The California Motion Picture Manufacturing Company, 1910-1913
Long Beach has the historical distinction of being the home of the first film plant in the United States originating west of Chicago, incorporated on October 15, 1910, called the California Motion Picture Manufacturing Company.
In October 1910, the Chamber of Commerce in Long Beach was informed of the interest of certain businessmen from Los Angeles—C. H. Lovell and M. C. Lovell—and Long Beach—H. R. Davis, M. F. Brooks, T. L. Howland—to establish a motion picture plant in the city. In their initial proposal, these entrepreneurs intended to spend $1,500 for a developing house and other edifices necessary for the film studio, with a total output between $15,000 and $20,000, a considerable investment at the time. Among this group of investors, Mr. Howland was particularly interested in the film plant’s lucrative potential, motivated by his business ties with the Bijou Theatre in Long Beach. Mr. Howland lamented the insufficient number of films released by both Edison’s trust and the independent filmmakers. Mr. Howland complained that there simply weren’t enough films available to exhibitors, not only in Long Beach but across the nation. In The Long Beach Press, Mr. Howland explained that the new film industry in Long Beach would stimulate the local economy and also satisfy the ever-growing national demand for more movies:
“All the films will be branded, ‘Made in Long Beach.’ There are now only from twenty-three to twenty-seven independent new pictures released weekly and they are distributed among 5,000 show houses. The trust releases about as many pictures. Long Beach uses about twenty-seven films a week, which makes it necessary to show some old films at times. The demand is much greater than the supply” (Oct. 20, 1910, 1: 4).
The new company was incorporated on October 15, 1910, and the five directors M. F. Brooks, T. L. Howland, H. R. Davis, C. H. Lovell and M. C. Lovell, rushed and pushed the establishment of this enterprise together faster than any other company in Long Beach. Everyone involved seemed convinced of the boon these motion picture headquarters would offer the expanding economy of Long Beach. Among the seven elaborate purposes outlined in the Articles of Incorporation of the California Motion Picture Manufacturing Company, the second purpose states:
“The purpose for which said Corporation is formed and framed are as follows: To engage in and carry on the business of manufacturing moving or motion pictures. To engage in the art and manufacture and sale of photographic motion picture films for the purposes of advertising, instruction, amusement, and such other profitable uses and purposes, as the Board of directors may direct” (1).
Then in the eighth paragraph of the second purpose, the directors’ bold ambitions seem to have no limits, matching in power and scope nothing short of a precursor of the amusement parks launched by Walt Disney, a sort of Epcot Center in Long Beach:
“To conduct amusement enterprises in all the branches pertaining thereto and thereof; consisting of summer gardens, parks, hotels, dance halls, bathing beaches, roof gardens, theaters, nickelodeons, and to run steamboats and other boats for excursion and other purposes; to operate any plays, operas, songs, musical or dramatical performances and other things relating thereto which may be used for amusements of persons in public and private places, and to conduct amusement enterprises of all kinds; to buy, purchase, lease, option, or otherwise acquire, own, exchange, sell or otherwise dispose of, mortgage and deal in real estate, lands, or buildings for the erection and establishment of theaters, halls, offices, stores and ware-houses, with suitable plants, engines and machinery for the furtherance of the businesses named herein; to construct, carry out, maintain, improve, manage, work, control or superintend any private mills, factories, ware-houses and other works and conveniences, which may seem directly or indirectly conducive to the objects of the Company, and to contribute to, subsidize or otherwise aid, or take part in such operations” (3)(Balboa Films 15-16).
