Culver City once boasted three major movie studios and several other, small studios. Two of our major, historic movie studios are still operating in Culver City, thankfully. The third, the Hal Roach Studios, ceased operations in 1963.
Hal Roach, then from Los Angeles, wanted to expand. He called Harry Culver, our city founder who headed the Culver Investment Company, who offered to help him find space in Culver City.
The Hal Roach Studios began its run in Culver City in 1919. Mr. Roach proudly offered family entertainment, and his studio was noted as “The Laugh Factory to the World.” Roach also acquired backlot property just outside the city to the north, in from Robertson Boulevard. His studio flourished, with the “Our Gang Comedies” and Laurel and Hardy productions. In fact, Hal Roach actively helped make this “The Heart of Screenland,” and because of the high visibility in their location filming in the city, he helped preserve local history! For example, if you want to see what the city looked like in the late 1920s, take a look at “Putting Pants on Philip.” You will also see The Hotel Hunt, now The Culver Hotel. And that is just one example. You can see Main Street with angle parking in “Leave Em Laughing” or in “Angora Love. ” A researcher can also identify the businesses at that time.
Several years ago, Piet Schreuders, from Amsterdam, had seen so much of Culver City in Laurel and Hardy films, that he came to town to do some primary research, feeling a little like it was like his own back yard. He utilized local resources, like city records, maps, stills and many films themselves to go back and put the pieces of the puzzle together. What did Main Street really look like? He found the first self-service grocery store, the “Piggly Wiggly” and pinpointed its address with the help of a window reflection in Laurel and Hardy’s “Angora Love”- as “the boys” walked a goat past a storefront. What he also found was that the numbering system changed from being the 7000 block to the 3000 block over the years. His research appeared in a 1999 publication, “Furore.”
Hal Roach Studios recorded local history, and during WWII transitioned to “Fort Roach,” where U.S. training films were made by names like Ronald Reagan and Alan Ladd. The First Motion Picture Unit (FMPU) was stationed there and made history again.
The studio is gone, replaced by the “Landmark Industrial Tract” which is just north of the redeveloping “Hayden Tract.” Many still search for it. The only evidence of its actual location is a marker in a small parkspace at National and Washington Boulevards. Placed by the Sons of the Desert, in 1980, it reminds us of our rich history.