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Movies & Million-Dollar Mansions, Behind the Scenes at the "Flying A," Silents on the Islands, Way Back When: SB in 1924


Image: Watercar (Library of Congress)

Surfing By Car?

Dateline – May 1924
The latest watercraft dashing through the waves in Santa Barbara a century ago were Dodge Watercars. A couple of local men had purchased these cutting-edge speedboats.

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A scene from The Diamond From the Sky. (Motography, June 26, 1915

Hope Ranch Cliff Collapses


Dateline – May 1915

I hope that Santa Barbara's "Flying A" movie studio alerted the residents of the area about this. For an episode of the silent movie serial The Diamond From the Sky, a fight between hoboes and gypsies was staged on the beach below Hope Ranch. The gypsy camp on the beach is destroyed when one character pushes a rock down a mountainside.


"The cliff formation at the Hope Ranch beach served . . . and about 40 tons of earth were dynamited in order to get the . . . effect." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, May 11, 1915


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Image: Historic Adobe (Library of Congress)

Santa Barbara's First Mobile Home?

Dateline – May 1924
It's hard to imagine that an adobe was moved, brick by brick, but that was how it was said to be done. This adobe was originally located near the intersection of Anacapa and Carrillo streets, but had to be moved in order to avoid being demolished. Fortunately, it was moved – and is still here today as part of the Santa Barbara Historical Museum, where it is appropriately called the Historic Adobe.

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Santa Barbara News-Press, April 4, 1943

The End of Silent Movie Days in Santa Barbara

Dateline: April 1943

The "Flying A" ceased operating in Santa Barbara in 1921. A few Hollywood studios came here to film on the studio's property in the 1920s, but the end finally came in 1943 when the remaining studio property was demolished except for the studio building at the corner of Mission and Chapala streets, and a portion of the administration building that still stand. – Santa Barbara News-Press, April 4, 1943


Longtime Santa Barbara resident Mary Grimm told me that "During the war years in the 40s, the studios had been torn down and just the cement floors remained. The neighborhood kids used to go over there with our roller skates and brooms, sweep the trash aside, and have a grand time roller skating."

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Pig and Mary Miles Minter in a scene from Dulcie's Adventure. (Photo-Play Journal, April 1917)


A Pig Named "Mary"


Dateline: April 1917
"Flying A" ingenue star Mary Miles Minter liked to visit the pigs at a local farm owned by Farmer Jones. "'I can't say that Mr. Jones' baby pigs are mine . . . but I go out to see them every Sunday afternoon, so they sort of belong to me . . . This little pig's name is 'Mary' – named after me . . . Mrs. Jones said I might have it killed and have it for dinner after it had played with me, but I just couldn't bear to have it done." – Photo-Play Journal, April 1917


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Image: Al Capone, courtesy of the FBI

No Honor Among Thieves!


Dateline: April 1924

Al Capone was not in Santa Barbara, but this was starting to seem like a film noir movie in our fair city. It was clear that bootleggers were not playing nice with each other during the Prohibition Era. "A war between rival bands of liquor dealers is expected to break out within a few days between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles factions, which may develop into a serious clash . . . A truckload of liquor was stolen from several rum smugglers north of Santa Barbara several days ago.


"Monday, two young men, alleged to be rum dealers, appeared in Santa Barbara to locate the men who were responsible for the theft. One of these men is alleged to have left a card at the home of the suspected man warning him to 'pack a gun today and to stay away from the ''plant" if you value your life.' " – Santa Barbara Morning Press, April 3, 1924

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Image: courtesy of Olive & Gold, 1924

Santa Barbara High School Taking Shape


Dateline: March 1924

Construction of the Santa Barbara High School at its new location at 700 East Anapamu Street was nearing completion, and school officials were hoping that the new auditorium would be ready for June graduation ceremonies.

(Spoiler alert - the new school would open for classes in September 1924.)


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Image: Crucifix of Destiny screenshot

A Complimentary Contribution!


Dateline – March 1920

The Pandora Productions studio of Los Angeles was making the silent film Crucifix of Destiny near the Santa Barbara Mission in 1920. An actor, dressed as a monk, "was given a handful of coppers by an old woman, who mistook him for the bona fide article." – Camera, March 20, 1920


A portion of this film is available for viewing online. Early scenes in the movie were filmed at the Mission and St. Anthony's Seminary, so it's a way to take a peek at that area 100+ years ago. (The final portion of the movie appears to be missing.) Here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Tat4vwglsw

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Image: courtesy of John Woodward

 A Peak Performance


Dateline – March 1915

There used to be a large, picturesque rock on Santa Barbara's West Beach called Castle Rock. It was popular with tourists and starred in some "Flying A" silent movies as well.


"A certain scene taken near the Castle Rock bluff called for a fall down. A dummy might have been used, but rather than that, the director decided to make the fall himself, and in the picture, he will be shown going down and clutching at brush and rocks, all of which gave way. The final landing was made in a net, but that does not show in the picture. All who saw it, declare that it was some stunt." – Santa Barbara Morning Press, March 4, 1915

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Motion Picture News, February 12, 1916

Mermaids Uncovered and Unashamed


Dateline – March 1916

California's Channel Islands – Santa Catalina Island and Santa Cruz Island were popular locations for silent movie filming.

"The shores of Catalina Island furnished the settings of sandy beaches, rugged and jagged rocks." – News Pilot (San Pedro, California), March 13, 1916


Mermaid movies were popular in the early silent movie years when ladies rarely showed their ankles on the streets, so movies about mermaids wearing just a few wisps of seaweed were considered hot stuff. Scenes for the mermaid movie Undine were filmed on Santa Cruz Island (seen here) and Santa Catalina Island.


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