California Motion Picture Manufacturing Company
|M. F. Brooks||Director|
|H. R. Davis||Director|
|V. L. Duhem||General Manager|
|T. L. Howland||President|
|C. H. Lovell||Director|
|M. C. Lovell||Director|
In Defiance of the Edison Trust:
In April 1911, the U.S. Marshals seized all the cameras and equipment at the California Motion Picture Manufacturing Company’s offices in Los Angeles, in accordance with “trust’s” Patent Company’s rights in the illegal use of such equipment by independent producers. This interruption did not prevent the company from going on with its ambitious plans, filming that very month its first comedy in Long Beach. In fact, the California Motion Picture Manufacturing Company had begun its ambitious building project, to be called the Arrowhead Theatre, located at 337, The Pike, the foundation of a modern, up-to-date motion picture theatre, to provide the first of a series of public viewing halls connected with the film producers at the Long Beach studio. Directly north of the Unique Theatre (336, The Pike), earlier called the Byde A Whyle Theatre, and west of the Bernice Apartments, excavation and construction of the Arrowhead Theatre began, April 13, 1911, with contractor Craig in charge. With a staff of eight persons permanently employed and several part-time workers, the California Motion Picture Manufacturing Company was planning on the continued growth of all the town’s businesses, with particular attention, of course, directed toward the exciting potential of the new film industry. The company would show all its own movies and import others. The new California Motion Picture Company’s theatre opened its doors on May 13, 1911—without a roof, showing its first comedy, On Matrimonial Seas. The company wanted to meet its own deadline, though there had been construction delays. Therefore, the first shows were at night, when no roof would be needed to keep out daylight (Balboa Films 20).
By January 1911, the company was making promotional films to attract Eastern filmmakers and a photoplay, On Matrimonial Seas, the only productions for which documentation has been found for this historic studio at Long Beach. The full story and filmography of the California Motion Manufacturing Company are not known. However, the local press did note another motion picture company in Long Beach about the same time: The International Moving Picture Company, founded on May 23, 1911. That company was a joint U.S. and Japanese venture with films made in both countries. Organized with a capital of $15,000, this international company was headed by Ichiro Asai, a Japanese citizen who lived in Long Beach and who worked for John Bowers. Later, Bowers was shot to death in a lover’s triangle. After Bowers’ death, the newspapers never made any other mention of Asai’s company.
By 1913, the Edison Company planned to rent the California Motion Picture Manufacturing Company. According to the Daily Telegram, the Edison Company had a weekly output of $3,000.00 to $4,000.00. There were 40 to 60 actors and mechanics employed at the Edison Studios in Long Beach, headed by J. Searle Dawley, one of the most reputed managers in the movie industry. The regular members of the company included: Laura Sawyer, Jessie McAllister, Betty Harte, Sidney Ayres, Anna Dodge, Ben F. Wilson, Charles Sutton, Richard Allen, Gordon Sackville, Cy Palmer, Dick La Reno, Duane Wager, and James Gordon. The article in the Daily Telegram claimed that Edison’s company had much expanded the former California Motion Picture Manufacturing Company, transforming the studio into one of the most complete, one of the rare ones that included an indoor studio (Mar. 22, 1913, 2: 1).
Filmography of California Motion Picture Manufacturing Company, 1910-1913:
Film Title (no. of reels)
|May 03, 1913|
|Dances of the Ages (2)||Edison Company||May 26, 1913|
|Dancer, The (1)||Edison Company||1913|
|Jewels of the Madonna, The||Edison Company||1913|
|Old Monk’s Tale, The||Edison Company||Feb. 15, 1913|
|On Matrimonial Seas||CMPM Co.||May 13, 1911|
|Untitled I||CMPM Co.||Jan. – May 1911|
|Untitled II||CMPM Co.||Jan. – May 1911|
|Winter Sports in Southern California||CMPM Co.||Mar. 15, 1911|
In preparing their history of the Long Beach studios, the co-authors, Jean-Jacques Jura and Rodney Norman Bardin II, gleaned the Balboa scrapbook at the Historical Society of Long Beach and entries in The American Film Institute Catalog as well as from Henry King Director, including important research by Claudine Burnett, Head of Literature and History, at the Long Beach Public Library.
Most contributions provided by Claudine Burnett were obtained from two Long Beach daily newspapers, the Daily Telegram and the Long Beach Press. These papers were thoroughly searched from 1910 to 1923, with all information regarding film studios in Long Beach noted and indexed in the Long Beach Collection Newspaper Index. Mrs. Burnett also researched thoroughly Variety from June 11, 1910 to February 28, 1919.
The Historical Society of Long Beach provided their publicity scrapbook of the Balboa Studios for 1913 and 1914, identified as Press Clippings, vol. 1, the second volume of which is presently unavailable. The co-authors also researched The American Film Institute Catalog, cross-referencing as much as possible to obtain the maximum listing of films produced at Balboa Studios.