Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Charlie Chaplin Comes to Hollywood

Oct. 16, 1917, Chaplin Studios
Oct. 16, 1917: An architect’s rendering of Chaplin’s studios in The Times

Ninety-five years ago, comedian Charlie Chaplin constructed the first beautiful studio lot in Hollywood, the first to offer style to filmmaking. What had been merely an industry housed in utilitarian structures soon blossomed into one that featured elegance in its buildings.

 Filmmaking was exploding around Los Angeles in the 1910s as filmmakers moved west for the sunlight, varied landscape and freedom from patents. Early studios were merely converted buildings; Nestor Film Co. converted the former Blondeau Tavern into a working studio in 1911 and in late December 1913, Lasky Feature Play Co. rented a little barn at Selma Avenue and Vine Street as their filmmaking site.

Soon, film companies began building their own plants, mostly plain, functional buildings. Actor/comedian Charlie Chaplin decided to join the building boom in 1917 and constructed his own studio in Hollywood. His would evoke class and beauty.

The Oct. 16, 1917, Los Angeles Times reported that Chaplin would construct his own studio where “the plant will be at once a workshop and a home for the movie idol….” Chaplin and his brother Syd acquired the R. S. McClellan estate at Sunset Boulevard and La Brea Avenue as the site for their facility. The estate, constructed in 1914, consisted of five acres of lemon and orange trees and the “sightly ten-room colonial house set in the midst of lawn and gardens.” This house would become their home, while the lower acreage would house the studio.

Architects Meyer and Holler’s plans, featured in the paper, presented a picturesque little English Tudor village of buildings lining La Brea Avenue, to be constructed by Milwaukee Building Co. for approximately $100,000. Meyer and Holler were recognized as one of the top architectural teams in Los Angeles, designing Ince and Goldwyn Studios, and later designing Grauman’s Egyptian Theatre, the Montmartre Cafe and the Hollywood Athletic Club.

Per the newspaper, obstructionists originally mistakenly believed the studio would be erected adjacent to and behind Hollywood High School, disrupting students from learning. Businessmen spoke out to the City Council supporting construction. Banker Marco H. Hellman and other businessmen spoke out forcefully in favor of the project, noting the importance of the film industry in providing jobs to Los Angeles. He also stated, “Mr. Chaplin has done more in the way of advertising Los Angeles than probably any other man.” The council voted 8 to 1 in favor of construction proceeding.

The Jan. 20, 1918, Times noted that the new lot opened for business on Tuesday, Jan. 15. Writer Grace Kingsley described the special tour a happy and jolly Chaplin himself gave her of the new facility. Chaplin told her, “See, here’s a lemon orchard back of the stage. Think lemons must be my lucky fruit – can’t escape ‘em – had a lemon orchard back of us at Essanay and one at the Lone Star – hope they keep the lemons in the orchards, though.” Chaplin stated that “the fellow that couldn’t be happy here would be the fellow that would write a want ad in heaven.”

Kingsley found the comedian charming, especially in his description of his uniform of baggy old clothes as his “salary.” She understood the exacting nature of his work. “Charlie’s comedy seems entirely spontaneous – that’s its wonderful charm. But beneath it all he has the mathematics of merriment, the logarithms of laughter, at his finger’s ends.”

Chaplin spent many happy years making films at 1416 N. La Brea Ave., before being denied reentry to the United States in 1952.  The studio stayed busy, however, appearing in the film Hollywood Story in 1951, and acting as the home for many filmmakers. Stanley Kramer employed the location in 1954, American International in 1960, Red Skelton in 1962, and A & M Records in the 1970s and 1980s. Today, Henson Productions occupies the site, and a giant Kermit the Frog adorns the roof, clad in oversized clothes and bowler hat, an homage to the Little Tramp.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1917, Architecture, Film, Hollywood, Hollywood Heights, Mary Mallory and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Mary Mallory / Hollywood Heights: Charlie Chaplin Comes to Hollywood

  1. Cal and Lulu says:

    Great Story! We heard that the Chaplin Studio was in that location first but never knew why or how. The article mentioned that the architects also designed the Chinese Theater, which has always been iconic, but the Ince Studios in Culver City, we believe was the most interesting. Later MGM, Selznick Studios used the “Southern Plantation Building”as its logo. ( It can be seen at the beginning of the Wizard of Oz and we want to remember, Gone With the Wind.) The Studio is now occupied by Sony. Great lore exists between Charlie Chaplin, Ince, Marion Davies, W.R. Hearst, to name a few. A great deal of the story resides in Patty Hearst’s Book “Murder at San Simeon” which implicates, or tries to implicate Chaplin with the early demise of Thomas Ince.


  2. Mary Mallory says:

    The Ince Studio is now Culver Studios. It was DeMille Studios, RKO, Selznick International, and Desilu over the years, but never MGM. The building acted as the logo for Selznick International, and it appeared in front of all SIP films, like GWTW, Rebecca, A Star is Born, Nothing Sacred, etc. It didn’t appear in front of Wizard of Oz because that was an MGM title. Chaplin and Davies were friends, and all the rest that people spout about Ince’s death is hooey. Ince had stomach issues which became a heart attack, he wasn’t shot on the yacht. For the true story, read Brian Taves’ new biography of Ince, which dissects how the false myth was created and reveals the true story of what happened.


  3. Stan 16mm says:

    The studio was also the home for “The Adventures Of Superman” for at least one season. Jack Larson, an ardent Chaplin fan told me he once recalled staring at a garbage can on wheels at the studio and was given it. Only Larson knew that it was in fact, the same prop used by Chaplin during the street sweeper sequence from “City Lights”. He gave it away to a friend a few years ago, much to my envy.


    • lmharnisch says:

      Based on what people have told me, you might want to take Jack Larson’s tales with a grain of salt. One story I heard Larson tell on TV was totally shot down by an author researching a book on George Reeves.


  4. Charles Seims says:

    So what became of the 10 room McClellan residence that Chaplin occupied?


  5. Bartstar says:

    For once a little bit of early film history has been saved.

    Bravo to the Jim Henson Company for dressing Kermit as the Tramp.
    You can see this on Google Street View.

    Many years ago when I was a film student I remember reading about Thomas Ince’s studio “Inceville”, although I believe that actually referred to his original studio on the Pacific Coast Hwy. before he later moved to the Triangle studio.


  6. It was also the studio where the final episode of Perry Mason was shot with many behind the scenes personnel being given cameos 🙂
    Here’s a nice clip of the building of the studio.


  7. markhn says:

    Here’s a nice clip of the construction of the studio.

    It was also were the last episode of “Perry Mason” was filmed with many behind the scenes personnel making cameos.


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