (910)17- Monrovia’s PO boxes

So, here's one last piece of Monrovia zip code trivia: did you know that our zip code is an ambigram?  That is, it’s the same number if you turn it upside down!  Not many zip codes can make that claim to fame.



So checkout this page to celebrate this once in a lifetime event.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

It's May Day somewhere

We'd like to start off by offering our apologies...we're running a little behind...like about four months...

Planners and demographers have a tradition of celebrating each May Day with...the Big Announcement! 

California's population estimates! 

Each year, state demographers who work for the state Department of Finance (DOF) make sense from a whole lot of data provided by various government agencies (including the City of Monrovia) as well as studying trends and other data and they arrive at the number of people in California as of the 1st of each calendar year. 

Amazing!

Those figures are then put into the ever popular E-1 report.  This is released on May 1st every year...May Day!

While each year's report brings new and exciting news, this year's report was a real barn burner!  But then we say that every year.

But we digress, as of January 1, 2016, the state Department of Finance estimates Monrovia's population at 37,531.  This is represents a 0.7% increase from last year's estimate.  

In comparison, state's population was up 0.9% to 39,255,883.

Los Angeles County had a 0.8% increase and as of the beginning of 2016 was home to 10,241,355 Angelenos.  

Finally, to those 277 new Monrovians (you know who you are), we say welcome to the Gem City of the Foothills.  We're sure you'll love it here...and you're just in time for Zip Code Day!

You know...since May Day is also celebrated as international labor day and our country's day of honoring workers is just around the corner...maybe we're early. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Monrovia Feature Film Company Comes to Town

Just installed sculpture - "Action!"
As we mentioned in our last post, we are so excited about our new piece of public art..."Action!" which commemorates Monrovia's longstanding connection to the motion picture industry. Over the past few months, we've been thinking and thinking about how to celebrate this cool new addition to the streetscape of Old Town...the  Monrovia way?

Well, tie it into our history of course!  So with that modicum of direction, Guest Blogger Penny (GBP for short), ran with it and dug deep into the archives of the Monrovia Daily News using her super-sleuthing skills to find out the real scoop.  We'll be running this feature as a serial over the next few weeks.

So without further adieu (and a catchy title), here is the first episode...

Once upon a time, in a little town east of Hollywood...Monrovia was caught up in a wave of excitement about the film making industry. It was just over 100 years ago, in the fall of 1915.  

If one were to believe the headlines of the Monrovia Daily News from a century ago, our city was poised to become the next big film capital and would rival the recently established Universal Studios which had opened in March 1915.  The first front page mention of the possibility of the establishment of the Monrovia Feature Film Company appears on September 2, 1915.  Four officers of the proposed company—McGroarty, Kabierske, Grafton and Francisco—scheduled a meeting inviting men of Monrovia to attend the Granite Club and hear their exciting plans to build a film studio on Gold Hill at the top of Myrtle Avenue.  

Practically every day in September more headlines about the film company would appear on the front of the local newspaper.  The very next day—September 3, 1915—a headline announced “Monrovia Film Company Is Assured—Sale Contract Signed Today” with the accompanying article mentioning the potential tourist profit available when a film company is established in a town.  The deal was for a 154 acre tract known as Diamond Flats.  J.H. Bartle and F.J. Cornes sold the land for $35,000.  

The article went on to suggest that a mere thousand dollar investment could transform Monrovia into a destination with a working film studio as well as an animal farm and other activities for visitors.  (Sounds like Universal Studios to us!)  Oh, and by the way $1,000 in 1915 is equal to $23,418.32 in 2016 dollars!  

This is the first subtle appeal for funding of this company—later appeals would be more to the point.   Just one day later, the city’s rumor mill was whipped into a frenzy as a headline suggested that a second film company--Eclat Films--was investigating establishing their film company at the south end of Myrtle.  

Watch out Hollywood!

Well, nothing seems to come of this and we could find no films produced by Eclat Films.  Apparently the folks at Eclat were unable to raise the $10,000 subscription they had hoped and packed their bags and were not to be heard from again.

With that little distraction out of the way, we'll get back to the story at hand.

