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Way Back When in Santa Barbara, Mesa Memories, & Movies Way Back When

MOVIES WAY BACK WHEN

Image: Santa Barbara Morning Press, September 13, 1914

The "Flying A" was Flying High in Santa Barbara, California in 1914

 

 

The folks from the "Flying A" studio (American Film Company) were filming in locations such as stores on State Street, all around the county, and even out on the Channel Islands. Many interior scenes were shot in the company's large glass studio. The studio was located on the corner of Mission and Chapala streets. A few of the original buildings remain, most notably the building shown in the top left of the photo.

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SILENTS IN MONTECITO

Image: Reel Life, September 11, 1915

On September 23, 1915, Santa Barbara's American Film Company ("Flying A") released The House of a Thousand Scandals. The movie – about a Utopian commune – was filmed at one of the seaside estates in Montecito. The commune members run around in Grecian-style sandals and skirts even though the movie is set in modern times. The skimpy attire gives rise to the scandals in the film's title. This movie no longer exists and neither does the mansion – fortunately, there are still photos of both.

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MOVIES WAY BACK WHEN

Image: courtesy of the Library of Congress

A First in Santa Barbara


The earliest reference that I've found about movies being shown in Santa Barbara, California dates to 1898. An article in the local paper about a vaudeville show at the opera house (the original Lobero Theater) mentioned that the show included "the Waragraph, a scientific wonder of life, showing the recent naval events, the military parades and a Spanish bull fight." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, October 16, 1898


The "recent naval events" mentioned were scenes from the Spanish-American War in Cuba in 1898, produced by the Edison Wargraph Company. These were some of the first moving images that audiences here had ever seen projected on a screen.

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SILENTS IN MONTECITO

Image: Scene from For the Crown, from Moving Picture News, August 30, 1913

On September 8, 1913, the movie For the Crown was released. Santa Barbara's American Film Company, the "Flying A," filmed most of this two-reel historical costume drama at a big estate in Montecito, California.

 

The plot involved plenty of swordplay, a fair maiden who needed rescuing, and ended with the vanquishing of baddies. This film is one of 63 silents that were filmed in Montecito. It is considered "lost."

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SILENTS ON THE ISLANDS

Image: courtesy of Margaret Herrick Library

On September 4, 1911 (109 years ago today), the one-reel silent movie How Algy Captured a Wild Man was released. The movie was filmed on California's Santa Cruz Island. The Santa Barbara Weekly Press called it, "A real 'sure-'nuff' dandy show. Anyone with any sense of humor will enjoy this picture story."

 

This is one of about 250 movies that were filmed on California's Channel Islands.

 

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MOVIES WAY BACK WHEN

Image: Sapho's star Florence Roberts, courtesy of the Library of Congress

First X-rated Movie in Santa Barbara?

 

The Hollywood rating system had not been invented yet, but in July 1914, the Mission Theater on State Street in Santa Barbara, California was not allowing unaccompanied minors to view the four-reel movie Sapho. (Among other things, the main character has a child out of wedlock.)

 

This restriction was in spite of the fact that the paper noted that "the censorship board has eliminated all objectionable features . . . there is nothing of the objectionable character in the play. Many of Santa Barbara's leading citizens saw the play last night and no one was heard to criticize it."

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MOVIES WAY BACK WHEN

Image: Fatty Arbuckle, courtesy of the Library of Congress

Celebrity Sightings

 

Two of the largest comedy actors from the Keystone Movie Company appeared in an exhibition baseball game in Santa Barbara, California in May 1914. Marie Dressler was umpire, and Fatty Arbuckle, aka the "Human Roundhouse," played shortstop.

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MOVIES WAY BACK WHEN

Image: Pancho Villa, courtesy of the Library of Congress

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"

 

This was according to a beat poet in 1970, but the Mexican Revolution was shown on the big screen at Santa Barbara, California in April 1914, where the main feature was billed as, "Mexican War Pictures . . . Actual photographs of the present war, the pictures taken on the battle line. Biggest and best pictures ever shown of the great Mexican rebellion."

 

The Mexican general Pancho Villa had signed a movie contract with the Mutual Film Company in January, 1914, and battle scenes were seen everywhere in the United States.

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY

Image: courtesy of NASA

Meteor Falls in Mission Canyon


You may or may not have spotted the distant comet that cruised by recently, but plenty of folks saw something a lot closer to home in 1914.


"Entire Northern Sky Illuminated for Several Seconds," wrote the Santa Barbara newspaper. The meteor described as "a ball of fire that was bright even in the moonlight, is believed to have fallen in upper Mission Canyon. The aerial visitor made its appearance about 7:00 last evening and was seen and heard by several persons in the vicinity of the Old Mission … The meteor first made its appearance above Cold Springs … The meteor was in plain sight about four seconds and as it fell, there was a swishing sound … The ball of fire was about a quarter the size of the full moon, and as it disappeared, its entire course was a trail of sparks."

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"WAY BACK WHEN" WEDNESDAY

Image: from the Edson Smith collection, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Public Library

It's Show Time!

 

Back in July 1914, the newly constructed Recreation Center on Carrillo and Anacapa streets was getting ready to open its 850-seat auditorium. The seating seemed to be the star of the show, according to one article in the local paper. "The chairs are roomy and do not shake or collapse . . . Neither do the chairs squeak, and they are tasteful."

 

The Recreation Center was indeed well built. It would survive the 1925 earthquake, and moreover served as an emergency shelter in the quake's aftermath.

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