This is the final part of a two part series in which Long Beach historian and author Claudine Burnett examines Long Beach 100 years ago. For Part I, click here.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE EDISON STUDIOS
By May 1913, Edison was gone—but why?
They had made expensive investments in the old studio. They had signed a year’s lease. Was it the competition from all the other studios seeking a home in sunny California?
A possible clue can be found in an article entitled “California Too Familiar to Moving Picture Patrons” in the May 31 issue of Variety that year. Complaints were coming in from the movie-going public, both in the United States and abroad, that they were tired of seeing the same scenery over and over again. A letter in Variety from a London firm complained that every tree, rock, and blade of grass was becoming familiar to English audiences. One Southern California movie company posted a list of 18 locations to be avoided, including the hollow tree and giant rock at Griffith Park, and a bit of rocky coast at Santa Monica. Some film companies were taking their crews elsewhere, such as Keystone going to Mexico for a change of scenery and Edison getting out of Southern California altogether.
Edison’s stay in Long Beach only lasted five months, but during that time they turned out productions of historical interest, including The Dancer, a one-reeler, and The Dance of the Ages, starring Norma Gould and Ted Shawn. Choreographer Shawn, a pioneer in modern dance, later formed the Denishawn Dancers with his wife Ruth St. Denis. Their New York school produced the likes of Martha Graham, Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey.
Harold Lloyd, attending drama school in San Diego in 1913, worked as an extra on location for The Edison Company in Jewels of the Madonna, his first film work. Lloyd played a Yaqui Indian wearing a loincloth; he followed that the next week with a day’s work on location for another Edison film—this time in Dutch costume.
A scene from The Old Monk’s Tale.
While in Long Beach, J. Searle Dawley adapted Helen Hunt Jackson’s 1884 romance Ramona, calling it The Old Monk’s Tale. Dawley himself filmed it, with Laura Sawyer playing Ramona, James Gordon portrayed Allesandro. Scenes of modern society, aspects of early California days, adventures along the northwest border with Canada and stories of life at sea were also filmed. The studio prided itself on elaborate sets and costumes. No script was rejected because of lack of accessories needed to film it.
Stars of the Edison pictures such as 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 Wagner and James Gordon could be seen around town. Most in Long Beach were unimpressed that their neighbor could be a film star; after all, in the volatile movie industry, they too could be a star the following week.
W.I. Fahey, who became manager of the Theatorium in Long Beach in 1912, remembered Edison’s innovations in film making. It was during Fahey’s first year at the Theatorium that he tried out one of the first talking motion pictures ever made. It was an experimental picture which was produced by the Edison Film Company from their New Jersey studio. Fahey told Walter Case in one of Case’s “Did You Know That?” columns that it didn’t go over too well since the quality of the sound was too poor.
BALBOA AMUSEMENT CO.
For a while, the Famous Players Company, organized by Daniel Frohman of New York, was considering leasing the now-abandoned studio after Edison headed to New York. However, the enterprise was sold to the Balboa Amusement & Producing Company headed by brothers Herbert and Elwood Horkheimer.
According to newspaper reports of the time, the new company was planning to stage a very costly production about Balboa and his discovery of the Pacific. It was to be a quality piece, taking a long time to produce, as well as lots of money to make.
A story appearing in Cinema on October 24, 1914 stated that in addition to film producing, the company had decided to stage a big outdoor pageant, entitled “Balboa, or the Discovery of the Pacific” at the San Francisco Exhibition in 1915. A clipping from the Los Angeles Tribune of July 16, 1914 told that President Wilson had acknowledged receipt of an invitation to attend a performance of “Balboa” when he visited the San Francisco exposition the following year. It was from this production that the studio took its name.
Unfortunately, it appears as if the pageant never took place. War broke out in Europe, changing the scope of what was supposed to be an “international” exhibition. In looking at the five volume set by Frank Morton Todd entitled The Story of the Exposition, no mention of the “Balboa” pageant can be found. One can only surmise that the company’s plans fell through.
