In the early 1900’s Long Beach offered an ideal setting for the motion picture industry. The city was already a theater town, enjoying a sunny seaside climate, with a steady pool of talented actors, directors and technicians. Along the Pike in Long Beach, there were eight film houses and two stock company theaters. As early as 1908, Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle had been singing in Long Beach and even got married on stage that same year at the successful Byde A Whyle Theater.
In 1913, Long Beach’s history was changed forever with the creation of the Balboa Amusement Producing Company, also known as Balboa Studios. Balboa Studios was comprised of 20 buildings on 8 acres downtown, with 11 additional acres for outdoor shooting in Signal Hill, a separate township enclosed within the city of Long Beach.
Overlooked by historians and the very town where so many quality movies were made between 1913 and 1918, Balboa Studios shone as a jewel of the silent era. By 1917, Balboa Studios became Long Beach's biggest employer and largest tourist attraction. Balboa made remarkable innovations in studio management and development including new methods for shooting night scenes and new techniques for color tinting. Balboa often set industry standards regarding the quality of props and wardrobe, including their maintenance, storage and care.
Sadly, the studio closed its stages permanently in 1923, ultimately being demolished for subdivisions of its parcels in 1925. Of the countless quality films produced at Balboa, the few that remain have been turning back to dust, due to nitrate decomposition and neglect. Statistics present a similarly dismal picture--80% of all silent movies in the world have disappeared, again due to nitrate decomposition and neglect, while 40% of all movies produced prior to 1952 have vanished forever.
Filming began to make its way back to Long Beach in the 60’s with about ten productions a year. Features included “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “Three Wise Fools”. The city increased filming to about 100 productions a year by the late 80’s with features such as Lethal Weapon and Batman.
In the early 90’s, the City of Long Beach started the Office of Special Events and Filming. Filming has steadily increased throughout the years. Currently, the City issues over 800 film permits a year with more than 1,000 production days. The City’s credits include: Iron Man, Click, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Longest Yard, Mr. And Mrs. Smith, Anger Management, Fun With Dick and Jane, Anchorman, CSI Miami, Cold Case, House, and Bones just to name a few.
The City of Long Beach continues to uphold its reputation of being one of the most film-friendly cities in California. With this, the City will continue to strive and keep its good name on the Hollywood map for years to come.