The early cinematic history of San Diego mirrors the events and developments in motion pictures, both artistic and technological, that were occurring in New York and Los Angeles, as well as in Europe.
The birth of the industry on the West Coast was marked by a number of individual milestones, one of which was the filming in 1898 in downtown San Diego of a moving trolley by The Edison Company to demonstrate the marvel of Thomas Alva Edison’s newest invention. The film lasts 50 seconds.
The magic was in the technology; even though figures moved jerkily in stops and starts across the screen, they did move and the public was fascinated. Today’s seamless movies let us forget that the basis of motion pictures is still the same: innumerable still images put before the eye in rapid succession.
By 1910, technology had advanced to the point that artistry became paramount, the focus shifting to a good story, talented actors and imaginative scenery. La Mesa and Lakeside became the setting for some 150 silent movies, rivaling locations anywhere and looming for awhile as a possible capital of filmdom.
San Diego has continued to attract movies with its climate, diversity of landscape, eagerness to cooperate and cheaper labor.
This issue of The Journal of San Diego History coincides with the Society’s year- long exhibition, Filming San Diego: Hollywood’s Backlot. Greg Williams, curator of the exhibition and the Society’s Curator of Photography, has in the process of curating the exhibit, become the city’s foremost expert on its cinema history. His research has taken him to New York and Washington, D.C. several times and turned him into a regular commuter on Amtrak to Los Angeles.
The exhibition has become one of the Society’s most popular, with both adults and young people, and has elicited comments to gratify even the most exacting curator.
San Diego Historical Society