Other sources claim that Dawley’s major film while at the Edison Studios in Long Beach was a film dealing with the Spanish conquistador Vasco Nuez de Balboa, the first European to set eyes on the Pacific. Yet this film has vanished, if it ever existed at all.
THE HORKHEIMER BROTHERS
On May 23, 1913, with only $7,000 in cash, H.M. Horkheimer took possession of the one little building at the corner of Sixth and Alamitos in Long Beach. The two brothers—Herbert M. and Elwood D. Horkheimer—were the sole owners of the Balboa Company.
Herbert Horkheimer had come to Southern California in 1912 determined to get into the picture business after having grown up in Wheeling, West Virginia. Before his westward adventure and after finishing school, he went to New York and entered show business beginning at the bottom of the ladder. Herbert was one of the first men of the legitimate theater to identify himself openly and actively with the film world. This took a lot of guts, because most people at the time spurned the film trade, viewing it as an unworthy rival to the spoken stage. But looking ahead, H.M. foresaw the demand for motion pictures, he took a chance by taking over the studio Edison vacated, simultaneously bringing to the studio his wealth of experience as a stage producer. He was soon joined by his brother, Elwood, who had been an electrical engineer up to that time.
“H.M.”, as he was familiarly known, became the president and general manager, while “E.D.” was secretary and treasurer. The two alternated between New York and the plant. One was always in the East looking after the selling end, while the other was in Long Beach taking charge of productions.
President Horkheimer attributed much of their success to the faithfulness of their employees, stars and laborers alike.
Author Jack London was working closely with Balboa to have his stories put on film. It was largely due to his film commitment with the Horkheimers that they were able to purchase the studios.
On April 28, 1913, London was in town to discuss the filming requirements.
“I have just completed a deal,” Mr. London told the Daily Telegram, “by which I shall appear as the leading actor in all my own short stories and novels dramatized into motion pictures. I am going into the pictures to give them ‘the punch’ that is almost impossible to communicate to another. What is my definition of the ‘punch’? Well, it would take many volumes to communicate it properly but, briefly, it is making the impossible possible.”
In late July, London and the Balboa Company had a falling out. Sydney Ayres, London’s business partner, alleged that the contract between London and Balboa was no longer valid because their first picture had not been produced by July 1, a term of the contract. Due to this breech of contract, London and Ayres gave the movie rights to London’s novels to millionaire yachtsman Frank Garbutt and Hobart Bosworth, an actor and close friend of London.
Bosworth Inc. was to have exclusive picture rights on London’s writings for five years, with renewal options. The Balboa studio, where Mr. Ayres had worked almost night and day for three months, would not be used in any future work on the London stories.
On August 2, H.M. issued a printed response. He declared that he was spending thousands of dollars in Long Beach to produce Jack London’s The Sea Wolf.
“I took the contract with Mr. London and have been working on the picture,” stated Mr. Horkheimer in the Daily Telegram. “It will be finished in two weeks more. I have four films of pictures complete now. The Sea Wolf has cost between $7000 and $8000 for its production, beside the $14,000 expended on the plant at Sixth and Alamitos, which is now in shape. Mr. Sydney Ayres stated through the papers that he would enjoin me if I tried to produce the London pictures. I am working on them every day. Why has he not brought this injunction suit?”
Ayres and London did bring legal action against the Balboa Studios and, as a result, the contract they had with the Long Beach company was declared null and void. However, there was a question of copyright. The Balboa Company argued, in a second case brought to court, that London’s stories had appeared in magazines thus making the stories public property. They could not be stopped producing the movies since there was no violation of the copyright law on their part.
In December, the Balboa Company released the three reel version of London’s The Sea Wolf which they renamed The Cruise of the Hell Ship. Later that same month, the seven reel “authorized” version was released.
Jack London was forced to institute a prolonged lawsuit against the Balboa Company, the “pirate producers,” in order to prove that an author retained the film rights to his magazine stories. In the course of this legal battle, he helped found the Authors’ League of America with Rex Beach, Booth Tarkington, Ellen Glasgow, and many other leading writers, all of whom combined to protect their copyrights. Their united efforts put enough pressure on Congress to change the copyright laws in favor of the authors, so that piracy by film and theater producers became more difficult.
