CityDig: Where Were the Mack Sennett Studios?


In April, the newly renovated Mack Sennett Studios at Fountain and Effie in Silver Lake welcomed then-mayoral candidate Eric Garcetti for a campaign event. “This isn’t just a place, it’s really a symbol,” Garcetti remarked about the historic building, recently purchased by music producer Jesse Rogg. “People think Hollywood started in Hollywood. It actually started further east, here at Mack Sennett Studios.”

Sort of. Mack Sennett—a pioneering filmmaker best known for slapstick comedies like the Keystone Kops—did operate two Los Angeles studios in the early 20th century. One was indeed east of Hollywood, though neither was in Silver Lake.

Sennett first set up shop in 1912 in Edendale, a budding film colony located in what is today the neighborhood of Echo Park. Built on the site of an abandoned grocery store, Sennett’s Keystone studio repurposed existing structures. An old bungalow hosted the administrative offices. Actors dressed inside a barn. It was among these makeshift facilities that Charlie Chaplin first gesticulated for the camera, appearing in Keystone’s 1914 film Making a Living.

Sennett moved into his second studio in 1927. Located in what was then known as North Hollywood, his 20-acre San Fernando Valley studio lot, today the CBS Studio Center, became the centerpiece of a larger real estate development named Studio City.

The triangle-shaped lot in Silver Lake, meanwhile, may be steeped in early filmmaking history, but it bears only a tenuous connection to Mack Sennett. Built in 1916, it became the home of the Mabel Normand Feature Film Company after Normand—Sennett’s star actress and onetime fiancée—discovered the producer in a tryst with one of her close friends.

Normand became one of Hollywood’s first independent woman filmmakers. With funding from Sennett’s joint venture, the Triangle Motion Picture Company, she moved into the cramped but new production facility, which included a stage, dressing rooms, and a space for post-production. Though a success, her first film—1918’s Mickey—would be Normand’s only independent production.

Signing with Samuel Goldwyn, she soon vacated the studio. From 1918 to 1921 it hosted cowboy star William Hart’s production company and later the Triangle Drapery and Lighting Company. Sennett’s name didn’t become attached to the historic building until 1983, after nostalgia had swelled for Hollywood’s silent film era.

Nathan Masters of the USC Libraries blogs here on behalf of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, cultural institutions, official archives, and private collectors hosted by the USC Libraries and dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden histories of Los Angeles.