Los Angeles Almanac Logo
Home | All Almanac Topics | History

Long Beach - The Original Hollywood

Balboa Studios in Long Beach, 1913-1918. Photographer unknown, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Before Hollywood, Long Beach was the hub of the motion picture industry. The first film plant west of Chicago was established in 1910 in Long Beach by the California Motion Picture Manufacturing Company where it began making comedies and promotional films the following year. The company also followed with the opening of a movie theatre in Long Beach in which to show its films. 1911 also saw the brief appearance of the International Moving Picture Company in Long Beach, a joint American-Japanese filmmaking venture that was reported to have ended tragically after the murder of its American partner. In 1913, the Edison Company took over the California Motion Picture Manufacturing Company studio to make its own films. Later that year, Herbert M. Horkheimer, in turn, purchased the studio to found Balboa Studios.

From 1918 to 1923, Balboa Studios was the most productive independent studio in the world. It was home to silent film stars Baby Marie Osborne, Jackie Saunders, Henry King, Buster Keaton, Fatty Arbuckle, Hazel Tranchell, Pearl White, Mabel Normand, and Slim (Pickens) Pickett. Charlie Chaplin visited the studios a number of times. The studio expanded to eight acres at Sixth and Alamitos Streets and, by 1920, had become the largest employer in Long Beach. Although the owner, Balboa Amusements Producing Company, was largely known for producing comedies, it also owned another 11 acres in nearby Signal Hill for shooting western and adventure films.

After World War I, Hollywood, some 24 miles to the north, became the hub for movie-making and Long Beach became forested with oil derricks. Balboa Studios went into decline and, in 1918, Horkheimer and his Balboa Studios went into bankruptcy. The studios were purchased and renamed Long Beach Studios and film production continued until 1923. Studio land in Long Beach and Signal, however, became increasingly more valuable for other uses than making pictures. By 1924, the studio and its properties (some of its more than 100,000 props were still being used decades later) were auctioned off and the land was cleared for subdivision.

Source: Balboa Research Archives

In 2009, business partnership Long Beach Studios, headed by studio veteran Jay Samit and actor Jack O'Halloran, sought to convert the former Boeing Aircraft plant next to Long Beach Airport into a new film studio. The plan, however, did not materialize.

Also see: How Thomas Edison (Sort-of) Created Hollywood