THE HARBOR AND THE OPENING OF THE PANAMA CANAL
Opening of the Panama Canal, August 1914. Photo courtesy the Jimmy Carter Library.
Though failing to lure the Universal Film Manufacturing Company to town, Long Beach still had her harbor to make her fortune.
In 1906, forward-looking city fathers had seen the money-making possibilities of being a Pacific Coast harbor city when the Panama Canal was completed. Major industries were beginning to move to Long Beach, with the creation of a 320-acre harbor industrial area called “White City,” which opened May 11, 1913.
Anticipating tremendous growth as a result of the completion of the Panama Canal, a steel plant, woolen mill, cannery, soap company, and potash factory all located in White City. A residential district was also part of the J.W. Young & Company project, with lots selling for as low as $350 with 10% down and $10 per month. Numerous apartment houses also sprung up throughout the City to house not only the tourists who continued to visit, but the workers in the new businesses.
On October 10, 1913, at exactly five minutes before 11AM, factory whistles blew, auto horns tooted, flags were unfurled, and all of Long Beach cheered in wild excitement to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal. All morning the Chamber of Commerce kept in touch with newspaper offices to be sure of the exact time President Wilson would touch the button in Washington that blew the Gamboa dike in Panama. Finally, at 11AM, all celebration stopped for five minutes to honor the great event in Panama.
Long time residents could not help but remember a similar event that occurred on November 7, 1891, in the City. On that day a gilded iron spike was driven into the ties of the Salt Lake Railway, opening up the city to the outside world. Now an even larger transportation link had been established, and Long Beach was sure to benefit.
Long Beach Yacht First “Unofficial” Ship through the Canal
The blowing up of the Gamboa dike technically meant that the Panama Canal was completed, but it wasn’t until August 15, 1913, that the 10,000 ton steamship Ancona became the first big ocean-going vessel to pass through the canal. On September 6, 1913, the ninety-foot cruiser Lasata arrived home in Long Beach after a six-thousand-mile cruise. Morgan Adams, owner of the Lasata, proudly showed a $57 toll receipt from the administrative office of the Panama Canal. Written across it was, “For the first ship through the Panama Canal.” Only the Ancona, the official government boat, preceded it, and that merely by a few hours.
At daybreak on October 10, 1913, the Lasata had cruised out of Gatun Lake, and on through the canal. Though newspapers reported that the Arizonan and Missourian of the American-Hawaiian steamship line were the first private vessels through the canal, they were wrong. The Lasata had been the first, and she had the toll receipt to prove it. Friends and relatives gathered at the Long Beach wharf to inspect the scrap of paper that looked like a check. All agreed that it was one of the most desirable trophies a Californian could possess.
SCANDAL AND BLACKMAIL: O.H.L. MASON & THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH
If you couldn’t trust your minister with your daughter or wife, who could you have faith in?
That was the question members of the First Presbyterian Church faced in July 1913 when their minister, the Rev. O.H.L. Mason, was charged with various “indiscretions” with young women.
Mason claimed his innocence. Were the women just lying?
That was the verdict of local church board members investigating the case when they gave Mason a morally clean bill of health. Several board members disagreed with the “white washing” that went on in the case and resigned rather than sign the report. What resulted was havoc in the church.
In August, after eight more church official resigned, Rev. Mason said he would leave the church if there would be no more “pot stirring” and if the entire matter was dropped. Local church members, however, wanted answers. They asked the overseeing presbytery in Pasadena to re-open the Mason case. The presbytery refused, stating they would not inquire into the guilt or innocence of Dr. Mason, but they would try to fix things up among the congregation.
A dissenting minister, Rev. Graham, expressed a different view. He believed the presbytery committee refused to hear the case because such “indiscretions” were “common” among ministers and they must stick together. When the founding members of the First Presbyterian Church of Long Beach threatened to withdraw from the church, the presbytery decided to hear the case, as long as there would be no women present. A “gentlemen’s agreement” was reached that Rev. Mason should not preach again in the First Presbyterian Church, that he would resign and that the charges against him would be dropped (not withdrawn).
