716 N. La Brea Ave., via Google Street View, from 2014.
Simple and elegant, 716 N. La Brea Ave. today remains little changed on the exterior as to how it looked when finished in 1931. It stands as a beacon to the power and success of Bell & Howell, as well as an exuberant look forward to the future, giving an patina of prosperity to whomever occupied it.
Bell & Howell, founded in 1907, was one of the top manufacturers of cameras and projectors serving the motion picture industry. Starting out with projectors in 1907, the company later began manufacturing perforators, cameras, and printing equipment required in the production and processing of motion picture film. Bell & Howell’s testing of technical equipment led to safer, more efficient, and diverse products.
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The Bell & Howell Building, courtesy of American Cinematographer, 1931.
The company moved to Hollywood in 1917, setting up shop at 6522 Hollywood Blvd. By 1930 the company required more space and looked for property that would allow construction of a large facility to allow growth in the future. In the April 1931 American Cinematographer, Bell & Howell President J. H. McNabb announced that the company had acquired property on La Brea Avenue south of Melrose Avenue ranging from 710-724 N. La Brea Ave. that possessed frontage of 240 feet on the street to build a Class A two-story, reinforced concrete building with tower as their West Coast headquarters. They hired Hollywood architect, builder, and engineer Marshall P. Wilkinson, based in the Hollywood Security Building at 6381 Hollywood Blvd., to design it, breaking ground that spring.
Wilkinson designed a building with rectilinear lines, featuring a eye-catching tower in the dead center of the structure, thrusting confidently towards the skies. 716 N. La Brea Ave. would allow plenty of room for expansion as well as a walled-in parking space. Departments in the Bell & Howell Building such as engineering, laboratory, testing, optical, and service departments would serve both the professional and amateur Los Angeles community of moviemakers.
An architect’s sketch of the Bell & Howell Building, courtesy of American Cinematographer, 1931.
Projection and editing rooms in the facility would be open to all 16mm and 35mm enthusiasts and specialists. An 80-seat projection room could run both silent and sound film, while reception rooms and offices completed the building. A vertical blade sign embedded in the building spelled out Bell & Howell. The October 1931 Motion Picture Herald announced the opening of the building.
True to their word, Bell & Howell opened the facility to public use. Such groups as alumni associations, women’s groups, the District Federation, the War Aid Group, photography groups, and university film departments. They opened a library in the building with the address 714 N. La Brea, which helped serve amateur film groups, and acted as headquarters of Los Angeles Cine Club. The Southern California Motion Picture Council held monthly meetings in the auditorium, providing scientific results, tests, lectures, and demonstrations. Occasional photo exhibits were displayed.
Cinema Research, 716 N. La Brea, Business Screen magazine, 1958.
In May 1932, the Motion Picture Herald reported that Bell & Howell hosted University of Southern California students and their film, which consisted of two 240 foot 16mm reels called “Black Revenge,” a parody of old-time melodrama. Shot MOS, students provided live dialogue and sound effects at the screening.
By the late 1950s, Bell & Howell looked for new headquarters, moving to Glendale. The Cinema Research Corporation moved into the building in 1957. Gruntay-Lawrence Animation also headquartered at 716 N. La Brea Ave. in the1960s. The company created titles, optical effects, and other services for the entertainment industry. Cinema Research Corp. remained at 716 N. La Brea Ave. until the late 1960s, when Magnetic TVI Corporation moved in. In the mid-1970s, Federated replaced Magnetic in the building, staying for decades, before replaced by Aaron Brothers, who now occupies the building.
While the interior has been renovated and altered, the exterior remains almost exactly as it was constructed in 1931. Long may 716 N. La Brea Ave. remain a monument to glorious 1930s Los Angeles architecture.