Light! Camera! Action! Records of the Movie Industry in the National Register of Historic Places

Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

Vice President Biden
Remarks at Last Night’s Oscars (National Archives Identifier 236685729)

The month of March is traditionally the month in which the Academy Awards are presented in Hollywood.  A search of the records of the National Register of Historic Places in the National Archives Catalog returns more than 650 results for the term “Hollywood,” including the Hollywood Cemetery (National Archives Identifier 123859202), which serves as the final resting place of many Hollywood “royalty.  The cemetery is “located in the central area of Hollywood, California at 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, [and] was the first cemetery to be built in Hollywood (1899) and is one of the earliest examples of the lawn-park style cemetery in California. The cemetery directly borders Paramount Pictures to the south and has a beautiful view of the Cahuenga Valley and the Hollywood Hills to the north. Downtown Los Angeles (to the east) and the Pacific Ocean (to the west) can be seen from the top of the bell tower near the main gate.”  The land on which the cemetery sits was originally owned by “Mary Gower, one of the original founders of Hollywood, having arrived in the area in the 1870’s. She was also Hollywood’s first school teacher.”

“In 1920, 40 acres of unused south-facing cemetery land was sold to Paramount Pictures and RKO Radio Pictures in order to accommodate space requirements for the burgeoning movie industry. Paramount Pictures still occupies the acreage, but the RKO portion is now occupied by a television station studio and broadcasting facility.”  Also in 1920, the “William Clark Jr. Memorial, designed by renowned architect Robert Farquhar, was constructed in the center of the Section 8 lake. Classical Revival style, cost $500,000 in 1920 dollars. Mr. Clark, an extremely wealthy copper and railroad magnate and philanthropist, founded the Los Angeles Philharmonic Symphony and was its sole funding source for many years . . . In 1939, the Douglas Fairbanks Sr. Memorial [was] constructed in classic Roman design overlooking a long reflecting pool. Mr. Fairbanks, a legend of the silent screen, along with his equally legendary first wife, Mary Pickford, and friends Charlie Chaplin and pioneering director/producer D.W. Griffith founded United Artists.”

The cemetery is the final resting place for many of the titans of the movie industry including Rudolph Valentino, Nelson Eddy, Cecil B. DeMille, John Huston, and Mel Blanc, just to name a few.  There are also many other prominent individuals buried there including, General Harrison G. Otis, founder of the Los Angeles Times; the “founder” of Hollywood, H.H. Wilcox, and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel.

WAC operating a film projector
PROJECTIONIST . . . WAC T/Sgt. Dixie M. Eckels of Los Angeles, California, knows and like the job of projectionist. She knows that movies from home are enjoyed by the members of WAC Detachment who are stationed somewhere in Australia. (U.S. Air Force Number 68713AC (National Archives Identifier 204948994)

Also located in Hollywood is the Hollywood Studio Club (National Archives Identifier 123859210), which is intrinsically linked to the “Hollywood studio ‘star system’ . . . The Hollywood Studio Club was an important functional part of the studio “star system”, serving as a home for many young women whose star qualities were yet to be recognized . . .  [In May 1926] there were 2,500 persons attending the dedication of the Studio Club. At a cost of $229,604.00, financed by luminaries of the motion picture field, including Mary Pickford, Mrs. Cecil B. DeMille, Marion Davies, Mrs. Arthur Heineman, Will Hayes, the Doheny family, and many, many contributions from Hollywood citizens at large, plus contributions from the Young Women’s Christian Association through the sale of previously owned property.”

Over the time of its operation, the Hollywood Studio Club “served as a haven for nearly 10,000 girls. Young women arrived with stars in their eyes from the cities and towns all across the nation. The goal of all – to seek their fame and fortune via the silver screen. Many achieved that goal. The register of those early residents is not available, nor was kept, except, perhaps, in the memory of those who lived there, but those who signed the ledger were and are, to many of us, household words. Marilyn Monroe, Marie Windsor, Dorothy Malone, Barbara Rush, Gale Storm, Kim Novak, Donna Reed, Rita Moreno, Janet Blair, Evelyn Keyes, Louise Albritton, Virginia Sale, Peggy Dow, Eva Aulin, Joyce Mackenzie, Shirley O’Hara, Linda Darnell, Shirley Knight, Nancy Kwan, Barbara Hale, Marion Davies, and Ayn Rand, authoress.”

While taking in the sights of Hollywood, head over to the Ronda (National Archives Identifier 123859467), “one of the most complex Spanish Colonial Revival apartments in Southern California. It is designed around two separate and distinct courtyard environments, thereby allowing for a variety of open space within one context. The complexity of open space within this walled setting allows for the juxtaposition of city-country living, a combination of working-leisure atmosphere that was the essence of Southern California during the 1920s . . . The complex is very private, creating a separateness from the street and the city . . . Its configuration ensures privacy, a commodity valued by the members of the entertainment industry who lived in this fashionable West Hollywood area. Among the residents of the building were Clark Gable, Randolph Scott, director Frank Lloyd, and the Marx Brothers. The building is a fine representation of Southern California’s most prevalent architectural style during the 1920s. The courtyard design gave residents privacy in an urban setting, an important component of the Hollywood lifestyle.”

