Below is a marvelous short series of clips of Hollywood in the early 1930s as photographed by the then famous (and now forgotten) Burton Holmes, inventor of the ‘travelogue’. Holmes was a moderately successful ‘travel lecturer’ beginning in the late 19th century when this was a particularly exotic profession. He used hand-tinted color slides to illustrate his lectures of his extensive travels but his career really took off once he began filming his adventurous wanderings with the new exciting medium of portable ‘home movie’ cameras. Holmes’s talks—which totaled over 8,000 by the end of his life—drew their largest audiences in cosmopolitan cities like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. He catered especially to the armchair traveler with escapist fantasies, and for this reason he consciously focused his lectures on the most agreeable and scenic aspects of the places he lectured about. He avoided all discussion of politics, poverty, and other social ills.

With the rise of Hollywood, Holmes began to make short travel films for Paramount and later Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He left New York, where he’d lived for a number of years in a wildly eclectic Asian-themed duplex on Central Park West and 67th street, and moved to a Hollywood estate called ‘Topside’. And that brings us to the below reel of footage. It begins on an unidentified Palm tree lined street in Beverly Hills (probably Canon Dr. or Beverly Dr.), then takes us Santa Monica. We see what appears to be a small stretch of Pacific Coast Highway pre-Santa Monica Freeway, where beachgoers leaving the beach cross the highway to find refreshments. A fat-assed cop directs the traffic and pedestrians and is precisely as obnoxious as LAPD officers are to this day. After a farmer’s market stop (location undetermined) we find ourselves in Hollywood. The camera is placed on the windshield of a car that drives up Cherokee Ave. north of Hollywood Blvd. The neighborhood in the hills that we are heading to is Whitley Heights, where Holmes estate was located. We cut to a reverse and, as the car ascends, see Hollywood in the distance. The sign for the Ojai Apartments is visible and still exists. Clearly Holmes is heading home as he shoots this as the final shot is of his driveway. (Here’s a still of it to compare to the live image). Because the footage is silent I’ve added another video below with some appropriate music to play while watching Holmes mini-travelogue. It’s a 1931 tune called ‘The Mystery Song’ by Duke Ellington and his orchestra and it syncs up very nicely to the ghostly images of a very different Los Angeles.


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