Mason issued the following: “To the Session and members of the First Presbyterian church of Long Beach: I hereby offer my resignation.” (Los Angeles Times 9/9/1913 II-5-1)
His not giving a word of explanation set tongues wagging with renewed vigor. But not everyone was against him. In November 1913, friends of Mason formed their own church, the Calvary Presbyterian Church of Long Beach, and made Mason their minister.
The following year Mason did vent his anger over what had occurred to the Los Angeles Times: “Conditions in Long Beach are somewhat similar to those in Europe. There is a social storm in this city. Everywhere you are beset with heated conversation, and the likelihood is that any man in town may land in jail before sundown. Newspapers can, by the publication of charges against a man do great harm and wreck a man’s life. Such newspapers should be burned and the editors put in the penitentiary. I want to say that any editor who says `It is rumored,’ or `It is alleged,’ without having positive proof ready, should be put in jail, as should any editor who publishes charges against a man before they are proven. If you want to get into the papers be charged with something. If a man escapes after he is charged with something the newspapers say he has been whitewashed. Put the editors in jail and some of this business will stop.” (Los Angeles TImes 11/23/1914 – II-6-1)
When the United States entered the war in 1917, Mason resigned his ministry and went to New York as a Y.M.C.A. secretary for World War service, a posting which sent him and Mrs. Mason through the war zone in Europe. His three sons, Cleon, Verne and Bruce also volunteered for military service. Following the war, the Y.M.C.A. sent Dr. Mason to Siberia and China. Upon his return to America he did post-graduate work at Harvard, eventually returning to the ministry in Pennsylvania and New York. He retired in 1930, returning to Long Beach where he lived until his death on March 9, 1940.
GEORGE H. BIXBY
Scandal also surrounded Long Beach’s most prominent native son, George H. Bixby.
George H., as he was called (to distinguish him from a cousin, George B.), offspring of Jotham Bixby, the “father” of Long Beach, was charged with “contributing to the downfall of Cleo Helen Barker.”
In a court case reported in the September 23, 1913, issue of the Daily Telegram, five female witnesses testified Bixby frequented the Jonquil apartments, a place of questionable moral standards. According to testimony offered the jury, the Jonquil apartments, presided over by Josie Rosenberg, was the meeting place of many young girls and wealthy men. Bixby, known at the Jonquil as Mr. King and “the black pearl man,” was often seen there twice a day.
“The cross of the legion of dishonor” was the name that Cleo Helen Barker and some of her girl friends gave to the gold cross she said had been given her by George. Other girls, recruited for the amusement of wealthy men, Miss Barker testified, wore similar crosses, and among themselves, half seriously, jested about their membership in the order of their badge.
Under questioning Miss Barker told of going to the Jonquil apartments to live, and of being introduced by Mrs. Rosenberg, the proprietor, to a man named King. Asked if she could point out King in the courtroom the girl pointed to Bixby. Miss Barker testified that on the occasion of their first meeting, Bixby gave her $6, on the second, $50 and afterwards varying sums, the total aggregating between $500 and $600. She went on to add that $190 was the largest single amount he ever gave her, and Mrs. Rosenberg got half of that. Bixby, in turn, charged he was being blackmailed by Miss Barker.
Octavius V. Morgan, a wealthy architect, testified in support of Bixby, stating that he too was a victim of blackmail. The blackmailer’s plan was simple. They would send a telegram to the intended victim’s place of business and ask for an appointment. When one was set up a woman would appear and say that she had in her possession “compromising” information and demand hush money in order to keep the matter confidential. Often the businessman would know the woman, having met her before at some social function (but unaware of her character). In order to avoid scandal, the money would be paid.
Morgan swore he gave W.H. Stevens, attorney for the girls connected with the Bixby case, checks totaling $2500. The defense tried to prove the checks were given as hush money to keep the relations between the architect and the girls quiet. The Bixby attorneys said similar extortion methods had been aimed at their client, and that Bixby’s present legal problems were the result of his refusal to pay. Though George H. fled the area in April 1913 when he heard about the charges, and was later arrested in San Diego, half a dozen friends of Bixby testified George H. had an excellent reputation and would not visit a brothel.