Missouri Drive-In Theater
Drive-in Theater, Natural Bridge Road Opposite Airport, St. Louis County, Missouri (National Archives Identifier 169136818)

A search for “Movies” in the NRHP records also returns more that 650 results, many of them theaters around the country, including the “Spud Drive-in” located in Idaho. “Located on the eastern edge of the State of Idaho, Teton County is, and always has been, fairly sparsely populated. The county has maintained a population of generally less than 3,000, while the population of Driggs, the county seat and largest town, has consistently hovered around 900. The primary economic base is agricultural, so the county population is widely dispersed.  Prior to the opening of The Spud, the recreation options were limited in Teton County. Newspapers from the early 1950s show a fairly clear lack of entertainment options. Traditional indoor theaters in Driggs, Tetonia, and Victor were virtually the only regular recreation options. School plays, summer baseball leagues, and local band concerts provided occasional diversions, but little else was available for a weekend date or family outing. The Spud Drive-In Theater was opened by A. C. “Ace” Wood in the early 1950s, and it provided an exciting new entertainment option. Wood was owner and operator of the indoor movie house in Driggs (the Orpheum), and he had contemplated building a drive-in venue since sending for plans for a screen tower in 1950. The design/plans for the screen tower came from the Fence Company of Michigan, based in Escanaba, while the concession/projection booth plans were obtained from the Ballentyne Company, out of Omaha, Nebraska.”

Hollywood star statues (Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Betty Boop)
Historic Route 66 – Famous Figures at The Polk-A-Dot Drive In (National Archives Identifier 7719459)

In Carrizozo, New Mexico, Paden’s Drug Store (National Archives Identifier 77847337), was owned and operated by “the town’s first prominent physician, Dr. Melvin G. Paden, [who] established a medical practice in 1907 soon after the formal platting of Carrizozo. His practice quickly expanded, resulting in the construction of a pharmacy and later a private hospital. His multiple roles as doctor, pharmacist, and surgeon, reflected the expanding health care needs of Carrizozo. The combination doctor’s office, drugstore, and hospital, served as the primary medical care facility for the community until his retirement in the 1930s.”

The “Paden Drugstore Complex derives additional significance from its role as a social center. The soda fountain at the former Paden Drugstore was, and continues to be, an important social gathering place for Carrizozo . . .  Prohibition added to the appeal of the drugstore and soda fountain as a gathering place . . . By 1914 the Carrizozo Outlook bragged about Dr. Paden’s new soda fountain, which “furnished the citizens of Carrizozo with drinks which cool, but do not inebriate. Hollywood intensified the appeal with its glorification of the drugstore and soda fountain. Many movies of the day portrayed small-town life and used the soda fountain as a device to stage community interaction. Romance scenes between Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, the popular “Andy Hardy” series of movies, and scenes from the classic motion picture Our Town centered around a drug store and soda fountain. Schwab’s Drugstore in Hollywood, the fabled hangout of stars and movie hopefuls including Marilyn Monroe and James Dean, gained iconic status. Small towns such as Carrizozo, in turn replicated the Hollywood fantasy at their soda fountains.”

Hollywood Fairbanks Studio
California – Hollywood (National Archives Identifier 23934377)

In Los Angeles, the California SP Rialto Theatre (National Archives Identifier 123859453), was one “of a dwindling handful [of theaters] . . . It was designed in 1924 and built in 1925 by William G. Reed for West Coast Theatres. It is significant, that they chose to build in South Pasadena and only leased theatres in Pasadena. When it opened in 1925, its policy was to run a feature length film and present vaudeville on Thursdays and Saturdays in addition to the Motion Picture. The Rialto was a try out stage for new vaudeville talent produced by Fanchon and Marco. Many performers entered the vaudeville circuit here, moving on to Fanchon and Marco’s top house, the Paramount in Los Angeles. General admission was $.30, loges were $.40; children under 12 got in for a dime . . . For about ten years, beginning in the middle 30’s, the Rialto had an interesting distinction: each year when the academy awards were announced for the best picture of the year, it was already playing at the time at the Rialto.”  The Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, site of the first Academy Awards presentation, a dinner hosted by Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., was inducted into Historic Hotels of America, a program component of the National Trust.

