The Hollywood neighborhood emerged as a small village in the late 19th century and was incorporated as its own municipality in 1903. But for most people in the world, “Hollywood” is synonymous with the commercial American film, which established itself there first in an area that came to be known as “Gower Gulch.”
Before Hollywood emerged as a film-making hub, various companies produced films around the country – especially in Chicago, Florida, California and especially New York. In Los Angeles, the first filming was done by Thomas Edison’s company around 1898 on South Spring Street, in Downtown.In 1909, William Selig and actor director Francis Boggs moved their company, Selig Polyscope Co, to the Edendale neighborhood (in what’s now Echo Park). Bronx Films, Fox Film Corporation, French & Forman, Keystone Studios, New York Motion Picture Company, Norbig Film Company, The PathÃ© West Coast Film Company, Reaguer Productions, Western Arts, Westwood Productions, and other studios followed, in the process turning Edendale into the capital of American film production, taking the title from New York City in 1915.
Hollywood emerged somewhat later as the film capital. Until the town was annexed by Los Angeles in 1910 there had been a ban on movie theaters in the town. Early that year, director DW Griffith filmed In Old California in Hollywood, the first film shot there (a plaque marks the location of the shoot near Hollywood and Vine). The film was released 10 March, 1910. On 27 October, 1911, the Nestor Motion Picture Company (founded in New Jersey) began operating at the northwest corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street in what was formerly the Blondeau Tavern — in the process becoming the first Hollywood film studio.
In 1912, Nestor became part of the Universal Film Company. In 1916, the studio was purchased by the Christie Film Company and passed through other hands until its purchase in 1935 by CBS, who immediately demolished it and replaced it with the new CBS Columbia Square, which was completed in 1938 and still stands there today.
CBS Columbia Square then – source: Don Edrington CBS Columbia Square now
The Western genre was first referred to as such in the July, 1912 edition of Motion Picture World. Westerns were cheap and easy to produce. After the embrace of sound films, most of the larger studios largely abandoned (for a time) the Western, leaving them to smaller so-called “Poverty Row” studios.
Columbia Drug Co – source 2719 Hyperion
When Columbia moved to Gower Gulch in 1921, they were churning out westerns. Aspiring actors and extras would congregate at Columbia Pictures’ pharmacy, Columbia Drug Co, formerly located on the southeast corner of the intersection, hoping to get a role in the nearly countless Westerns filmed there and nearby.
The old Columbia studio is now known as Capital Studios at Sunset Gower. The drug store is long gone. Around 1925, the slang term “drugstore cowboy” entered the vernacular because of these drugstore-lurking cowboys in Hollywood (although its meaning soon evolved to refer to nattily-dressed ladies’ men).
source: More than you needed to know
Drugstore cowboys in 1933
In 1941, a phony mayoral contest got underway for the “Mayor of Gower Gulch” as a publicity stunt. Election Day was 17 March and the voting took place at Brewer’s, a saloon run by Eleanor Lathrop, the so-called “Little Mother of Gower Gulch.” In the picture above, taken in 1952, Harry “Rube” Dalroy, chalks up another victory. Beginning in the early ‘20s, he eventually appeared in over 100 horse operas, his last apparently being Waco (1952).
Some of the cowboys were the real McCoy. Wyatt Earp moved to Hollywood and hung out in the neighborhood hoping to profit from his earlier experiences in the wild west. He did befriend Tom Mix and William S. Hart before passing away in 1929. In 1939, Jerome “Black Jack” Ward killed Johnny A. Tykes in a parking lot shootout that started as a fight at Ed Brewer‘s popular tavern.
PRC Studios (1943) – source: Dennis’ Online Scrapbook
As far as I’ve seen, there is no plaque commemorating Gower Gulch but the name does live on in productions from the era.
Gower Gulch as depicted in Thank Your Lucky Stars – source: 2719 Hyperion
In the film Thank Your Lucky Stars (1943), two of the film’s characters refer to Gower Gulch when they visit a movie colony village on Gower to attend a Spike Jones and His City Slickers performance.
Goofy as a drugstore cowboy – source 2719 Hyperion
In Victory Vehicles, Goofy portrays a “Hollywood drugstore cowboy.” In the Looney Tunes cartoon, All A Bir-r-r-d!, (1949), Tweety’s train passes through a town named Gower Gulch. A couple of years later, in Drip-A-Long Daffy (1951), Porky Pig sings a song “The Flower of Gower Gulch.”
Today the name “Gower Gulch” is probably best known, at least among Angelenos, as a Western-themed strip mall located at the former site of the Copper Skillet coffee shop – just a couple of blocks east of Amoeba on the southwest corner of Sunset and Gower. I reckon most of the diners at Denny’s, or Togo’s or any of the other establishments have no idea why the strip-mall has a Western theme, accustomed as most Angelenos are to hyperreality.