I began to sense a pattern as I examined a map of Los Angeles, California recently. The movie industry has left its fingerprints upon the names of various places scattered throughout the basin and into the San Fernando Valley. I’m not surprised, I’ve just never noticed it before.
Let’s make sure we have the same understanding of the phenomenon. I’m not talking about places in Los Angeles that have crept into movies (like the San Dimas reference that The Basement Geographer and I chuckled about recently). Rather, I’m referring to something that is closer to the opposite, where a place is named for something related to the movie industry.
I did some digging and came up with a few examples. All of them are listed as Populated Places in the USGS Geographic Names Information System. I’m sure there are many others and would appreciate additions to the list.
View Towns from the Movie Industry in a larger map
It’s appropriate to take Hollywood itself completely off the table so I’ve marked it with a different color on the map. I mention it because it’s an iconic emblem of the industry. Someone is bound to ask about Hollywood in the comments if I don’t address it up front. Hollywood traces its roots back to the 1880’s and therefore predates the industry. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t mind a souvenir though. Fair enough? Let’s move on.
Movie studios spawned a number of ancillary businesses that catered to their needs. These supporting companies tended to congregate near the major studies, their customers, in turn forming populated places. The names they chose weren’t particularly inventive, all variations on the alpha business appended with the suffix "city."
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- Century City began as a 20th Century Fox movie backlot used for filming Westerns. It continues to have strong ties to the industry.
- Studio City is rather more residential with about forty thousand inhabitants. It was located adjacent to the studios of Mack Sennett who was known for his slapstick comedies during the silent era and beyond (e.g., Charlie Chaplin, the Keystone Cops, W. C. Fields).
- Universal City is a bit different. It’s actually the property of Universal Studios itself and houses offices, a hotel, a theme park and the CityWalk entertainment district.
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There are also a couple of ranches that have interesting ties to the movie industry.
- Warner Center traces its roots back to land owned by Jack Warner, who was one of the Warner Bros. of the famous studio. Warner Center is an exurb of fairly recent vintage.
- Tarzana doesn’t really fit the mold but I’m including it anyway because I find it amusing. Edgar Rice Burroughs once owned the land. He was also the author of the Tarzan books which were then remade into a series of successful movies. I like the thought of living in a Tarzan Town, and I guess about thirty thousand people consider likewise.
It’s interesting that most of these studios continue to operate today with an abundance of staying power. Their names are still common in popular culture — Fox, Universal, Warner Bros. Only Mack Sennett and his studio faded into history, and that happened a long time ago when his company failed to survive the Great Depression.
Special greetings to East Sparta, Ohio! — Home of the historic Town Pump.