6HWbNHN-show-poster2x3-c7tgE2Y.png

Artbound

Start watching
MJ250sC-show-poster2x3-Bflky7i.png

Tending Nature

Start watching
Southland Sessions

Southland Sessions

Start watching
HvlSxHY-show-poster2x3-4ik43uV.png

Earth Focus

Start watching
5LQmQJY-show-poster2x3-MRWBpAK.jpg

Reporter Roundup

Start watching
City Rising

City Rising

Start watching
Lost LA

Lost LA

Start watching
Member
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

This 1897 Film Was the First Movie Made in Los Angeles

Support Provided By

Were it not for the title ­­– “South Spring Street, Los Angeles, Cal.” – would you recognize L.A. in its first starring role? After all, not a single palm tree appears in the 25-second film Frederick Blechynden shot for the Edison Manufacturing Company. Nor does a sandy beach, a sun-drenched orange grove, a Spanish mission in ruins, or any other visual trope that might identify the place as Los Angeles. It was only a matter of time – merely a few days, in fact – before a filmmaker captured an iconic Southern California scene: the Santa Monica coast. But on Dec. 31, 1897, Blechynden was content to train his lens on the passing street traffic and record a scene that might as well have been Chicago, New York, or any other North American city. Blechynden’s “animated photograph,” as the film was advertised, was meant to showcase the emerging technology of the motion picture. Motion is what mattered, not symbolic imagery.

Not a single palm tree appears in the first film footage of Los Angeles.

And yet the film does have something to say about the Los Angeles of 1897. The bustling street scene reveals a city that, despite its deep-seated anxieties about East Coast urbanism, was beginning to embrace the East Coast idea of having a downtown. Spring Street had not yet reached its heyday (that would come in the 1910s-20s when it was the “Wall Street of the West”) but had clearly emerged as a major commercial corridor. How Angelenos use the street itself is interesting, too. The concept of jaywalking had not yet been invented, and in the film pedestrians confidently share the roadway with horse-drawn carriages, electric trolleys, and bicycles. Finally, the film depicts a Los Angeles that appears to value its public realm, a “first Los Angeles,” to use architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne’s formulation. People crowd the sidewalks, and those in the passing vehicles seem engaged with rather than sequestered from the surrounding city. You can almost imagine a serendipitous meeting happening just off-camera. Even today, two decades into downtown L.A.’s revitalization, Spring Street rarely looks so animated.

Video courtesy of the Library of Congress Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division​.

Support Provided By
Read More
An image of the French district in downtown Los Angeles. The image shows Aliso Street in downtown Los Angeles, California, with signs labeling buildings "Griffins Transfer and Storage Co." and "Cafe des Alpes" next to "Eden Hotel," which are located on opposite corners of Aliso and Alameda Streets. A Pacific Electric streetcar sign reads "Sierra Madre" and automobiles and horse-drawn wagons are seen in the dirt road.

What Cinco de Mayo Has to do with the French in Early L.A.

Cinco de Mayo is often celebrated wrongly as Mexican Independence Day, but a dig into the historical landscape of Los Angeles in the early 19th century reveals a complex relationship of French émigrés with a Mexican Los Angeles.
Close up of the Los Angeles Oil Field

A Walk Along L.A.'s Original Borders Reveals Surprising Remnants from the City's Past

To walk the border of the sprawling City of Los Angeles as it is today (about 503 square miles) seems an inconceivable feat for most. But what if that walk circumnavigated the city as it was in 1781 or 1850, when Los Angeles was square-shaped measuring four square leagues?
A black and white postcard photo of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union Home in Eagle Rock probably taken a few years after the home opened in 1928. The four-story main building is in the shape of a Maltese cross with Churrigueresque ornamentation over the main door, an the elevator in the center and four wings reaching out.

A Haven for Early Feminists: Eagle Rock's Home of Woman's Christian Temperance Union

Founded by middle-and-upper-class women to push for abstinence and prohibition laws, the Woman's Christian Temperance Union at Eagle Rock became a major force for societal change and a hub for feminist activity in Los Angeles.