Historical Background


The Essanay Film Manufacturing Company was an American motion picture studio. It is best known today for its series of Charlie Chaplin comedies of 1915. The studio was founded in 1907 in Chicago, Illinois, by George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. Anderson, originally as the Peerless Film Manufacturing Company. On August 10, 1907, the name was changed to Essanay (“S and A”).

Essanay was originally located at 496 Wells Street (modern numbering: 1300 N. Wells). Essanay’s first film, “An Awful Skate,” or “The Hobo on Rollers” (July 1907), featured Ben Turpin, who was then the studio janitor. The film was produced for only a couple hundred dollars and grossed several thousand dollars in release. The studio prospered and in 1908 moved to its more famous address at 1333-45 W. Argyle St in the Uptown area of Chicago.

Westward expansion

Due to Chicago’s seasonal weather patterns and the popularity of westerns, Gilbert Anderson took part of the company to California, moving from Northern to Southern California and back on a regular basis. This included locations in San Rafael and Santa Barbara. They opened the Essanay-West studio in Niles, California, in 1913, at the foot of Niles Canyon, where many Broncho Billy westerns were shot, along with The Tramp featuring Charlie Chaplin. Eventually the studio moved all operations to Los Angeles.

Continued film use

The Essanay building in Chicago was sold to Wilding Pictures, a subsidiary of Bell and Howell formed by two former Essanay Studio employees. Then it was given to a non-profit television organization, WTTW Corporation, which sold it. One tenant was the Midwest office of Technicolor. Today, the Essanay lot is the home of St. Augustine College and portions of the two buildings were occupied by Essanay Stage and Lighting Company, another film industry company.

(Wikipedia, City of Chicago Landmarks Commission and other sources)

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