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.