There were two film studios in Boyle Heights, one being the Majestic Studios where Charlie Chaplin made some movies and which was located on Fairview Avenue in the north end of the community near where Interstates 5 and 10 and U. S. 101 are located. A second location has been researched by John Mandel, this comprising the Bernstein Studio, which operated on South Boyle Avenue near the Daughters of Charity orphanage, though it produced only three films in 1917 and 1918.
Its founder, Isadore Bernstein, came to Los Angeles from New York in 1913. Possibly a relative of Carl Laemmle, the founder and chief of Universal Studios, Bernstein worked for Universal for a few years before deciding to strike out on his own. A Los Angeles Times article from early December 1916 outlined his efforts to built a studio for two enterprises, his own Bernstein Productions Corporation and the Cleo Madison Film Corporation. This latter was built around Madison, a Universal star actress, who made about eighty movies in the early to mid 1910s, but who never shot a film with Bernstein. Instead, his leading lady for the three movies made at the Boyle Heights studio was Betty (Rosetta) Brice, who made several dozen films from 1913 to 1924.
In the Times article, it was mentioned that this new film enterprise was to be on the former estate of William H. Perry and this historic connotation was given some prominence. The problem was that Perry's property was actually at the northwest corner of Boyle Heights in the Mount Pleasant Tract (his 1876 Italianate residence, designed by pioneer Los Angeles architect Ezra F. Kysor, is now at Heritage Square Museum near Highland Park.)
Mandel, through much digging, discovered the actual location of the Bernstein Studio site and this contributor and Boyle Heights Historical Society president Diana Ybarra assisted in identifying some of the ownership and history of the property, which was an eight-acre parcel and was reported to have been purchased by Bernstein for $100,000. Rather than the William H. Perry estate, however, it was actually known as the Perry-Davis estate. The Perry here was the lumber baron's daughter Mamie, while the Davis was her husband, Charles.
Apprenticed as a cabinet maker, Perry soon opened a furniture store, said to be the first in Los Angeles and had a partner named Brady before teaming up with Wallace Woodworth in 1858. Perry and Woodworth worked first in furniture making and then, from 1873 when Los Angeles was in its first boom period, in dealing with lumber and building materials.
After Woodworth's death in 1883, Perry continued under the name of W. H. Perry Lumber and Mill Company and he did his own milling in the forests where the trees were harvested on his timber lands, shipped the product in his own vessels to wharves at San Pedro built by him, and delivered the finished materials to customers directly. Perry, in fact, owned several other lumber-related companies for trade in Arizona, San Bernardino County and elsewhere.
He also organized, in 1865, the Los Angeles City Gas Company, building a gas works across from the Plaza, and ran the firm for five years before selling it. He was the president of the Los Angeles City Water Company and was involved in other business enterprises, including insurance, land and water development, and more.
In 1858, Perry married Elizabeth Dalton, a native of Los Angeles, whose father George was born in England and who was the brother of Henry Dalton, a migrant of the 1840s to Mexican Los Angeles and a merchant and owner of several San Gabriel Valley ranches, including Santa Anita, San Franciscquito, and Azusa.
George Dalton emigrated with his wife and one child to the U.S. in 1837 and wound up in Circleville, Ohio, south of Columbus and a few dozen miles from where William Perry was from. After his first wife died, George married a widower, Elizabeth Jenkins, and then brought his family to Los Angeles in 1851 at the urging of his brother, Henry. George had a farm south of the city at Washington Boulevard and Central Avenue, where he raised his family including Elizabeth, died in 1892, and is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Boyle Heights.
Returning to Los Angeles, however, Mamie married musician Charles W. Davis in 1883. It can be assumed that the estate named for the two was presented as a gift by her father, who likely built the impressive residence there. Davis, however, suffered from tuberculosis, which may have brought him to semi-arid Los Angeles, and died in July 1885.
Presumably, Mamie Davis sold the house and estate on South Boyle not long after her husband's early and untimely death. A biography and photograph (see above) of her appeared in an 1889 Illustrated History of Los Angeles County and it seems she still lived in the house. In 1888, she married another musician, Charles M. Wood, a native of Springfield, Illinois, who manged the Los Angeles Theatre and later turned to the real estate business. The couple remained in Los Angeles, living with her parents and, after William Perry's 1906 death, in several residences in the city. Wood died in 1928 and Mamie in 1949, when she was in her late eighties. Interestingly, their daughter Elizabeth married James Stack and this couple's son was the renowned actor Robert Stack.
Fidel Ganahl was born in Schruns, Austria, in the far western part of the country near the Swiss and French borders, in 1849. He emigrated with his family to America in 1866 and settled in St. Louis, where the Ganahls became well-known in the lumber business. He remained there until about 1890 when he relocated to Los Angeles and joined his brothers, Frank and Christian, in forming the Ganahl Lumber Company, which became a major firm and still exists today. It is notable that the Perry-Davis estate had two consecutive owners with ties to the lumber industry.
In the 1890 and 1891 Los Angeles city directories, Ganahl's residential address is given as the northwest corner of Boyle and Stephenson avenues, with Stephenson later becoming Whittier Boulevard. His stay at the house, however, was also somewhat brief as, in May 1896, he left the Ganahl Lumber Company and made his way back to St. Louis. Ganahl continued in the lumber business there for another twenty years, but maintained his ties to southern California. In 1916, he bought a ranch at Corona in Riverside County and, after his wife's death three years later, moved there. He died in 1921 and the Corona ranch remained in the family hands for at least 75 years more.
It is not known yet who owned and/or occupied the Perry-Davis estate for the twenty years between Fidel Ganahl's departure and the sale in 1916 to Isadore Bernstein, who was reported in the Times article to have bought the property from a Mary Turner, for whom the eight-acre tract was held in trust.
|This detail at the Bernstein Studio shows a banner with the studio's motto, "Pictures For The Clean-Minded." Courtesy of Marc Wanamaker/Bison Archives.|
Mandel also learned that, by April 1919, Bernstein was no longer involved in the studio, having taken on the presidency of the National Film Corporation. He had short tenures at Universal and a San Mateo studio called Pacific Studios before having what may have been a nervous breakdown. Later, however, he became a writer for Universal and worked on some 65 projects until 1938. Leaving the film industry, he worked for an oil tool company before his death in 1944.
Contribution by Paul R. Spitzzeri, Assistant Director, Workman and Temple Family Homestead Museum, City of Industry, California. Information on the Bernstein Studio is from John Mandel. Assistance in identifying the Perry-Davis estate came from Diana Ybarra, president of the Boyle Heights Historical Society. Thanks are also extended to Marc Wanamaker and his Bison Archives, an amazing treasure trove of film-related material, for permission to use photos from the archives.