|The original film exchange included |
the space that is now Zapatista.
Hollywood in the Midwest
Before the sound era, Chicago housed Midwest corporate offices for Paramount, Warner Bros., Universal, and the Samuel Goldwyn studios. Most of the offices were in Chicago’s South Loop along Wabash Ave. Other film offices were located one block east on Michigan Ave. During this period, major silent movie productions starring Charlie Chaplin and Gloria Swanson were made here.
Wabash Ave. was Film Exchange Row
|Warner Bros. movie poster |
from early 1930s hangs in
Film Exchange Lofts lobby.
A careful look inside 1307 S. Wabash will reveal that it is constructed of mostly concrete and steel. This was an important feature for an office storing nitrocellulose or nitrate-based film. Until the late 1940s, all film was nitrocellulose, which was highly flammable. Projectionists had to be very careful when threading film through the projector. A misfeed or jam could cause the film to ignite and start a fire. Even when stored properly, nitrate film could spontaneously combust. For safety measures, early projection booths had walls and ceilings covered in asbestos. Film exchanges had vaults with sprinklers and ventilation systems to house nitrate film.
|These curved designs on the facade of The Film Exchange|
Lofts are classic Art Deco ornamentation.
The Film Exchange Lofts doesn’t have vaults anymore, but it does have some original architectural details that survived the rehab. The stepped forms and curved designs on the façade are typical of Art Deco design, as are the original, beautifully stylized doors.
At one time, every major city had film exchanges. Almost all of the exchanges, built in the late-1920s, were designed in the art deco style. On Hyde St. in New York’s Tenderloin district, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 20th Century-Fox, Paramount, Columbia, and other Hollywood studios set up film exchanges.
Before the invention of safety film, it wasn’t uncommon for movie houses to catch fire and burn down. Two tragic movie fires happened on the other side of the Atlantic: In 1926, what became know as the Dromcolliher Burning in Limerick, Ireland, occurred when a candle set a canister of film on fire. Forty-eight people died in that tragedy. In 1929, The Glen Cinema Disaster fire in Paisley, Scotland, resulted in the deaths of 71 people; 69 of them were children who were there for an afternoon matinee.
The 1988 Italian film Cinema Paradiso, is a fictional account of a famous director looking back on his youth, during the years after World War II. The movie contains a scene where a fire starts in a movie projector room. The film cases explode, destroying the theartre.