Before Hollywood became synonymous with the film industry, Jacksonville was considered by many to be the “winter film capital of the world.”
In the early days of cinema, many northern-based studios sought out auxiliary shooting locations for the winter months, when outdoor filming in New York was often impractical. By finding a winter spot, the companies would be able to film year-round.
While most of those studios ultimately settled on Hollywood and some even ended up overseas, Jacksonville was the first major winter destination for the film industry.
Several silent film production and distribution studios operated in Jacksonville during this era of local filmmaking, which ran from 1908 until the late 1910s when Jax residents largely soured on the industry’s presence. We’ve profiled a few of the most notable studios that, at least for a brief time, called Jacksonville home.
The first northern studio to expand to Jax was New York City-based Kalem Studios, also known as Kalem Company. Formed by a group of three producers in 1907, Kalem became one of the first companies to establish a “winter studio” when it began operations in Jacksonville the following year.
The studio was located on the expansive grounds of the Roseland Hotel in the Fairfield neighborhood, which has long since given way to industrial yards and the development of the Mathews Bridge.
Kalem didn’t stick around for long, though. In the early 1910s, it expanded out to California, setting up multiple permanent studios that rendered their Jax location obsolete.
LUBIN MANUFACTURING COMPANY / VIM COMEDY COMPANY
Founded in Philadelphia, Lubin Manufacturing Company began as a film equipment business – hence the name – but quickly expanded to production and distribution.
After establishing its main studio in Philly in 1910, the company expanded to New York, Jacksonville, and the West Coast. Its Jacksonville studio was in a building along Riverside Avenue where the Fuller Warren Bridge overpass is now located.
The studio is best remembered for giving comedic acting legend Oliver Hardy his first on-screen role in its 1914 film “Outwitting Dad.” He’d then star in dozens of short comedy films for the studio, which became known as Vim Comedy Company after a buyout in 1915.
Hardy eventually moved on to Hollywood and Vim Comedy Company shut down in 1917.
Eager not to be left out of the film industry boom in Jax, noted local architect Henry J. Klutho built a studio warehouse of his own in 1916.
Klutho Studios, as it was dubbed, was billed by Klutho as the largest for-rent plant outside of New York and the West Coast. The studio building was designed so that half of its roof was formed by a canvas shade that could be retracted on sunny days.
An advertisement by Klutho in 1917 sought a manager and business partner for the $70,000 production plant. By 1919, Briggs Pictures moved into the building. The New York-based company produced comedies for Paramount.
The studio was located on 9th Street in Springfield; it has long since been demolished.
EAGLE FILM COMPANY / NORMAN STUDIOS
Though it first opened as Eagle Film Company, the studio at 6337 Arlington Road in Arlington is best remembered for its time as Norman Film Studios.
The studio was purchased by Middleburg native Richard Norman. Norman, a white man, wanted to make movies that starred Black actors and employed Black stagehands – a rarity in the early days of the film industry.
Norman Studios produced many “race films” – as films made for Black audiences were referred to at the time – including its most notable film, “The Flying Ace,” about the life of aviator Bessie Coleman.
The studio operated from 1922 to 1928. Unlike the rest of the studios mentioned in this article, Norman Studios is still standing today as a local film museum.
HONORABLE MENTION: METRO PICTURES
Though it was technically more of a distribution company than a true film studio, it’s worth also highlighting Metro Pictures, which was founded in 1915 in Jacksonville.
The studio didn’t stick around for long, having left for California by 1920. But it would later merge with Goldwyn Pictures and Louis B. Mayer Productions in 1924, forming Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
MGM, as it came to be known, became one of the country’s top production and distribution companies for the majority of the twentieth century after its humble beginnings in Jacksonville.