How an Unassuming Alley in Los Angeles Made Silent Film History

Edward Gooch Collection/Stringer/Getty Images
Edward Gooch Collection/Stringer/Getty Images / Edward Gooch Collection/Stringer/Getty Images

Due to the sheer number of films produced there, Los Angeles is filled with iconic movie locations. One of the most historic landmarks in Hollywood is easy to miss. Located south of the intersection of Hollywood and Cahuenga Boulevards, EaCa Alley appears in some of the biggest films of the silent era. Now, one film historian is fighting for its recognition.

According to Atlas Obscura, John Bengtson discovered the spot shortly after he began tracking down important movie locations in the mid-1990s. He recognized the T-shaped alleyway as the backdrop of a famous gag from the Buster Keaton movie Cops (1922). In the silent picture, Keaton runs out of the alley with a mob of policemen chasing behind him. He flies off the screen after grabbing onto the back of a passing car. The location is also used for the scene when Keaton's hand is bitten by a dog.

In addition to Cops, the location appears in two other movies in the National Film Registry: Harold Lloyd's Safety Last! (1923) and Charlie Chaplin's The Kid (1921). Silent film directors Al Christie, Cleo Madison, and Lois Weber also made movies at the site.

The Hollywood alley appealed to filmmakers for numerous reasons. One was lighting; a portion of it runs from east to west, which means the strip is well-lit throughout the day. Another reason is that much of Los Angeles was still fairly undeveloped at the turn of the 20th century. If directors wanted to make a film in a seemingly urban setting, this alleyway was one of their best options.

Most people who pass the location today are unaware of its role in cinema history. It's currently used as outdoor seating for a nearby restaurant, and there's no sign or plaque marking its historic status. Bengtson has been lobbying to get the landmark the credit it's due by naming it Chaplin-Keaton-Lloyd Alley. The long section of the T-shape already has a name—East Cahuenga Alley, or EaCa Alley for short—but the president of the EaCa Alley Association supports naming the perpendicular section after the silent film legends. Bengtson will likely need to push his proposal through more bureaucratic red tape to make it official.

To learn more about this piece of film history, you can watch a video made by Bengtson below.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]