A Lion Roars in the Marsh

Times Staff Writer

What started out as an uneventful canoe ride staged for a silent movie scene back in 1915 led to a significant real estate purchase that would establish the birth place of Metro Goldwyn Mayer's roaring lion and the legendary Culver City "movie lot."

Thomas H. Ince, an early California film maker producing pictures at that time along the coast above Santa Monica, needed a stream of water deep enough to float three canoes full of Indians.

The Los Angeles River was ruled out as too shallow and the Colorado River as too distant, so Ince settled on La Ballona Creek, near the present junction of Washington and Culver boulevards. The creek--then a year-round river that flowed toward Playa del Rey--fed directly from the chain of marshes and lakes that stretched from the Hollywood Hills to the Baldwin Hills, and drained through the whole of the West Los Angeles region.

With megaphone in hand, Ince called for "ACTION!", and the three canoes, filled with Indians, were sent floating down the creek under the bridge at Casserini Ranch. The event was witnessed by interested spectators, among them Harry H. Culver, who two years earlier, had laid the foundation for the budding new city that bears his name.

But Ince did more than shoot his movie on La Ballona Creek. He also bought a piece of the original La Ballona Ranch and a small portion of land on Washington Boulevard at 6th Street, just across from the subdivision of Palms--the site that later formed the beginnings of the MGM lot.

In 1917, Ince deeded his land to the New York Motion Picture Co. (where Keystone and Biograph pictures had been produced, as well as films by Triangle Studio--Griffith, Ince and Sennett).

Two years later, Goldwyn Pictures Corp. succeeded to the title of that property and to that of an adjoining piece of land. The firm was later acquired and merged with Marcus Loew's Metro Pictures, and in 1924, after Louis B. Mayer had joined the company, it became known as the Metro Goldwyn Mayer Studios with its well-known roaring lion image that is familiar throughout the world.

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