Bryn Mawn College Students farming
Colleges and Universities – Bryn Mawr College – Bryn Mawr College girls study farming; preparing to spread knowledge as community leaders (National Archives Identifier 26425365)

If you are looking to celebrate a particular actress, who has won more Oscars than any other, you should head west from Philadelphia out the Main Line to the Pennsylvania SP Bryn Mawr College Historic District (National Archives Identifier 71994819), where the great Katherine Hepburn attended college.  “Bryn Mawr College was founded by a successful Quaker businessman. Dr. Joseph Taylor (1810-1880), who saw the need for an institution to duplicate the education received at other Quaker colleges in the area, Swarthmore and Haverford, but solely for “our young female Friends.” The site in Bryn Mawr, meaning “high hill” in Welsh, was chosen by an early trustee of the college, Francis King, due to its proximity both to the Bryn Mawr station of the Pennsylvania Railroad and to Haverford College, of which Dr. Taylor was a trustee. By 1880, at the time of his death, Dr. Taylor had purchased 13 lots, 11 of which belonged to the Pennsylvania Railroad. This original campus, 32 acres between Merion, Roberts, Gulph and Yarrow Roads, was a small piece of what was called in 1850 the Thomas Humphries tract – part of the 2500 acres originally deeded in 1682 by William Penn to Edward Pritchard & Company of Herefordshire. The college was granted a charter by Pennsylvania in May 1880, but did not open until September 1885.”

“Shortly after Dr. Rhoads’ retirement from the college’s presidency M. Carey Thomas was selected for the office and served from 1893 to 1922. Throughout her tenure, she remained a dynamic force in women’s higher education and political rights, and was the first president of the National College Suffrage League, founded in 1908. The students and faculty have been no less notable. Woodrow Wilson was a member of the original faculty as an associate in history and political science until 1888, and the first Dean of the Graduate School in 1929, Eunice Schenck, received the Cross of the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor from the French government for her work in bringing an understanding of France to the United States. Among the students have been Emily Balch ’89, who received a Nobel Prize in 1946; the noted actress Katherine Hepburn; Elizabeth Gray Vining, who served as tutor to the Japanese Crown Prince; and Alice Gould ’89, who was decorated by the Spanish government for her research on the voyages of Columbus.”

Poster Graphic
A graphic to promote the blog post, “The Best Pictures of Resilience,” which highlights the qualities of resilience spotted in lead characters of several movies nominated for best picture of 2015. Silhouette of a character played by Leonardo DiCaprio (National Archives Identifier 75579391)

In Newport Beach, California, the Balboa Inn (National Archives Identifier 123860163), “is significant for its role in the development of the Balboa / Newport Beach area as a major resort, emphasizing the property’s commerce and entertainment associations as a hotel, restaurant, and shop building in which may people, including prominent figures in the movie and music industries, were regular patrons . . . The Balboa Amusement Company in 1928 built the Rendezvous Ballroom, the Ritz Theatre, and expanded the Ocean Front Bath House, all within a block of the Balboa Inn site . . . The Rendezvous Ballroom, located next door until it burned down in 1965, attracted bands, singers, and prominent patrons who came by Red Car or by automobile from throughout the region for the next two decades. They stayed, they ate, and, since there was no drinking at the Rendezvous, they drank at the Balboa Inn. Interviews with the original owners, and former employees of the Inn, along with newspaper articles, confirm the regular patronage of the Inn’s hotel, restaurant, and bar of a veritable Who’s Who in the music and movie industries of the day. These include Glen Miller, Stan Kenton, Gene Krupa, and the Dorsey brothers as well as Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, and Gosden and Charles Correll (Amos ‘n’ Andy), and many others. As the only hotel in town, stars, cast, and crew often took over the Inn during the frequent filming of movies on the Bay.”

President Carter with Movie Industry representatives contact sheet
President [Carter] with Movie Industry Reps (National Archives Identifier 176327)

There are multiple properties in the NRHP records that are specific to the “Movie Industry,” primarily movie theaters across the country – although two properties come up in the linked search above, that are tangentially related to the movie industry.  First, the “Spectacular” Shell sign (National Archives Identifier 63795506), located in Boston, Massachusetts, which featured “incandescent lighting effects [that] were especially popular in the theater and movie industry. Alternating blinking lights on theater marquees simulated movement and attracted audiences while specialized lighting made the interiors of theaters and movie houses seem more exotic. As automobile traffic increased, more incandescent signs were constructed at a scale to be seen by the motorist as well as the pedestrian.”  In addition, the US Naval Ordnance Testing Facility Control Tower (National Archives Identifier 47718327), located on Topsail Island in North Carolina, which was “essential for our understanding of the progress and development of this country’s missile program during the twentieth century, from its inception to the present time. The site clearly served as the “launching pad” for subsequent more significant work in the fields of jet propulsion and advanced missile technology.”  The property file also notes “an interesting analogy can be made between this circumstance and the identification of an early Quonset hut on some back lot in Hollywood, in which the first halting steps toward movie production were carried out. The significance of this early Hollywood resource would not necessarily be associated with the specific movies or film cuts produced in the building, but rather with the building’s invaluable role as a site for the experimentation and testing of practical applications of new equipment and techniques that eventually allowed for the development of the modern movie industry.”

Soldiers on a ship
Getting Ready for the Movies (National Archives Identifier 178690641)

So go grab some popcorn and settle in for your favorite film and enjoy your own best picture and the records of the National Register of Historic Places.

This post is part of an ongoing series featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.