The four officers of the Monrovia Feature Film Company have interesting pedigrees and the MFFC was a natural outcome of the prior crossover in their careers.  John S. McGroarty was a poet, editor of West  Coast Magazine (published by Grafton), author of the Mission Play in 1911, and went on to become a two term state senator and California’s poet laureate.  The home he designed and built in Tujunga is now the McGroarty Arts Center.  He authored a book titled California: Its History and Romance which was published by Grafton Publishing, and would go on to become the basis for the MFFC’s first feature film titled The Argonauts of California-1849.  His day–to-day relationship with the MFFC appears to be minimal as little is mentioned about him again in the newspapers. 


Henry Kabierske was born in Germany and had already been quite successful as a pageant master—basically he organized and directed large parades. After some success with European pageants, Kabierske emigrated to the US and found fame with the Philadelphia Historical Pageant.  In 1911 he directed a pageant in San Diego at the groundbreaking of the Panama-California Exposition which included floats of all 21 missions and over a thousand volunteers in costume representing Native Americans, soldiers, friars and saints, oh my.  He was hand-picked by McGroarty  to direct the Mission Play in San Gabriel—a historic play that told the story of the establishment of the missions in California.  It was specifically for this play that the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse was built. 

Kabierske would direct the MFFC’s two photoplays—as films were called in 1915—Argonauts of California-1849 and Daughter of the Don.   Of interesting note—his daughter Gertrude Kabierske (sometimes she was credited as Gertrude Kaby) was one of the leads in Argonauts.  But alas, an acting career was not in her future.


And in fact, his directing career would be concluding.  He would direct one more photoplay - The Vigilantes - in 1918 also staring his daughter Gertrude.  This second film was not produced by MFFC, but by a new film company he organized called Empire Films.  Soon After the completion of the film, Henry Kabierske died suddenly in 1918.

Was it murder? A broken heart over the end of his daughters acting career?What happened to the rest of the MMFC officers?  

Stay tuned to find out the answers to these questions and more...

Monday, August 15, 2016

Lights, camera...ACTION!

Living in Greater L.A., we admit that sometimes we can be a bit jaded about "The Industry". At least that's the image we portray, but deep down, the magic of Hollywood...well we still get a little star struck, (but that's our secret).
"The Argonauts of California-1849" was filmed in Gold Hills
and is the oldest surviving movie filmed in Monrovia.
Source: UCLA Film & Television Archive

If you've been in Monrovia for a length of time, you've probably seen a filming production or two around town.  Monrovia is a favorite of location scouts. 

It has that Anytown, USA look and feel.  Did you know that's one of the reasons there are no palm trees in Old Town?

In fact, Monrovia has a long history with the film industry stretching back 100 years to a time when filmmakingor photoplays, as they were known—was in its infancy.  

Then, as now, the film industry was full of glamour, unending promotion and drama, both on and off screen. In 1915, the Monrovia Feature Film Company brought a year of excitement to our town and made local headlines daily, often pushing news of the World War raging in Europe off of the front page.  

Despite local support for the film operations, the lifetime of the Monrovia Feature Film Company was brief—in reality, it operated for less than a year and produced two full length silent films—only one of which has survived.  Though Monrovia never overtook Hollywood as a film capital, it did continue to be a filming destination and welcomed a second studio, Victor Adamson Productions, in the late 1920's.  It too lasted only briefly before lawsuits and financial scandal caused its collapse. Though it produced a large number of short movies, only a few have survived.

So you're probably thinking, "There they go again!"  But stick with us.  There's method behind the madness, beside some cool Monrovia trivia.

You may have heard that the City recently commissioned an art installation to commemorate Monrovia's place in the film making world.

Concept for "Action!"
The piece, named "Action!" was created by sculptor (and actor) Daniel Stern.  The sculpture, or more appropriately sculptures, plural, will have a prominent location in the 400 Block of South Myrtle Avenue in Old Town Monrovia (directly adjacent to the Krikorian).  It's scheduled to be installed Wednesday afternoon (August 17) and the dedication ceremony will be one of the events happening on Monrovia Zip Day (9.10.16).  

To help celebrate our new artwork and Monrovia's long connection to the motion picture industry, we'll be running a serial over the next few weeks that chronicles the manipulations and machinations of origins of Monrovia's fledgling film industry.  Guest blogger Penny has done meticulous research stitching this largely unknown story together.  Our loyal readers know that we love movies and we love history, so this double feature is making us giddy.

While there might not be damsels in distress, there are plenty of heroes and villains, often interchangeable, that prove the old adage that some things never change.  We'll even throw in a cliffhanger or two. 


Stay tuned, Monrovia and get ready for your close up!