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Bell & Howell’s Hollywood Headquarters

Bell & Howell, maker of the #1 motion-picture camera, built the premier West Coast branch on La Brea just north of Melrose.

Art Deco building
Bell & Howell, 1931 (California State Library)

The Art Deco building, designed by architect Marshall P. Wilkinson (Morgan Camera, Outpost Estates), was a showroom, service plant, and research facility tailored to the needs of cinematographers: lens-testing department, sound-treated projection salon, editing room, and 80-seat auditorium equipped to show sound and silent films (16mm and 35mm).

night scene Hollywood
Bell & Howell illuminated at night (California State Library)

“No expense will be spared to make this engineering laboratory one of the finest in the country, and it will be manned by some of the best talent chosen among the 1,200 employees that the Bell & Howell Company employs in its main offices and plants in Chicago, Hollywood, New York, and London,” president J.H. McNabb told the Hollywood Daily Citizen.

(American Cinematographer)

Two decades earlier in 1911, movie projectionist Donald Bell and projector inventor Albert Howell developed the first all-metal camera, 2709, “the most precision film mechanism ever made.”

When Bell & Howell moved operations from Chicago to Hollywood, their hand-cranked creation quickly became the industry standard—and a favorite of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin showing off his 2709 camera to Douglas Fairbanks, Oscar Amos Price, and Mary Pickford

By 1920, nearly all of the motion-picture equipment in Hollywood was manufactured by Bell & Howell. Their most popular, 2709, was produced until 1958.

Over the decades since, the Art Deco building housed mostly cinema and entertainment companies, as well as longtime tenant Aaron Brothers until 2018. The following year, it was painted teal and pink for World of Fruit, a pop-up immersive tasting experience. Now back to its original color, the space is shared by a gym and art gallery.


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