Podcast: Selig Polyscope Studios

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Selig Polyscope info and pictures

While Essanay ruled Uptown, Selig Polyscope was operating the largest film studio ever built not far away, on a complex covering an entire block at Irving and Western from 1907 until about 1920. Colonel Selig was a fascinating guy. He saw Edison’s kinetoscope and was unimpressed, but inspired. He began to experiment with cameras and projectors of his own. In 1907, he made the first “Wizard of Oz” films (in color, no less), and was soon making some of the first, if not the very first, full-length feature films, the first adventure serials, and a whole lot more. In the middle of the block the company made outdoor films, so people going by on Western were liable to wander past recreations of the Fort Dearborn Massacre, a Civil War encampment, and a street from the old west.  We and our sister blog, White City Cinema, will be hosting a whole week of articles on cool things about Selig Polyscope next week, starting with this podcast of our adventure in the building.  Here’s their extensive overview of Selig Polyscope.

Here’s an artist’s conception of the studio lot as it appeared at the time:

And another, which, oddly features a blank space where the surviving buidling ought to be:
Here’s a photo the main building at 3900 N. Claremont – notice the “greenhouse” on top. This was used to get the maximum amount of natural light in the days when interior lighting hadn’t quite come into its own.
Selig sold the block in 1920 for $400,000, but 3900 N Claremont survives. It’s easy to see by the lighter color of the bricks and the ledge halfway up which parts are original.
The door still features Selig’s trademark “diamond S”
Up on the top portion, you can still see a triangle of darker bricks that were added after the glass portion was removed some time after 1929. See up there on the top right?
As far as we can tell, this is the only building in the area that remains. Various online sources suggest that the auto shop, or the garage behind it, were part of the studio, but, while the garage DOES look like a brick version of Selig’s stable (in which he kept lions, tigers, and elephants), those buildings seem to be from around 1930 – well after Selig’s time.  However – in addition to what you see on the outside, there are still places where you can see the stiches. Here’s the bricked-off entrance to the tunnel that once connected this building to the one next door:  
And the water works in the building are certainly impressive – clearly a relic of the days when this studio was developing film in-house (there was a hydrant in the middle of the block that was probably used to fill the artificial lake):
This is the second of these. 
And here’s the block as it appears today from the roof. Quite a change from that scene above, with the artificial hills and lake! Most of the houses on the right were built circa 1923-24.
And here, for good measure, is Colonel Hector Reyes with our film correspondent, Mike Smith, at the Lincoln Lodge. The size of Hector’s lemonade made Mike feel…inadequate.
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One thought on “Podcast: Selig Polyscope Studios

  1. Until the condos on Western were built a few years ago, there was another remnant of the Selig facility just behind the Claremont building. It was a brick tower structure and truncated smokestack, somewhat resembling a guardhouse, and it loomed over the used car lot that fronted out on Western.

    It's visible somewhat in the B&W in your post – right where the smokestack disappears into the facility, just to the left of the peak of the glass roof of the Claremont building.

    For years, I always wondered what that thing was – it was just left windowless to the elements.

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