The jury agreed that Bixby was being blackmailed and acquitted him on the first ballot.
This, and another case that would drag all the way to the California Supreme court (dealing with the flood of 1914 and how Bixby dredged land which may have caused the diversion of flood waters into other areas), took a toll on George H. Bixby’s life. On December 30, 1922, he died of heart failure, an illness that had plagued him for three years.
FOUNDER OF CITY GETS A MARKER ON HIS GRAVE
For some he was the George Washington of Long Beach, the founder of the city. To others he was a business failure, the butt of jokes, unable to make a success of anything he tried. He was a man who died penniless, his grave site purchased by friends who didn’t have enough money to place a marker on the grave. Now, in 1913, the Signal Hill Civil League, feeling that it was an act of civic shame that the founder of the city should lie in an unmarked grave, took it upon themselves to erect a simple little stone of blue granite over the grave of the founder of Willmore City, later incorporated as Long Beach.
The story of the man who planned Long Beach was a sad one.
William Erwin Willmore was born in England in 1844, he and his father emigrated to America in 1855, following his mother’s death. Willmore later became a wandering schoolteacher, arriving in San Pedro in 1870.
On his was down Anaheim Road towards Anaheim he happened to stop to rest on a spot which is now Long Beach Blvd. Looking out over the valley, his dream of a city took place. Over the next few years he traveled to Oregon and Washington, but the vision he had of a settlement never left his mind.
In 1876, the 33 year-old man came back to Southern California and he went to work for the California Immigrant Union where among his accomplishments was founding a raisin colony in Fresno.
By 1881 Willmore had saved a bit of money and gained experience in land dealings. He approached Jotham Bixby about subdividing some of Bixby’s Rancho Los Cerritos—the land of his dream—and Bixby agreed. Willmore had little money, but he planned to plat a part of the tract and sell lots in what he called Willmore City, small farm tracts comprising from five to twenty acres, were also laid out. This was called the American Colony, and sold from $50 to $100 an acre.
The city was carefully planned: the boundaries were Ocean Avenue, Magnolia Avenue, Tenth Street and Alamitos Avenue. The streets were eighty feet wide and lots were set aside for a school, church, library and park. Auctions were held, but the sale was not what the enterprising real estate man had anticipated and he was unable to meet the terms of his contract with Jotham Bixby, and he was forced to sell his shares in the American Colony to a Los Angeles Real Estate concern called Pomery & Mills for $1.00.
Disheartened, Willmore went to Arizona. There, it was said, he suffered sunstroke which seriously affected his health. Later, a pauper, he became an inmate of the Los Angeles County Poor Farm. In 1899, knowing he was ill, Willmore walked out of the County Farm near Downey, to come back to Long Beach to die.
Arriving in town, the ragged old man slipped into the First Baptist Church to keep warm. It was there that Ida Crowe found him. Willmore had been living in a tent, with no clothes except for those on his back and five cents to his name. Despite the fact that she had seven children to care for, she took him in. Willmore started crying when Mrs. Crowe offered him a home, saying that he wouldn’t have come if he knew she had so many to care for already.
A small fruit stand was set up on Pine Avenue, with his friends providing the fruit for him to sell. His health was so poor that even this venture failed. Mrs. Crowe and her family cared for him and fought off attendants from the County Farm who wanted to take him back. Ida Crowe had given her word that Willmore could die in Long Beach and she was a woman of her word.
On January 16, 1901, Willmore died in the town he had founded. Though an apartment-hotel was named for Willmore, nowhere will you find a public building, park, street or school named for him. Throughout the 1920s and 30s there would be a movement to erect a statue to him and place it in Lincoln Park, but nothing ever became of it. Later in the 1950s, plans to name a park after him would surface, but this too was not to be.
The only memorial to Willmore would be the one on his grave, erected by those farmers of Signal Hill who had settled on land from his American Colony and a small plaque near Anaheim and Pacific (in 14th Street Park) noting the spot where he had envisioned his dream.
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