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. 


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!