A dive into the video archives of the Library of Congress by KCET has uncovered the very first movie ever shot in Los Angeles—or at least the oldest one that has survived for us to watch today.
You might not immediately recognize the city if you didn't know that you were looking at Spring Street in DTLA. The footage documents a bustling Downtown with electric cable cars, horse-drawn carriages and denizens darting about in elegant suits and top hats. Toward the end of the clip, you can even spy an early L.A. police officer strolling his beat in a uniform complete with a tall, arched helmet, like a British bobby's dress garb. The Spring Street corridor was just coming into its own, but in a decade's time would be known as the "Wall Street of the West"—until the Great Depression, that is.
This 25-second long "animated photograph," as it was called at the time, shows the city on December 31, 1897. Frederick Blechynden made it as a demo to show off the cutting-edge technology, just invented by the Edison Manufacturing Company. The idea caught on quickly. Within a few short years, the first film studios would begin opening in Los Angeles as filmmakers realized that the electric lights of the time were not quite powerful enough to fully expose the new motion picture film and the reliable California sunlight would make work easier, giving us the Hollywood of today and shaping Los Angeles in the process.
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