Preserving History: The Restoration of Iconic Essanay Studios
The Famous terracotta entrance to present-day Essanay Studios.
History is such a beautiful thing. Like a giant puzzle with endless pieces, History provides us with context for concepts and events as infinite in scope as Humanities’ past. History provides us with the many legends that help us understand who we are as human beings and how we have evolved over time. By studying history, by studying its patterns and cycles; its glories and its atrocities, we can create a blue print for our future because, as the famous saying goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
And of course, another beautiful thing about history is that it does not just live in books. It lives in the paintings at the MET, the peaks of The Selimiye Mosque; in the fields of Gettysburg and the ruins of The Colosseums. History is all around us like an all-encompassing reminder of our collective culture: of our humanity. However, for history to survive, for us to remember where we came from, it sometimes takes a little effort.
Restoration is an important part of historical preservation. It offers us a new link to our collective past, giving us a fresh perspective and appreciation of our history. And that is just what the Indiegogo Campaign for the Restoration of Essanay Studios is trying to do.
Essanay Studios has an interesting history. Founded in 1907 by George K. Spoor and Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson, Essanay had an important role as one of the top film studios during narrative films’ formative years. The film studio boasted some of silent films’ greatest stars such as Bebe Daniels, Wallace Beery, Edward Arnold, Gloria Swanson, Francis X. Bushman — and its most famous player, Charlie Chaplin. In fact, it was while under contract at Essanay Studios that Chaplin filmed The Tramp and crafted his now signature character into the lovable, pathos-riddled character that won the hearts of the entire world.
The Studio, however, would only enjoy a short time atop the silent film studio totem pole. Thanks to Chicago’s relentless winds and unpredictable weather, filmmakers sought locations that offered more control over their projects and within a decade nearly every major studio either went west or went broke. Although Essanay did open up a California branch of their studio (the Essanay-West studio in Niles), by 1920 the company ceased production all together.
However brief their reign as champion of the Silent Era, Essanay undoubtedly remains an important contributor to film development, having released over 1,400 films including the first American Sherlock Holmes (1916), the first American A Christmas Carol (1908), the hugely popular Broncho Billy westerns, and 14 Charlie Chaplin comedy shorts.
By donating just five dollars, you can help preserve film history, by helping to restore Chicago’s rightful place in the lexicon of American Film History. But don’t just take my work for it. Check out the Video below and see for yourself.
Minoo Allen for Classsic Movie Hub