Movieland Mystery Photo – Architecture Edition

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The more intriguing mystery of “The Public Enemy” is the department store used in the early part of the film.

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Recall that our young ruffians run through an unidentified department store, committing all sorts of mischief and aggravated mopery. One of the most prominent elements of the sequence is a set of three-story escalators that provide our incorrigible lads with a means of escaping the law.

First there’s a chase sequence:

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And then we get to the escalators:

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Women in c. 1900 dresses ride a set of escalators.

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Our mystery building also has elevators.

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At the top of the escalators, we find elevators.

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A police officer gets off the elevator.

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Our young miscreants make their escape!

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A three-story escalator. Hm.

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A reverse angle shows more of the store.

It seems logical to infer that Warners used a department store that would fit with the 1909 period in filming this sequence in 1931.

The list of such department stores includes:

Nov. 11, 1923, Hamburger's escalators

  • Hamburger’s/May Co. (8th and Broadway) 1906. Operated by the May Co., 1923
  • The Fifth Street Store (5th and Broadway) 1921.

 June 22, 1924, Escalators

June 22, 1924: Apparently the possibilities are limited to Hamburger’s/May Co. and the Broadway.

July 2, 1929, Escalators

July 2, 1929: There are 30 escalators in Los Angeles.

Is any member of the Brain Trust an expert on department store interiors?

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Architecture, Downtown, Fashion, Film, Hollywood and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Movieland Mystery Photo – Architecture Edition

  1. Mary Mallory says:

    Let me check the photo files today, and I’ll also check for escalators on proquest. I tried searching the USC and LAPL databases for escalators last week, but didn’t find anything.

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    • lmharnisch says:

      @Mary: I didn’t have any luck finding interiors there either. There is a collector who has lots of postcards of Hamburger’s interiors and the escalator looks nothing like what’s in the movie. I don’t want to use the image without permission, however. Here’s a collection of postcards showing the interior of Hamburger’s.

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  2. CatM says:

    Anyone else notice the WB on the light above the officer’s head? Can we rule out those shots as being filmed on a soundstage?

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    • lmharnisch says:

      @Cat: I’m not sure that’s a WB. The expense of building this as a set would have been beyond the budget of “Public Enemy.” And it’s lit like a location rather than a sound stage. As Gary pointed out, building a working escalator is very expensive.

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      • CatM says:

        No no no, just that angle, since the light above his head and the lack of floor indicator doesn’t match other shots of the elevator doors.

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    • Lee Rivas says:

      I enlarged the globe and couldn’t make out the second letter. I know it’s not WB, but it could be WM, WH, WN or WW. Maybe the LA department store used in the film had another fictitious name? Without seeing the film, I know that it was not set in LA.

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    • CraigDeco says:

      It’s the word ‘DOWN’ on the globe. It most likely illuminated when the elevator was going down. What a great movie! Saw it on TV with my brother in the early 1960’s. We thought is was the greatest and played-acted the roles afterward. We were the mini-gangsters-
      loved Jimmy Cagney!

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  3. LC says:

    Well, I am not an expert on escalators, but I am pretty sure that it’s The May Co. I do recall somewhere in the back of my mind that part of the movie was shot there.

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  4. CatM says:

    Walkers Department Store? There’s only one interior shot in the library collection, but the light fixtures are very similar. They’re as close as I can find, so far.

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  5. Mary Mallory says:

    I looked through our photo/clipping files and nothing. The only photo of the boys is an exterior shot, and no interiors of the department store.

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  6. Mary Mallory says:

    Can anyone blow up the sign showing the elevator going up and down to see if it includes a name?

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  7. CatM says:

    The Walkers building is still up. Anyone want to visit?

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  8. CraigDeco says:

    My vote is The May Company, Downtown L.A. The attached link is to a photo showing the escalators, columns, elevator wall and mezzanine that appears the same shown in the scenes from the film:

    http://unitproj.library.ucla.edu/dlib/lat/display.cfm?ms=uclalat_1387_b50_26970-2&searchType=subject&subjectID=213701

    The UCLA Library Digital Collections has wonderful vintage photos of Los Angeles. Also-

    http://departmentstoremuseum.blogspot.com/

    -has wonderful information about the nation’s great regional department stores of the past
    for those who are interested.

    Thanks for this wonderful blog- I look forward to it every day. A special ‘shout out’ to Mary Mallory as I so enjoy her contributions to this blog!

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  9. Mary Mallory says:

    Craig,
    Thank you so much for your kind comments, very much appreciated.

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  10. Lee Rivas says:

    I did a USC library search and found an interior May Dept. Store shot (the lights and pillars are a dead giveaway) showing an entrance (draped in the movie) with a large exit sign reading “Broadway,” and a view of the Rialto theater across the street. The Rialto was at 812 S, Broadway across from…you guessed it.

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  11. William Desmond Taylor says:

    Great detective work everybody!

    Love this stuff.

    Like

  12. Pingback: On Location: The May Co. |

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