San Francisco bay area has a rich history of filmmaking going back to the late 19th when Eadweard Muybridge demonstrated the moving picture of a horse to Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University. In the early 20th the bay area was home to the Silent Film industry and Niles Canyon near Fremont was home to Essanay Studios that hired Charlie Chaplin and made “The Tramp” in this area.
Here is an article I wrote for Open magazine in 2009 about Niles Canyon and the silent film industry and how the west coast won the war against Thomas Edison’s monopoly of the film. And 100 years later filmmaking is back in the bay area in a new way – think online streaming and Netflix.
THE LARGE white letters spelt ‘N-I-L-E-S’ reminded me of that other famous sign: ‘H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D.’ I often wondered about the startling similarities between these two signs, both perched on hillsides, and if there were any deeper connections. I finally gave in to curiosity and took a detour to venture into a street that looked straight out of an old western. Niles Boulevard, the main street, had mostly antique stores on one side and a railway track on the other. And way above the track was the sign I’d come to know so well. My eyes caught the Charlie Chaplin figures on the lamp posts. Why Chaplin? Intrigued, I drove on, looking for clues, and found my answer. The sign read: ‘Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum.’ It wasn’t open. Continue reading